Book review: The Inner Philosopher (Marinoff & Ikeda)

I will always remember the day when I first heard Dr. Lou Marinoff speak. It was 2 June 2013 and I was one of 500 Nichiren Buddhists lucky enough to hear him give a talk at SGI’s UK centre (Taplow Court). Marinoff, who is Professor of Philosophy at The City College of New York, was not only wise, perceptive and funny, he also radiated great warmth and a thoroughly uplifting generosity of spirit.

Marinoff has published a dialogue with Daisaku Ikeda called ‘The Inner Philosopher, Conversations on Philosophy’s Transformative Power.’ If you want to feel more hopeful about humanity, read this book. If you want to discover the healing power of dialogue, read this book. If you want to find out what both Buddhism and philosophy were originally for, read this book. If you want to buy the perfect present for young, seeking minds, get this book.

The Inner Philosopher
The Inner Philosopher

Marinoff’s main discourse is that we must reclaim philosophy from the hands of theoreticians, whose “cogitations,” he says, “are abundant but whose applications are scarce.” I find this very refreshing, having been turned off philosophy at university by endless debates on questions like, ‘does this chair exist?’

Marinoff’s whole approach, whilst profound, is more practical than theoretical, he points out that ‘philosophy’ actually means ‘love of wisdom’, that it must be useful to humanity and, dare we say it, ‘healing’. He describes a philosopher as being ‘like a midwife attending to the birth of wisdom.’ Chanting about his talk later that day, I realised that the other reason I loved Marinoff is that he is something of a rebel and reformer in the world of modern academia. His approach reminds me of Nichiren Daishonin who came along in 13th century Japan to reclaim Buddhist wisdom from the priests and give it to the masses.

Plato not Prozac

As a mindset coach, I also found it heartening to learn that Marinoff is a pioneer of ‘philosophical counselling’ and to this end has founded APPA, the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. He argues that in modern society we “rely too heavily on psychiatry, psychology and drugs instead of helping people confront their issues and manifest their internal strengths.” So it is great to know that his best-selling book, Plato not Prozac (gotta love that title…) has now been published in 27 different languages.

Ikeda Marinoff dialogue

Marinoff has studied Buddhism under great teachers such as Sogyal Rinpoche, Roshi Robert Kennedy SJ and now Daisaku Ikeda. Meanwhile, in his youth, Ikeda was inspired by the great Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. So it was perhaps inevitable that Ikeda and Marinoff would find each other at some point.

In this beautiful book Marinoff says of Ikeda: “You have done more in your 80 years than most of us could accomplish in 80 lifetimes. You have inspired people to live more wonderful lives than they ever dared to dream. Your amazing accomplishments are a beacon for all humankind, they deserve special note in modern history. You are truly working for the happiness of all beings. Your life is a model for us all. Engaging in this dialogue with you is a soul-searching and life-altering experience for me – a unique opportunity to philosophise with the most accomplished Buddhist leader of our age.”

Lou Marinoff & Daisaku Ikeda
Lou Marinoff & Daisaku Ikeda

Ikeda replies: “Your praise is too generous. This is all due to the efforts of the SGI members, who have striven tirelessly along with me.” He goes on to compliment Marinoff on making philosophy accessible and easy to understand and says that he hopes, through dialogue with him, “to build a brighter future illuminated by a philosophy of peace, happiness, human revolution, youthful triumph, and respect for the dignity of life.”

Here are some of my favourite bits from The Inner Philosopher:

 Lou Marinoff:

“Our greatest enemies are our own deluded mind-states and unrealistic expectations. Many Westerners have been lulled by affluence and indulgence into expecting lives free of all difficulty.”

“In counselling, the most important words are eventually uttered by the clients themselves, once the power of dialogue awakens their philosopher within.”

“Our next major steps as a species will be neither biological nor technological but will entail an evolution (or revolution) in human consciousness.”

Daisaku Ikeda:

Buddhist dialogue always takes the happiness of the ordinary people as its starting point. It is a humanistic practice that makes the infinite potential in each individual’s life shine its brightest. The foundation of the dialogue conducted by SGI members on a daily basis is prayer in harmony with the underlying law of the entire universe, the Mystic Law. This prayer contains a powerful determination, a vow or a pledge, to break free of the chains of our personal karma and forge the way to happiness for ourselves and others.”

I owe everything I am today to my mentor Josei Toda. My life’s wish has been to realise his ardent wishes for the happiness of all people and for peace.”



8 Replies to “Book review: The Inner Philosopher (Marinoff & Ikeda)”

  1. Lynn Fux says:

    I loved this book and I just gave my copy to my group here in Israel.

  2. Bernie Holland says:

    Reading your article about Lou Marinoff and Daisaku Ikeda does nothing other than strengthen my conviction that becoming a member of the Soka Gakkai back in 1987 was the best decision I ever made in my life. Lou Marinoff gives eloquent expression in his praise of Mr Ikeda, however, it is entirely typical of Mr Ikeda that, rather than bask in the glory of this praise by Mr Marinoff, he would prefer to acknowledge the support of SGI members worldwide for the great advances that have made on the golden path towards kosen rufu. Leaving aside the fact that Mr Ikeda is philosopher possessed of great insight and wisdom, I would just like to add that he is a kind man, a decent man, and a very courageous person who has a great sense of humour. And it is these very qualities that Sensei (Mr Ikeda) searches out in others, harbouring the deep desire that they will aspire even to surpass his great achievements. It by virtue of all this, and more, that pure-hearted and committed SGI members worldwide feel a deep sense of gratitude in respect of the untainted transmission of the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, as a basis for daily living, which were initiated first in the 1930s by 1st Soka Gakkai President Tsunebaro Makiguchi, then 2nd President Josei Toda, who was the personal mentor for 3rd President, Daisaku Ikeda. Over the years, all three of these gentlemen have endured vilification and abuse from those hostile to democracy and the spread of humanitarian ideals and it is, therefore, gratifying to witness, within the toxic climate of the world today, that more and more people of real quality, like Mr Marinoff, are devoting their energies to the greatest causes of humanity. NAM MYOHO RENGE KYO – Bernie Holland – SGI-UK Member – London – England – 23rd May 2014

    1. Bernie,
      that is a very beautiful and eloquent explanation of Sensei’s spirit :-). And how wonderful to see that so many thinkers such as Dr. Marinoff are now being touched by the heart of our mentor. Great to connect with you and thanks for taking the time to write in.

      1. Bernie Holland says:

        I will be at at SGI-UK European Culture Centre at Taplow Court tomorrow – serving lunches in the canteen from 11 am to 2 pm so, David, if you happen to be there – please see me and I will give you an extra helping of pudding !

        1. That’s a very kind offer Bernie, however I am at home tomorrow, so please save that extra pudding for me for another time :-).
          Have a great day at Taplow and I look forward to meeting you one day!

          1. Bernie Holland says:

            Thank you for your kind reply David.

            With all the unpleasant stuff that, unfortunately abounds on the internet, your web page is like a breath of fresh air, a cool breeze on a humid day, and a stream of fresh flowing water running through a parched valley. I am sure there cannot possibly be anyone (in their right mind of course !) who will not fail to be uplifted and inspired by what you are doing with your life. I need not tell you that you are making great causes all the time for continued happiness in the future. Next time you visit Taplow Court, go into the dining room/canteen and spend a minute looking at that painting of the steam train that hangs high on the wall – and see if you can guess who painted it !

            Yours Respectfully


          2. Dear Bernie,
            Your words of praise are most kind and eloquent and moving. They remind me of this guidance from Sensei: “The Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin provides us with the philosophy and practice for realising genuine happiness for ourselves and others. To bring the “nourishment of wisdom” and the “moisture of compassion” to the “parched fields” of people’s lives that have been devitalized by greed, anger, and ignorance and restore them to “lush green fields” — this is the vow of mentor and disciple in Buddhism.”

            Thank you for your sincere words of encouragement and support.
            Warmest wishes

          3. Bernie Holland says:

            Thank you for your lovely reply David – I had another day of joy at Taplow today and I went to the bookshop and treated myself to a copy of “The Inner Philosopher”. I’ve made a start on this book and, naturally, it is an inspiring read. I will let you know more when I have finished reading it. I will be keeping in touch with you, my friend !


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