Herbie Hancock is an American jazz musician and composer. Born in Chicago, Herbie began playing the piano at seven years old and went on to win an Academy Award and 14 Grammys, including Album of the Year in 2007.
Herbie received Kennedy Center honors in 2021 and is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for intercultural dialogue. For over 50 years, Herbie has practiced Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the Soka Gakkai International.
Seventy-six years ago, at the age of seven, my journey with the piano began—the start of a lifelong engagement with music that shaped my worldview. At 14, I became interested in Jazz and my career and life took a huge turn at 23 when I had the honor of joining The Miles Davis Quintet.
Collaborating with Miles, a figure I could never have dreamed working alongside, was transformative. The days I spent with him were a series of special opportunities.
There was a night on stage where I played a chord that was wrong; I had taken this great night and reduced it to rubble, or at least I thought. Miles took a breath and played some notes and turned what I imagined was a mistake into magic. That moment taught me about the infinite possibilities when it comes to music.
On November 15, 2023, I lost my mentor in life, Daisaku Ikeda, who passed away at 95. Ikeda Sensei, a prominent figure in the modern evolution of Nichiren Buddhism, was the third president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI).
In his novel, “The Human Revolution,” Ikeda articulated the premise that a change in a single individual can transform the destiny of a family, community, or indeed a nation. He was a beacon of hope, and like Miles Davis’ music, Ikeda remains a source of illumination for me personally, and throughout the world.
Ikeda’s teachings and the warm, humanistic way he dealt with people brought out the intrinsic value of every individual. He was truly a man who “walked the talk” of Buddhism and compassion.
He asserted that each person carries a mission integral to the vast tapestry of life. This philosophy instilled in me the belief that each life is irreplaceable and affirms our collective identity as members of a singular human family. Every individual has a mission that only that person can fulfill. Each mission is a crucial piece of the puzzle of life and this is why we are alive. No one is replaceable.
Ikeda taught that suffering is a part of life that no one can escape. But, he provided reassurance that with strong faith anyone can transform their circumstances, learn from their struggles, “turn poison into medicine,” and live happy lives.
Some think there are two kinds of people: bad and good. The truth is all people have the potential to be “good“ and “bad”. The good side can become corrupted by greed, ego, jealousy, or other elements. The bad can be positively transformed by external or internal factors.
As a practicing Buddhist for over five decades, I’ve learned there are no wrong chords in life. While chanting one day, I was thinking about my life and family and career in music. Suddenly, I realized that to my wife I was more than a musician, I was her “husband” and to my daughter I was her “father.” I’m a son to my parents, a neighbor to my friends next-door. Being a musician is just one of those identities. I realized that I had put myself in a cage defined as a “musician”. This epiphany removed all the walls, the barriers to a fuller realization of self. What I do is play music. What I am is a human being.
In a conversation with Ikeda and my late dear friend Wayne Shorter, Ikeda shared that “Peace spreads when a culture that has faith in the goodness of human beings, and seeks to elevate them, flourishes.”