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.
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.”
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:
“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.”
“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.”