Reflections from Colleen Bachman GS '96
As an SUA graduate student, I developed a theory that if you spread the world out on a continuum which measures individual vs. group thinking, that California and Japan would be the opposing poles. I must admit that it was a derogatory judgement born of my mid-20’s mind about the Japanese way of doing things. Same goes for this phrase which I coined around the same time: “When in Rome, do as the Japanese do.”
My frustration stemmed from what I considered a lack of diversity of thought that was going into the soon to be opened Undergraduate School. At the time I was a member of the second class of the newly formed Graduate School and I was also the High School Division leader for SGI-USA, the lay Buddhist organization associated with Soka University.
Fortunately for me, the greatest lessons I learned as an SUA Graduate student were those of working through cross-cultural miscommunications and how to become a global citizen. Fortunately for the SUA community, we had then and still have the leadership and experience of Dr. Tomoko Takahashi. Besides achieving flawless and nuanced English as an adult, Dr. Takahashi is an extraordinary global citizen. I can’t think of people with more different backgrounds than Tomoko Takahashi and Rosa Parks, yet they call each other friend. Dr. Takahashi translated the biography of the mother of the US Civil Rights movement into Japanese.
It was a great honor for me to learn from Dr. Takahashi but I would not have pursued my education at SUA had it not been for the school’s founder, Daisaku Ikeda. Arguably the greatest living global citizen, Founder Ikeda describes the Pacific Ocean as the inland sea between California and Japan. His dedication to mining our common humanity has become the fabric of my life.
Daisaku Ikeda’s last visit to the USA was in 1996 during the summer I was preparing my thesis while living on the SUA Calabasas campus. He also stayed on the campus which allowed for several treasured opportunities to meet with him.
When I first heard that Founder Ikeda was coming to visit, I became concerned about what I was reading because I knew that Mr. Ikeda’s mentor, Mr. Toda, always asked him what he was reading. I thought that if I ever had the fortune to speak with Mr. Ikeda, I wanted to be prepared for that question by always reading something lofty and appropriate. As the date of his arrival grew closer, I became increasingly busy with my thesis preparation and other work. I was reading the children’s story, Anne of Green Gables, in my spare time. I was rushing to finish it because I feared being asked what I was reading and having to reply that I was reading a children’s book. The next item on my reading list was Plato’s Republic and I was determined to be reading that by the time Mr. Ikeda arrived on campus. I did not make my goal.
The first time I got to meet Founder Ikeda in 1996 was at a dinner which I was invited to in my role as SGI-USA High School Division leader. He came to our table and said something in Japanese and then did some kind of magic trick or something with his hands which was very engaging. I really wanted to hear what he said so I focused on the interpreter who translated, “I think I know you. I’m looking forward to your bright future.” When he moved on to the next table, I exclaimed what a wonderful thing he had said. No one else had heard it. I think perhaps they thought I imagined it which was quite unpleasant, but I learned a valuable lesson. Teachers teach. It’s up to students to listen.
Later that evening Mr. Ikeda was walking outside my dormitory on campus. After a brief and wonderful conversation he tried to give me a $100 bill, which seemed like an exorbitant amount of money to me at the time. I really felt like it was way too much for me to accept. He said, “please accept this from me as you would from your father.” That was the perfect thing to say to me to get me to accept the gift, because I had no problem taking money from my father. This was mainly because it was clear to see how much joy it gave my father to be able to give money to his children. And as we were on the beautiful SUA Calabasas campus outside the most lovely graduate dorms in the world,
I said, “You are like a father to me, because you’ve given me this beautiful place to live in. Thank you for the beautiful home.” He dismissively waved his hand at the dorm and said, “This is nothing. This is nothing. But it’s okay for you to have humble things right now, because someday you’ll live in a luxurious palace.”
Twenty-five years later amidst a global pandemic, I became sole owner of an 8 acre, 8 bedroom estate in Massachusetts built in 1876. It is my palace. I am also deeply impressed that the death toll from the entire pandemic in Japan was a small fraction of the daily losses in the USA. I have so much left to do in my quest to be a global citizen.
The day Founder Ikeda left the SUA campus in 1996 I was speaking with one of his interpreters who was traveling after him. She said, “Sensei has a nickname for you…it’s Anne of Green Gables.”