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The Power of Words(essay-A Piece of Mirror) By Daisaku Ikeda
I have vivid memories of encounters with people whose voices or
words have moved me over the years. One that springs to mind
happened during a visit to the Guilin region of China, a beautiful
land of craggy mountains, mists and rivers.
Walking along, we met two young girls, no older than 15 or 16,
selling medicinal herbs near a river. They carried a large basket
filled with herbs, inviting passers-by to buy their goods with
"Ni hao\ [Hello!]" I called to them. "Ni haol" They smiled
back. "We offer every kind of medicine: choose the one you want."
I smiled at their high spirits and asked, "Do you have anything to
make me smarter?" They seemed taken aback, but only for an
instant. "I'm sorry," one of them replied in a clear, firm
voice, "We just sold out of that one."
Our group burst into laughter at this witty reply, and we felt as
warm inside as if a gentle spring breeze had touched us. As a
Chinese saying puts it, "Even a single word uttered out of goodness
can warm the heart in the bitterest winter."
I fondly recall that my wife and I ended up buying some herbs as
souvenirs, and I sometimes wonder how the girls and their families
I believe that sincere one-to-one conversation can soften and melt
even hearts that are completely frozen. By talking with someone face-
to-face, you can actually change that person's life and your own.
Today, we live in the midst of a flood of soulless information.
And, the more we rely on one-way communication, like radio or TV, or
static and unmoving words in print, the more I feel the need to
stress the value of the sound of the human voice: The simple but
precious interaction of voice and voice, person and person; the
exchange of life with life.
In a face-to-face conversation, the listener can ask questions or
disagree, and this in turn may make the speaker rethink his or her
own views. The process is dynamic and multi-faceted, creating mutual
joy and understanding.
For myself, I love talking with a wide range of people from all
over the world. I always learn something new and I find it inspiring
to be exposed to different ways of thinking. This is a kind of
spiritual nutrition for me.
My experience is that no matter how strong the initial
uncertainty, or even hostility another person may feel towards you,
if you approach them with complete sincerity and speak the truth,
they will invariably respond in kind.
I remember several years ago suggesting holding a dialogue with
representatives of Islam. Some friends tried to convince me this
would be very difficult. But I felt we should not let ourselves be
held back by such preconceptions. We never know what is possible
until we try. I suggested that the dialogue did not need to be a
debate over religious doctrine. We could start by talking about the
problems that we all face as human beings, focusing on culture and
education. Or we could discuss the desire for peace, something
shared by people all over the world. I am happy to say that I have
since carried out dialogues with several highly-respected
representatives of the Islamic world, and SGI members in many
countries have also carried out interfaith dialogues with
representatives of Islam among other faiths.
Face-to-face conversation may seem like something very ordinary,
but it is in fact the most powerful tool for positive change we
possess. We can exchange ideas on a very human, personal level, with
a basis of respect and faith in each other's essential goodness.
Everyone involved is equal; there is neither superior nor inferior.
The French thinker, Montaigne, loved discussion, and he always
kept an open mind, saying "no proposition astounds me, no belief
offends me, however much opposed it may be to my own. Contradictions
of opinion only arouse and exercise my mind." To him, dialogue was
the search for truth, and he claimed that he welcomed and embraced
the truth, in whoever's hands he found it.
As we have two ears and one mouth, maybe we should listen twice as
much as we speak. Certainly if we are self-righteous or prejudiced,
no one will approach us with an open heart.
Sometimes our attempts to start a discussion or talk things over
may be slighted or ignored. Then we should remember that rejection
and disappointment are inevitable in life, and just keep on trying.
Maintaining dialogue takes great patience and perseverance. We need
to develop a strong sense of self, so that although we can clearly
see the emotions of the other person, we keep on calmly and
steadily 'rowing' closer to their heart.
The biggest obstacle to successful dialogue is usually excessive
attachment to one's own point of view. For instance, a rift between
a parent and child will not be easily healed as long as the parent
only sees things as a parent and the child only from his or her own
In a genuine discussion, it is best if we can see any
confrontations that arise as just another form of our connectedness.
If both parent and child can see themselves as sharing common
ground ? making up a family together ? things can take a
surprisingly easy turn for the better. The deeper the common feeling
that binds us, the more we can embrace those who differ from us and
ensure that dialogue will lead to a fruitful outcome.
Whether the problem is that of a single family, or international
in scope, if those involved can view things from a higher
perspective, with a sense of shared purpose, the gears of dialogue
will always start to turn in a positive direction.
If more people were to pursue dialogue in an equally broadminded
and persistent manner, I am sure that the inevitable conflicts of
human life would find easier resolution. Prejudice would give way to
understanding, and war to peace. Genuine dialogue results in the
transformation of opposing viewpoints, changing them from wedges
that drive people apart into bridges that link them together.
From 'A Piece of Mirror' p.#94-97. Daisaku Ikeda
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."