by Daisaku Ikeda: On March 23, 2007, the University of Palermo in Sicily, Italy, presented Daisaku Ikeda with an honorary doctorate in communications in recognition of his global efforts to promote dialogue. The presentation ceremony, held at the university, was attended by Rector Giuseppe Silvestri and numerous other university officials, as well as members of the faculty and student body, and invited guests. SGI Vice President Hiromasa Ikeda accepted the honor on Mr. Ikeda’s behalf and also read a lecture by the latter that had been specially prepared for this occasion.
Honorable Rector Giuseppe Silvestri, Faculty of Education Dean Patrizia Lendinara, Department of Communications Chair Antonio La Spina, distinguished members of the faculty and student body, and honored guests:
I would like to begin by offering my most heartfelt congratulations on the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the University of Palermo (in 1806). I can imagine no greater honor than to be able to celebrate this wonderful occasion as a new member of your eminent institution of higher learning.
I am also deeply grateful that you have so generously allowed me to accept this esteemed honor by proxy, and I would once again like to express my most sincere appreciation to Rector Silvestri and the rest of the faculty.
I have just received an honorary degree in the field of communications, an area of study that I firmly believe is of incomparable significance to the future of the human race. Though our modes and technologies of communication have advanced remarkably in recent years, the unfortunate reality is that true dialogue linking the hearts of one individual to another is still sadly wanting in our lives.
Lamenting the lack of universality in human principles, the seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal observed: “A strange justice that is bounded by a river! Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side.” Unfortunately, this same strangeness, this absence of universality, is not something that we can today laugh at as a tragic folly of ages past. The effects of physical distance have been drastically reduced through advances in transportation and communications media, yet our world remains seriously imperiled by mutual hostility and conflict.
In fact, new technologies such as the Internet have made it possible for religious and ethnic hatred to be broadcast around the globe in the blink of an eye, in many cases actually heightening social tensions. The world today is a mass of contradictions, as we behave like so many porcupines pricking each other with sharp quills, inflicting only mutual pain and suffering.
In November of 2006, I met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general and Nobel Peace laureate Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. I would like to share with you a remark he made at that time that left a deep impression on me: “We continue to emphasize our differences instead of what we have in common. We continue to talk about ‘us’ versus ‘them.'” The attitude of which he speaks is not productive, to say the least. We need to abandon this confrontational approach and seek out what we share in common as human beings by discovering ways to use our differences and diversity to learn from each other and enrich ourselves. I believe that this is the most urgent issue our world now faces, and one that we must treat with the greatest seriousness.
Responding to the gravity of the situation, today I would like to suggest three principles and guidelines for communication: (1) exchange among civilizations as a source of value creation; (2) a spirit of open dialogue; and (3) the creation of a culture of peace through education. I would now like to explore each of these three guidelines.
(1) EXCHANGE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS AS A SOURCE OF VALUE CREATION
The first point I wish to emphasize is that exchange among civilizations is a tremendous source for the creation of value.
German poet, playwright, and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: “Italy without Sicily forms no image at all in the soul; only here is the key to everything.”2 I have always believed that Sicily is indeed an ideal place to discuss the importance of exchange among civilizations. For centuries, Sicily has been a meeting place of different civilizations and cultures, a place where numerous peoples have encountered each other, intermingled, and interacted–together creating a rich treasure trove of the arts that is the heritage of all humankind.
In 1984, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, which I founded, held an exhibition entitled “Ancient Greek Treasures from Sicily.” We were most fortunate to have the participation of eight Sicilian archaeological museums, which lent more than 700 precious works of art and archaeology, including wonderful sculptures and ceramics. The exhibition, which offered a window into the magical realm of Homer’s epic Odyssey and the days of ancient Greek heroes, traveled to five cities in Japan, where it inspired thousands of visitors.
Faculty members of the University of Palermo were among those who helped make this groundbreaking exhibition possible, and I remain profoundly grateful for the opportunity it provided to deepen understanding between the people of Sicily and Japan.
A Beacon of the Most Advanced Learning and Culture
One of Sicily’s most brilliant contributions to civilization was the major role that the Norman Kingdom of Sicily played in the great cultural movement often known as the twelfth-century Renaissance. As I noted in a lecture I gave at Soka University many years ago, it is not really accurate to describe the medieval period in Europe as the “Dark Ages.” In fact, the learning and arts that would later bloom as the Italian Renaissance had already taken deep root at this time and seen noteworthy developments.
In the twelfth century, many important Byzantine Greek and Arabic manuscripts on such subjects as philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy were already being translated into Latin in Palermo, the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily. These jewels of scholarship were eventually transmitted to the rest of Europe, making Palermo a brilliant center of learning and culture without compare in the world.
This proud tradition as a cultural center is also reflected in many of the city’s historic buildings. The former Norman Palace, now the seat of the Sicilian regional parliament, was first built by Arab settlers as a fortress. The Normans converted it into a palace, and later Spanish rulers added beautiful decorative touches. Three civilizations, therefore, contributed to making this imposing building one of the unrivaled masterpieces of world architecture that it is today. It is an important symbol embodying the true value of a cosmopolitan city where different cultures meet and merge, producing something new and wonderful that is in turn disseminated to the world at large.
The Kingdom of Sicily, with its capital in Palermo, was in many ways a precursor to the modern Western nation-state, testifying eloquently to the dynamism that results from creative dialogue between differing cultures and civilizations.
All of the world’s major religions–whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism–originated in locations that were crossroads of civilizations. The Kushan kingdom of ancient India, for example, which reached its apogee in the second century during the reign of King Kanishka, had diplomatic contact with Persia and even the Roman Empire and China. This was achieved by employing sailing routes through the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, and trade routes passing through various oases. The stimulation the Kushan kingdom received from these different cultures, and the synthesis of art traditions, resulted in the flourishing of Gandharan art and the rise of Mahayana Buddhism. In fact, according to recent research, without this cultural exchange, Mahayana Buddhism could not have developed as it did.
Clearly, exchange among civilizations enriches human culture as a whole, opens the way for new developments, and fosters new ideas and philosophies.
Challenge and Response
It is of course also true that throughout history there have been many occasions when encounters between different civilizations have led to unexpected results and triggered the tragedies of conflict and war. Dr. Arnold J. Toynbee, with whom I engaged in a dialogue, analyzed the rise and fall of civilizations based on the concept of “challenge and response.” According to this view, in its simplest form, the fate of a civilization–whether it flourishes or declines–depends largely on whether it can respond appropriately to the challenges presented by its encounters with other civilizations.
The shared conclusion that Dr. Toynbee and I reached was that, in this age of rapid globalization, we must ensure that the encounters between different cultures and civilizations move toward peace, coexistence, and the creation of positive values. This is indeed a key challenge that faces humanity today.
And we must never forget that–be it in exchange between cultures, or dialogue between civilizations–communication between individuals is always the starting point.
Cosmopolitans Linking Palermo and Japan
History is full of truly cosmopolitan individuals who have leapt daringly into different cultures and played an active and constructive part in their new milieu, and whose lives and achievements are a source of hope and inspiration. There are such pioneering individuals who have forged links between Palermo and Japan as well.
The word “cosmopolitan” derives from “cosmos,” the name we give to the universe. “Cosmos,” in turn, comes from the Greek kosmos, meaning “order” or “beauty.” Cosmos also happens to be the name of the beautiful flower that was introduced to Japan in the late nineteenth century by the renowned Sicilian artist Vincenzo Ragusa.
In the period when Japan was just emerging into the modern world, Ragusa was one of the first to introduce Western art to the country and educate numerous young Japanese artists in its traditions. Modern Japanese art is deeply indebted to him for his considerable contribution.
Ragusa was invited to Japan by the Meiji government to teach sculpture at the newly established Technical Fine Arts School in 1876. In Japan, Ragusa met and later married Tama Kiyohara, who went on to become an instructor and the vice principal of the Istituto Statale d’Arte di Palermo that Ragusa founded on returning to his homeland. Mrs. Ragusa played a key role in introducing Japanese art and painting to Sicily. She studied in the art department of the University of Palermo and was active as an artist in the Japanese painting style known as Nihonga. After her husband’s death, she returned to Japan, where she became the first Japanese female painter working in the tradition of Western art.
In the Ragusas’ profound love for Japan and Sicily and their deep-seated commitment to bring the two peoples together through art and culture, I see an exemplary model of what it means to be cosmopolitan.
My mentor Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, was also a cosmopolitan. He fought resolutely against Japanese militarism, and immediately after World War II, he spoke out for global citizenship and initiated a people’s movement of dialogue founded on the ideals of Buddhism for the sake of peace. He engaged in a struggle to expand a grassroots network based on one-on-one dialogue. Through such steadfast efforts, Mr. Toda especially tried to inspire the youth to have an open-minded, global spirit linking them to people of every race and ethnicity and to regard the entire world as their own community.
(2) A SPIRIT OF OPEN DIALOGUE
What force can transform relationships between civilizations that are characterized by dissonance and tension into peaceful, constructive encounters? I believe the key to this transformation is to be found in the second theme I wish to discuss, a spirit of open dialogue.
Simply put, this is the process of identifying commonalities and engaging in dialogue that respects and finds positive value in the differences of each party. The Dutch humanist Spinoza defined peace as “a virtue that springs from force of character.” It is certainly true that no matter how much we insist that we want peace, our relationships with others will remain unstable and insecure unless our words are accompanied by genuine commitment. And likewise, as long as we stay in the mind frame of “passive tolerance,” we will never be able to bridge our differences, which will abide as a gap separating us, and will be forced to continue to wander in the darkness of self-righteousness.
What we must do instead is to see exchange with different civilizations as a form of inspiration and sustenance for our own growth, elevation, and self-improvement. The foundation for this is open dialogue, which can serve as a light illuminating the darkness to promote understanding of different standpoints, and as a bridge linking people’s hearts.
A Miraculous Peace
As we consider the requirements for the open dialogue that is so necessary in the twenty-first century, I would like to examine a magnificent example of such a dialogue for peace from Sicilian history: the thirteenth-century peace treaty negotiated by Frederick II, king of Sicily, and Sultan al-Kamil of the Ayyubid dynasty based in Egypt.
Frederick II, who had succeeded to the throne of the Kingdom of Sicily as a boy, later became the Holy Roman Emperor. The Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt described him as “the first ruler of the modern type.” In his own day, Frederick II was known as Stupor Mundi (wonder of the world). Literate in seven languages, including Greek and Arabic, he had a profound appreciation for Islamic civilization and was also a great patron of education, founding the University of Naples, one of the oldest universities in Europe.
What I find particularly noteworthy is how Frederick II handled the situation in which he was under obligation to lead an armed force on Jerusalem. At the time, the city was ruled by al-Kamil, who was defending it from attacks by European forces. Though from his youth Frederick II had enjoyed great familiarity with Arab civilization and included numerous talented Arabs among his ministers and advisors, in his position as Holy Roman Emperor, he had no choice but to embark on this campaign for Jerusalem. It is not difficult to imagine his reluctance to wage war on one of the leading kingdoms of the Islamic world.
With a plan in mind, in 1228, he set out for Acre in northern Palestine, a point from which an attack on Jerusalem might be successfully launched. The first thing he did upon arriving there was to send an ambassador with a missive to al-Kamil, expressing his profound respect for the Arab leader–who seems to have felt similar respect and admiration for Frederick II’s intelligence and character. This was the start of five months of determined negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Astonishingly, while bargaining in the most dogged fashion for territorial concessions, the two rulers also discussed various difficult questions of philosophy and mathematics, carrying on a scholarly exchange of the highest level. In the process, a trusting relationship grew between them, which enabled them to make substantive concessions, often just short of endangering their own positions. This remarkable process resulted in a peaceful resolution, sometimes called the Treaty of Jaffa.
Frederick II and al-Kamil attained peace without ever resorting to violence. This is indeed a miraculous event in the history of this region, which has been wracked by religious extremism, hatred, and economic and political oppression for countless centuries.
What made this peaceful settlement possible? There are, naturally, many factors that could be cited, but I believe that first and foremost, both Frederick II and al-Kamil truly wanted a peaceful resolution. Second, they were both cosmopolitan individuals, with an understanding of and appreciation for different civilizations. And third, instead of adopting an extreme and purely adversarial attitude, they persisted in negotiating with each other as human beings, treating their partner as an equal.
Even though most of their negotiations were conducted by letter, a friendship burgeoned between these two men because they continued to engage in spiritual dialogue.
The present situation in the Middle East may indeed be radically different from that of the thirteenth century, but the stunning achievement of these two medieval rulers still offers a lesson for the human race that transcends historical boundaries.
Meetings with Chinese and Soviet Leaders during the Cold War
As a member of a generation that suffered terribly at the hands of war, and as a Buddhist who is committed to seeking world peace, I have also engaged in dialogues with numerous world leaders. As early as 1968, I called for the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and Japan. I first visited China six years later, in May 1974. It was a time of growing political tension between China and the Soviet Union. During my stay in Beijing, I observed citizens digging underground shelters to protect themselves in case of Soviet attack. The students at a junior high school I visited were excavating an underground shelter in their schoolyard; it was very painful to witness the anxiety and fear the people of China were feeling.
Strongly wishing to somehow alleviate this worsening situation between the two countries–amid the Cold War that was also seeing heightened tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union–I traveled to the U.S.S.R. three months later, in September 1974. During my 10 days there, I spoke with ordinary citizens on the streets of Moscow and gained a clear sense that, just like the residents of Beijing, they earnestly desired peace. Even the stoically taciturn concierge who kept the key to our rooms at our hotel eventually confessed to me her sadness at losing her husband in the war.
I realized that the people of both nations wanted peace. To achieve that goal, it was necessary to first eliminate mutual suspicion and doubt, and then to establish a trusting relationship between the leaders of the two countries. With this thought in mind, I openly asked Soviet premier Aleksey Kosygin–with whom I was granted a meeting at the Kremlin on the last day of my visit–whether his nation was planning to attack China. He replied emphatically: “The Soviet Union has no intention of either attacking or isolating China.”
In December 1974, when I visited China again, I relayed this message to the Chinese leadership. Hearing Chinese premier Zhou Enlai declare, “The last quarter of the twentieth century will be the most critical period in the history of the world. All nations must stand as equals and help each other,” I was certain that Chinese-Soviet rapprochement was not far off. And, in fact, that is precisely the direction history took.
Divisiveness–The Tragedy of the Twentieth Century
The twentieth century was an era of mass slaughter, of “megadeath.” A fatal dualism increasingly divided the world into friends and enemies, good and evil, while war and destruction rampaged unchecked, claiming countless lives. The Holocaust, the numerous campaigns of genocide, and the horrific “ethnic cleansing” that followed the end of the Cold War are just a few examples. We still have not escaped from the condition that Russian author Leo Tolstoy warned us about many years ago: “For centuries men have been struggling and laboring to put the good on one side, the evil on the other.”
When we claim all goodness and virtue for ourselves, and consign all evil to the other, we are destined–like Goethe’s Faust after selling his soul to the devil Mephistopheles–to become immune to the voice of conscience within. In the twenty-first century, dialogue and communication are the only means that will allow us to surmount difficult problems such as terrorism and ethnic violence, to break the spell of superficial differences that holds us in its self-destructive thrall, and to build a global society based on peace and coexistence. As in the case of Frederick II and al-Kamil that I mentioned earlier, human sympathy transcending the level of the “friend/enemy” dichotomy and words originating from the innermost depths of the spirit are how we can reach others’ hearts and make that first step together toward peace.
In this regard, the Buddhist concept of “the oneness of good and evil” is illuminating: Buddhism teaches that both aspects are inherent within human life, with one or the other being manifested due to the arising of certain causes and conditions. Based on this concept, I believe that the true value of creative, constructive dialogue is to be found in our effort to perfect and elevate our own lives, to suppress the manifestation of evil or negative aspects, and to foster and encourage the manifestation of good or positive aspects. This very effort underlies the kind of dialogue and communication that we are in such dire need of today.
Shakyamuni offers these insightful words: “Just as I am so are they, just as they are so am I,” and concludes that because of this shared humanity, we “should neither kill nor cause others to kill.”7 We can detect two important meanings of these words. First, the moral laws we should obey are not externally prescribed rules, but emerge from deep introspection rooted in sympathy and compassion for others, who are human beings just like us. Second, as articulated in the above injunction, it is not enough to simply refrain from killing; one must also urge others to adopt a philosophy of respect for the sanctity of life and live by it.
Introspection followed by turning outward and encouraging others–this process where one constantly examines one’s own heart while believing in the goodness of others and engaging them in dialogue–leads the individual to a state of unshakable self-discipline and powerful self-mastery. The two wheels that support dialogue therefore are a belief that everyone possesses goodness within and a spirit of unflagging determination to tap and draw out that goodness. These two points are the indispensable elements for successful dialogue between civilizations and religions.
I firmly believe that the true value of dialogue is not to be found solely in the results it produces but, more significantly, in the process of dialogue itself, as two human spirits engage with and elevate each other to a higher realm. I have taken part in some 1,600 dialogue sessions and published nearly 50 dialogues with world leaders in various fields. All these exchanges were undertaken out of my fervent wish to use the power of dialogue to bring the world closer together and find a solution to the manifold problems confronting humanity.
The three research institutions I have founded–the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, and the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century–have also actively dedicated themselves to engaging in intercivilizational and interfaith dialogue. They were established with the aim of bringing together the world’s leading minds in problem-solving discourse on thorny issues such as conflict prevention, poverty eradication, and reversing environmental destruction.
One of the major writings of Nichiren, the thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist leader whose teachings form the foundation of the SGI movement, is titled “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land.” Nichiren wrote this work in dialogue format. In it, two individuals with differing points of view meet to discuss, from the platform of their shared concern, the many problems afflicting their society. The dialogue opens with the words: “Now that you have come, we can lament together. Let us discuss the question at length.” They explore the causes for the misery they see around them and discuss methods for bringing it to an end, ultimately pledging to work together to take action for the sake of others and society.
The fundamental mission of religion is to rouse in each individual a commitment to a universal vision of the sanctity of human life, and to be the source and impetus for an ethos of building a culture of peace.
Dialogue is what opens the eye of the human spirit and liberates people from the curse of narrow-minded prejudices and hatreds. It is the mission of education, meanwhile, to establish a way for human beings to peacefully coexist in society and elevate the ideals of the age.
(3) THE CREATION OF A CULTURE OF PEACE THROUGH EDUCATION
Finally, I would like to discuss the third point in my guidelines for communication: the creation of a culture of peace through education. The groundbreaking Italian educator Maria Montessori wrote: “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education,” and “it [education] must aim to reform humanity so as to permit the inner development of human personality and to develop a more conscious vision of the mission of mankind and the present conditions of social life.” Truly, education is the key to the future of humankind. My distinguished friend Nelson Mandela, former South African president and fearless champion of human rights, wrote in his autobiography: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.” People are taught to hate. Based on this firm belief, Mr. Mandela endeavored to rebuild his divided nation by advancing policies and supporting educational efforts that would uproot hatred from its people’s hearts, planting the seeds of nonviolence and faith in humanity in its place.
Soka Gakkai International (SGI), of which I am president, has also been engaged in an educational movement for peace and nonviolence around the world, promoting activities such as the youth-driven Victory over Violence campaign in the United States and the SGI-sponsored Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World exhibit. In Palermo, with the kind cooperation of numerous local authorities and organizations, we were able to hold the Toward a Century of Humanity–An Overview of Human Rights in Today’s World exhibit in 2001. I was delighted to learn that many young people visited the exhibition and felt they gained something from it.
I also have the highest admiration for the tireless efforts of the University of Palermo and the citizens of Sicily in conducting a courageous struggle of words to eliminate violence in society and build a culture of peace. This is a remarkable effort that will impart immeasurable hope to the world and to future generations.
Cicero’s Struggle to Speak Out for Justice
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Roman orator and philosopher Cicero engaged in a struggle in Sicily, using his famed eloquence as a weapon to combat the oppression of people. This struggle is a brilliant source of inspiration even today. The Roman official Gaius Verres governed Sicily for three years starting in 73 BCE. He was a rapacious and corrupt ruler who robbed the people and carried out a reign of violence and terror, inflicting great suffering on the populace.
The Sicilian people wished to sue Verres in the law courts of Rome, but at that time were unable to. Their only hope was to implore Cicero, who had previously served in Sicily as an official of the Roman Republic and enjoyed the peoples’ trust, to prosecute him on their behalf. When they had explained their situation to him, Cicero immediately agreed to represent them and swiftly took action. He sailed to Sicily and, despite numerous obstacles, succeeded in collecting voluminous evidence of Verres’ corrupt and immoral governance directly from the people. He listened to innumerable mothers’ accounts of how their children had been murdered by Verres and his followers. Cicero spent 50 days walking around the island in the depths of an unusually cold winter to collect these reports, often at the risk of his own safety, doing everything possible to ensure the trial’s success. Once in court, he not only demonstrated his famed eloquence, but presented the testimony of the people and the overwhelming amount of evidence he had gathered with meticulous care. The result was a resounding victory for the Sicilian people.
I mention Cicero’s valiant struggle to impeach Verres because I believe this “battle of words” offers valuable lessons for our own struggles against violence and corruption and our efforts to build a culture of peace. There are three lessons in particular that we can glean. First, Cicero’s struggle was rooted in the voice of truth arising directly from the people. Second, he was able to unite people who were dedicated to good. And third, he employed the nonviolent means of a legal contest to attain justice.
Throughout history, alliances of well-intentioned people working for social reform have frequently unraveled or failed to exhibit sufficient strength. The founder of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who was arrested for his opposition to Japan’s militarist government and died in prison for his beliefs during World War II, lamented: “Driven by their instinct for self-preservation, evil-minded people band together, increasing the force with which they persecute the good. In contrast, people of goodwill always seem to be isolated and weak.” For this very reason, Makiguchi stressed the need to draw out the limitless potential of the individual, empower them, and arm them with knowledge and wisdom through the power of education. The only solution to the aforementioned dilemma, he concluded, is to strengthen this alliance of the good and create a world of peace and humanity.
It is in this spirit that I have established Soka educational institutions in Japan, the United States, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and have dedicated myself wholeheartedly to promoting international educational exchange at both the university and community levels. In the effort to build a culture of peace, I have placed special emphasis on the importance of education that teaches young people to become actively engaged in creating peace, rather than remaining passive bystanders who may support peace but do little or nothing concrete to realize it.
Makiguchi offered an explanation as to why, though the majority of people in any given society are well-intentioned, the world’s situation only seems to grow more dire. He said: “People who perform acts of great good invariably encounter harsh persecution. The large majority of others–though honest, upright citizens themselves and perhaps even secretly sympathizing with these brave individuals–generally feel powerless to do anything and stand by silently while the latter risk their lives. It is because of this lack of active support that those who are persecuted are all too frequently defeated in their efforts.”
The aim of education is not merely the transmission of knowledge and skills. I believe that what we need now is a fully human education that, rooted in the rich earth of the people, nurtures the wisdom and courage to confront the problems facing humankind and society.
Respecting and Learning from Diverse Cultures
I also believe that education must promote a truly cosmopolitan spirit that enables us to respect and learn from diverse cultures.
In January 2007, my dialogue with the leading scholar of Chinese civilization, Prof. Tu Weiming of Harvard University, was published in Japanese. Professor Tu served as a member of the Group of Eminent Persons appointed by the UN secretary-general for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations (2001). He has warned that civilizations and individuals who adopt the arrogant attitude that they have everything to teach and nothing to learn are both destined to ruin. And he has also stated that by encountering different styles of living, we cultivate the art of listening, the ethic of care, and a sense of self-discovery.
I believe that the humility that characterizes the willingness to learn from others is in fact the strength that will allow us to cultivate a foundation in which a culture of peace in our world may take root. Italian author and philosopher Umberto Eco, in discussing the direction in which we should proceed as we head into the third millennium, noted that the past two millennia could be represented by an arrow, which advances in a single direction. The symbol of the third millennium, he declared, should be that of a constellation, which signifies respect for multicultural societies. This is indeed a brilliant metaphor. In a constellation, each of the stars, while shining with their individual light, join together in a beautiful array, never diminishing or obstructing the beauty of others in the formation but adorning the night sky with their rich diversity.
Eco’s metaphor closely resembles the Buddhist concept of dependent origination. The Buddhist scriptures offer their own metaphor, “Indra’s net.” The palace of the god Shakra Devanam Indra, who represents the power of nature, is said to be covered with a huge net studded with innumerable gems sparkling in many different colors. No single gem is at the center of the net; each is equally the center of the whole. And each gem reflects every other gem, making them shine all the brighter and creating a magnificent and perfectly harmonious realm. This, according to Buddhism, is the true aspect of our world.
If we take these gems to represent the culture of every region and people, the light emitted by each gem then represents the uniqueness of that particular culture. When the jewels reflect every other jewel, they produce a new light, creating infinite value–a global civilization that shines with magnificent brilliance. The ideal of a humanistic culture and civilization that embraces all people based on peace and coexistence will only be realized through communication that appreciates diversity. We must prize and learn from our differences, and discover what is shared universally by all humanity while preserving the unique character of our respective cultures. I am convinced that the first step in education for global citizens must be to foster a respect for diversity.
The World as One’s Community
The Siculo-Arab poet Abu al-Arab wrote: “I have sprung from earth, any land suits me, all men are my brothers, the world is my country.”This is a perfect expression of the spirit of global citizenship, the broad-minded, all-embracing spirit that regards the entire world as one’s community and all the people in it as one’s brothers and sisters. It is our responsibility to inculcate this spirit in future generations.
The Quatro Canti, or “four corners,” is the crossroads in Palermo’s historic center where two principal streets meet. As this symbolizes, Palermo has a long, magnificent history of interaction between peoples and cultures. The University of Palermo, located at this crossroads of civilizations, has made significant contributions to the human race as a citadel of learning that has produced a richly diverse culture and has fostered global citizens. Today, when a global civilization of peace and coexistence is so eagerly awaited, your university is shining with ever-greater brilliance as a beacon illuminating the future.
Today, as an honorary member of the University of Palermo, I firmly pledge to Rector Silvesrtri and members of the faculty to continue my efforts to spread a wave of dialogue throughout the world and strive for a flourishing of humanistic education for peace.
In closing, I would like to offer the words of the social activist and poet Danilo Dolci, who is often called the “Gandhi of Sicily,” to the bright students of your university: “Peace is not a synonym for passive quietude, but of struggle. It is a mode of living implicit with a clear vision, a striving to educate and perfect yourself, and doing your utmost to solve problems.”