Published by/ Date:FPJ/ 5th January 2022

The Chairperson of Bharat Soka Gakkai, Vishesh Gupta, takes us through his journey, the guiding principle of life’s philosophy, its Indian footprint, the importance of chanting.

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a global association of grassroots organisations that seeks to promote peace and respect for all through the medium of education and culture. SGI links over 12 million members in 192 countries and territories, including over 250,000 in India, towards these noble ideals.

Vishesh Gupta heads the Indian affiliate of SGI, Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG). With its headquarters in New Delhi, BSG has its membership spread over 600 towns and cities across India. The members of BSG hail from all walks of life. They are engaged in their ‘human revolution’, believing that a fundamental change in a single individual can significantly transform society.

Vishesh has been a member of BSG for over 30 years and has led the movement in different capacities from time to time. As full-time Chairperson, Vishesh has pioneered various peace, culture, and education activities. Under his leadership, BSG has organised Peace Symposiums, held exhibitions, participated in conferences and workshops in several cities across India. In addition, Campus groups and Peace Clubs have been initiated in several leading educational institutions.

With a determination and passion for realising lasting global peace, Vishesh has taken several steps to promote these ideals by strengthening the role of educators, working to promote environmental protection and sustainability, and encouraging the youth to play a critical role in their communities. He has also called for the promotion of arts and cultural exchange to promote the ‘shared humanity’ that all of us possess.

A recent campaign initiated by Vishesh is to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Under this campaign, he has promoted a slew of activities under the tagline ‘Towards 2030: Achieving SDGs through Sustainable Human Behaviour’ to deepen the awareness and resolve of the common people to create a better world.

Vishesh has actively shared his thoughts on various public platforms like Times LitFest organised by Times Group, SACH Bharat Conference, organised by Assocham, and several Seminars, symposiums, exhibitions, and other events.

At the core of these initiatives led by Vishesh are the ideal education for global citizenship and the awareness of social and environmental responsibilities which we all share for the future of our planet. What sets these initiatives apart is the humanistic spirit of ‘reaching out’ through ‘heart to heart’ dialogue, as practised by the founding President of the SGI Daisaku Ikeda.

Before joining BSG as Chairperson, Vishesh has worked for more than 26 years in the telecom industry. He has held several positions in different Multinationals in various capacities. His international experience spans several countries in APAC, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latam.

By education, Vishesh is an Electronics and Communications Engineer from Delhi College of Engineering and has a Master’s in Business Administration from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. In this conversation with Shilpi, Vishesh takes us through his journey as Chairperson of BSG, the guiding principle of life’s philosophy, its Indian footprint, the importance of chanting and how BSG works around the three pillars of Peace, Culture and Education in India. Excerpts:

What is the guiding principle behind Bharat Soka Gakkai?

The main guiding principle behind the activities of BSG is that a fundamental change in a single individual can bring about a great transformation in society. BSG members are engaged in their inner transformation or ‘Human Revolution’, as we call it, with a belief that they are the protagonists for global change.

Just like a lotus that blossoms in muddy water, BSG members believe that by squarely facing the challenges that confront us amidst the harsh contradictions of society, one can still carry out the task of changing their lives, and the world for the better.

BSG members strive to actualise their inherent potential while contributing to their local communities and responding to humankind’s shared issues. The conviction that individual happiness and the realisation of peace are inextricably linked is central to BSG, and so is a commitment to dialogue and nonviolence.

BSG is a rage among the urban Indians. How many people follow this movement across the country and globe? How does the organisation work?

BSG is the Indian affiliate of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), which has over 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide. There are 265,000 plus BSG members present in more than 600 towns and cities in India. Out of this, more than half of the membership is of young people with an average age of 25 years. The organisation is divided into smaller units as per geography.

Our organisation’s primary focus is to conduct one-on-one dialogues and discussion meetings. Through these activities, members mutually inspire each other and gain the strength to move forward in their lives with optimism and courage.

What ensures its appeal among the urban Indians? Does it have offshoots in rural India? Do you see strong BSG communities at the rural level as well?

What appeals to most people, both urban and rural, is that we treasure each individual. When people are valued, respected, and cherished irrespective of social status, age, background etc., they demonstrate great ability and strength. The fact that everyone is important and irreplaceable is what appeals to everyone.

Also, there are no commandments, and everyone is made to feel worthy to contribute their unique bit towards the welfare of society. Though most BSG members are currently based in urban India, we do have some members in rural India. But, yes, over a while, we will see more members in rural areas also.

Is it a life philosophy?

Yes, it is a life philosophy. BSG members come from different walks of life and varied religious backgrounds and continue to hold such beliefs while practising this life philosophy.

How does chanting help bring about a profound transformation in one’s life, especially during the trying times as we see around now?

Chanting helps to bring out our best potential from within. It helps us in three ways: Firstly, chanting helps us to develop courage.

Chanting leads us to bring forth our innate strength and ability. We do this by courageously challenging our limitations each day. It may be small daily actions like greeting our neighbours, smiling more often, taking care of our health by exercising every day etc. When we strive with courage and tenacity in this manner, we grow as human beings, and we develop confidence that no problem is insurmountable.

Secondly, it helps us to develop compassion.
Chanting helps us to include ‘others’ in our lives. This is does not mean merely pitying others. True compassion means respecting the inherent dignity of life — our own and others. It means praying for, encouraging and empowering others, helping them unlock strength and courage from within their lives to overcome their problems.

Thirdly, chanting helps us to develop wisdom.
By chanting, we develop the wisdom to take corrective actions. When wisdom is functioning in our life, it has the effect of enabling us to overcome our habitual thinking and arrive at a fresh and holistic view of a given situation. We are able to make a broad assessment of the facts, perceive the essence of an issue and steer a sure course toward happiness.

To conclude, by chanting we transform our lives at the fundamental level and develop courage, compassion, and wisdom. These three elements are required now, more than ever, in these trying times.

Please elaborate on the different initiatives that you take under BSG?

BSG engages in various activities in society around the three pillars of peace, culture and education.

BSG has been promoting Peace by organising Peace symposiums since 2004. These Symposiums, which are based on SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s annual Peace Proposals and are held in many cities across India. Many leading thinkers, educators and prominent personalities have participated in these symposiums and shared their perspectives. This series of symposiums is titled ‘Dialogue in Action: Empowering Humanity’.

We also organise various exhibitions that tour the country reaching out to school and college students. Panels on themes of Sustainability, building a Culture of Peace and Human Rights Education, focus on the ‘Power of ONE’.

Focusing on humanistic education which is based on the ‘happiness of the individual’, BSG has conducted a range of interactive activities, including discussions, workshops and seminars in various schools and colleges. In addition, Campus groups and Peace Clubs have been initiated in several leading educational institutions.

A recent campaign initiated by BSG is to achieve the UN-led SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030. As a part of this campaign, we have promoted a slew of activities amongst the BSG membership, under the tagline ‘Towards 2030: Achieving SDGs through Sustainable Human Behaviour’. These activities are strengthening the awareness and resolve of common people to create a better world.

BSG has also actively participated in various public platforms like TOI Green Drives, Times LitFest, SACH Bharat Conference, organised by Assocham, Sustainability Summit in XUB etc. An initiative launched by BSG on December 15, 2021, is the institution of the ‘Change Maker Humanity Award’. BSG and Jaipur National University (JNU) have taken this initiative which aims to honour unsung protagonists in the fields of education, medical and community healthcare and social services, especially during the Covid pandemic. The award ceremony will be held in March 2022.

What are the upcoming events lined up at BSG?

We will be holding online screenings of the exhibition titled Seeds of Hope and Action, Making the SDGs a reality, every month in 2022, in various schools and colleges. We will also hold a webinar on the importance of Humanistic Education in the 21st century in February 2022. Also, as I shared earlier, we will be holding the awards ceremony to felicitate the winners of the ‘Change Maker Humanity Award’ in March 2022 in Jaipur.

Any anecdote, case or testimonial that you would like to share?

There have been many testimonials of BSG members winning over the COVID pandemic in the second wave. I would like to share two of them with you.

Anuradha Dhawan, New Delhi

In mid-April 2021, I was diagnosed with COVID-19. My condition demanded the doctor’s immediate attention. Tests showed severe COVID pneumonia. As I moved into the ICU with ailing patients, I was engulfed with a deep fear of dying at the age of 49! My situation worsened, and I needed a non-invasive ventilator.

At this time, President Ikeda’s words proved to be a significant source of inspiration to shake me out of my torment. I received daily messages of encouragement from BSG members, which kept my spirits high, and I became confident that I would be back home soon, hale and hearty. I started attending BSG’s online discussion meeting from my hospital bed. I was filled with a determination to live on, for the sake of helping humanity. I was shifted from the ICU and was looking forward to my discharge. But my health worsened again and I was kept under observation for six days.
Even under such intense trial, I encouraged others and was looked up to as a motivating force in the hospital environment. I was discharged after 26 days of hospitalisation. I keenly feel that my life is a gift and I have once again found the purpose of my existence on this earth.

Chayan Sinha, Delhi-NCR

In April 2021, my whole family tested positive for COVID. We rushed my mother to a hospital when her oxygen saturation started to fluctuate. Soon my father also showed low oxygen saturation and needed immediate hospitalisation. Their condition quickly turned from bad to worse, but my fellow BSG members constantly motivated me through this difficult phase.

I was devastated on April 18th when the doctor treating my father informed us my father’s heart failed and he was no more, I couldn’t believe it. I was shattered that I would never see him again! More sorrow was in store as just 8 days later my mother also passed away battling till her last breath.

Inconsolable, I broke into tears. Various thoughts ran through my mind. But then I recalled my mother’s happy face and the memory melted away my despair. BSG had helped me develop the spirit of never being defeated, and this made me resolve to continue to move forward no matter what happens.

President Ikeda says, “Life is indeed impermanent — but simply being aware of its impermanence is no solution. Despairing over this reality also serves no purpose. The question is how we can create eternal value in this fleeting existence.”

I finally made peace with the demise of my mother and father, and I resolved to repay my debt of gratitude to them throughout my life by continuing to work for the happiness of humanity in my unique way.

I truly feel my parents’ presence in my life, every day, every moment, and am determined to fulfil all their hopes and dreams and their implicit belief in me.