A victory of hope over despair, of shared humanity over hatred, and of justice over inequality… these are my thoughts reflecting on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who passed away this evening. My admiration for Mandela comes mostly from reading essays by Daisaku Ikeda, leader of the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement that I belong to.

Mandela heard about Ikeda’s humanistic writings while in prison and after his release requested a meeting with him during a visit to Japan. Here are some extracts from an essay written by Daisaku Ikeda, reflecting on the two dialogues he had with South Africa’s first black President:

Nelson Mandela & Daisaku Ikeda

“There is something very special about Nelson Mandela’s smile. It is honest and pure, full of gentle composure. There isn’t a single line on his face that would suggest anything cold and harsh. And yet it embodies the conviction and strength of character of a man who has led his people to freedom. It is a smile like the purest gold, from which all impurities have been burned and driven in the furnace of great suffering.

“Throughout our conversation his humour and smile never waned. Even in prison, he was a master of the art of using humour to keep up the morale of his comrades. Even under  these hellish conditions, Mandela managed to study and encouraged the other prisoners to share their knowledge with each other and to debate their ideas. Lectures were arranged in secrecy and the prison came to be known as ‘Mandela University’.  Eventually his indomitable spirit gained the respect of even the prison guards. 

“Throughout it all, he refused to abandon hope. From within his prison cell, Mandela continued to inspire the people of South Africa. Although he was unable to communicate with them, his very existence was a source of hope. No one can better teach us the deepest meaning of freedom than this man who spent half his adult life imprisoned. The essence of freedom is found in immovable conviction. Only those who live true to their convictions, whose inner faith enables them to rise above the fetters of any situation, are truly free.”

In short, a man who proved that inner change can transform the world, who never gave up hope and who showed that by reaching out in dialogue to our enemies, anything is possible. A Lion of Freedom, a giant of justice. Little wonder he was and will remain such an inspiration to so many Buddhists. (More here on conflict resolution & the Buddha in you.)

My favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela are these two:

“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

D x

PS. The extracts above are from an essay first published in a book called ‘One by One’ , which describes Daisaku Ikeda’s dialogues with extraordinary people such as Nelson Mandela, Arnold Toynbee, Prof. Martin Seligman and Rosa Parks.

PPS. One by One… that’ll be the only way to change the world then :-)

PPPS. Another great story here on people who never give up hope – Mariane Pearl, widower of executed journalist Daniel Pearl has written an awesome book called ‘In Search of Hope’ about amazing women fighting for justice around the world.