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Peace and Human Security: A Buddhist Perspective for the 21st Century (East-West Center, 1995)

by Daisaku Ikeda: A lecture delivered at the East-West Center, Hawaii, USA, January 26, 1995ikeda exepcional PS–”World Needs a Global Culture of Human Rights” (Mar. 28, 2008)Hawaii draws all people into the beautiful embrace of her nature. East and West meet here in friendship; diverse cultures mix and blend in harmony; there is a balance and fusion of the traditional and the modern.

It is therefore an especially appropriate place to consider the issues of peace and the human being, issues of fundamental importance to humankind.

I myself began my travels to the world here in Hawaii in 1960, the year that this Center was established. It had been my earnest desire since youth somehow to help bring forth a brilliant dawn of global peace from here in Hawaii, stage of the tragic outbreak of the Pacific War, initiated by militarist Japan.

Looking back, we can say that the twentieth century has been stained by the all too common slaughter of humanity at human hands. Our century has been termed a century of war and revolution; aptly so, for with two world wars and countless revolutions, it has been an unprecedented and bloody torrent of conflict and upheaval.

Advances in science and technology have produced a dramatic increase in the lethality of our weapons; it has been estimated that one hundred million people died violent deaths the first half of this century. Under the cold war regime that followed and since, regional and internal conflicts have claimed more than twenty million lives.

At the same time, the income gap between the North and the South continues to grow, with some eight hundred million people living in hunger. We cannot turn a blind eye to the structural violence by which tens of thousands of precious young lives are lost daily to malnutrition and disease.

Furthermore, many thinkers point with alarm to the spiritual impoverishment, rampant in both East and West, that demonstrates the vacuity of merely material prosperity.

What has twentieth-century humanity gained at the cost of this staggering sacrifice of human life? As we approach the end of this century, amid deepening disorder, no one can suppress a sense of anguish at this question.

Toward the Inner Reformation

I am reminded of the following passage from the Lotus Sutra, which contains the essence of Mahayana Buddhism: “There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared.”

This passage gives voice to an unrestrained empathy for humanity, tormented by the flames of suffering and terror.

In the same sutra, his gaze fixed on this agonized panorama, Shakyamuni makes the following declaration: “I should rescue them from their sufferings and give them the joy of the measureless and boundless Buddha wisdom so that they may find their enjoyment in that.”

This determination is seminal in the thinking of Buddhism, and from it flows a tradition of dynamic action toward the creation of an indestructible realm of security and comfort amid the stark realities of society.

The foundation for this endeavor is always the inner reformation of the individual and the resultant renewal and invigoration of life and daily living. My mentor, second president of the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, termed this “human revolution.”

Under the sway of the nineteenth-century cult of progress, in this century we have feverishly devoted ourselves to enhancing the structures of society and the state, laboring under the delusion that this alone is the path to human happiness. But to the extent that we have skirted the fundamental issue of how to reform and revitalize individual human beings, our most conscientious efforts for peace and happiness have produced just the opposite result. This, I feel, is the central lesson of the twentieth century.

I was greatly encouraged by the fact that President Oksenberg, a noted authority on security issues, holds similar views on this subject.

When we met in Tokyo last autumn, he expressed himself thus:

“If people live in a spiritual void, they will experience insecurity. They will not know stability. They will not feel at ease. The nations and states in which they live will therefore not be offering their people true security. Real security requires that we consider more than just the security of the state but that we also include in our considerations the security of cultures and individual human beings.”

Our task is to establish a firm inner world, a robust sense of self that will not be swayed or shaken by the most trying circumstances or pressing adversity. Only when our efforts to reform society have as their point of departure the reformation of the inner life–human revolution–will they lead us with certainty to a world of lasting peace and true human security.

With this as my major premise, I would like to offer some ideas regarding three transformations that we face on our way toward the twenty-first century: from knowledge to wisdom; from uniformity to diversity; and, finally, what I would term “from national to human sovereignty.”

From Knowledge to Wisdom

The first transformation I would like to discuss is the need to move away from our present emphasis on knowledge toward a new emphasis on wisdom. Piercing, I feel, to the heart of the matter, President Toda stated that confusing knowledge for wisdom is the principal error in the thinking of modern man.

Clearly, the volume of information and knowledge possessed by humanity has seen an extraordinary increase compared to one hundred or even fifty years ago. It can hardly be said, however, that this knowledge has led to the kind of wisdom that gives rise to human happiness.

Rather, the suffering generated by the grotesque imbalance between our knowledge and our wisdom is succinctly symbolized by the fact that the most sublime fruit of our science and technology has been nuclear weapons, and by the widening North-South development gap to which I referred moments ago.

With the advent of an increasingly knowledge–and information–based society, it becomes all the more crucial that we develop the wisdom to master these vast resources of knowledge and information.

The same communication technologies, for example, that can be used to incite terror and hatred in whole populations, could just as easily produce a dramatic expansion of educational opportunity worldwide. The difference lies solely in the degree and depth of human wisdom and compassion.

The consistent intent of Buddhism is to develop the compassionate wisdom which is inherent in the depths of human life. Nichiren, founder of the Buddhism which we uphold, wrote the following in a letter to one of his disciples. Your mastery of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of mortal sufferings in the least unless you perceive the nature of your own life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, any discipline or good deed will be meaningless. For example, a poor man cannot earn a penny just by counting his neighbor’s wealth, even if he does so night and day.

A distinctive characteristic of Buddhism, and of Eastern thought in general, is the insistence that all intellectual activity be developed in intimate dialogue with such existential, subjective questions as: “What is the self? ” and “What is the best way to live?”.

The passage I quoted is representative of this style of reasoning.

There is growing concern that competition for water and other natural resources will be an increasingly frequent cause of regional conflicts. In this connection, I am reminded of the wisdom that Shakyamuni demonstrated in response to a communal conflict over water in his native state.

When his peripatetic teachings brought Shakyamuni back to Kapilavastu, he found that a drought had depleted the waters of a river running between two ethnic groups in the region, bringing them into conflict. Neither group was prepared to yield, arms had been taken up and bloodshed seemed unavoidable.

Entering between the two factions, Shakyamuni admonished them thus: “Look at those who fight, ready to kill! Fear arises from taking up arms and preparing to strike.”

It is precisely because you are armed that you feel fear–this clear and simple reasoning reverberated in the hearts of the parties to the conflict, awakening them to the folly of their actions. All put down their weapons, and friend and enemy sat down together.

When Shakyamuni finally spoke, he addressed not the rights and wrongs of the immediate conflict, but the primal terror of death. He spoke with power and intimacy on overcoming the foremost fear–of our own inevitable death–and living a life of peace and security.

Of course, compared to the fierce complexity of contemporary conflicts, this episode may appear all too simplistic in its outcome. The present war in the former Yugoslavia, to take but one example, has roots that reach back nearly two thousand years. During that time, the region has seen the schism between the eastern and western Christian churches, the conquests of the Ottoman Turks, and in this century the atrocities of fascism and communism. The tangled animosities of race and religion are indescribably deep and powerful. Each group emphasizes its uniqueness; each group knows and draws upon its history for justification. The result is the deadly stalemate we see today.

It is for just these reasons that I find an urgent meaning in the pattern demonstrated by Shakyamuni’s courageous dialogue. Our times demand an embracing wisdom that, rather than dividing, brings into view that which we share and hold in common as human beings.

The teachings of Buddhism offer a treasure trove of peace-oriented wisdom. Nichiren, for example, offers this pointed insight into the relationship between the basic negative tendencies within human life and the most pressing external threats to peace and security. In a country where the three poisons [of greed, anger and stupidity] prevail to such a degree, how can there be peace and stability? . . . Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result of stupidity, and warfare as a result of anger.

The wisdom of Buddhism enables us to break the confines of the “lesser self” (Jpn. shoga), the private and isolated self held prisoner to its own desires, passions and hatreds. It further enables us to contextualize the deep-rooted psychology of collective identity as we expand our lives, with overflowing exuberance, toward the “greater self” (Jpn. taiga), which is coexistent with the living essence of the universe.

This wisdom is not to be sought in some distant place, but can be found within ourselves, beneath our very feet as it were. It resides in the living microcosm within and wells forth in limitless profusion when we devote ourselves to courageous and compassionate action for the sake of humanity, society and the future.

Through this kind of “Bodhisattva practice,” we develop the wisdom to sever the shackles of ego, and the spheres of our disparate knowledge will begin to turn with vibrant balance toward a prosperous human future.

Toward Empathy with Otherness

The second transformation I would like to discuss is from uniformity to diversity.

I deeply appreciate having the opportunity to discuss this theme here in Hawaii, these “rainbow islands” which are a veritable symbol of diversity, and now, as we begin the United Nations Year for Tolerance.

The citizens of Hawaii are truly at the forefront of humanity in their efforts to harmonize and draw forth unity from diversity, for this will continue to be an issue of singular importance as we move into the future. Your invaluable pioneering endeavors can, I believe, be likened to the ‘ohi’a tree, which is the first to sink its roots into the barrenness of recent lava flows, sending forth lovely deep-red blossoms.

As exemplified by modes of economic development which aim exclusively at the maximization of profit, modern civilization tends to the elimination of difference, the subordination of both natural and human diversity to the pursuit of monolithic objectives.

The result of this process is the grievous global problematic that confronts us today, and of which environmental degradation is but one aspect. It is vital that we pursue a path of sustainable human development based on a profound sense of solidarity with future generations.

A new appreciation of human, social and natural diversity is, in a sense, an inevitable reaction to the present crisis.

I am reminded of the wisdom of Rachel Carson, marine biologist and pioneer of the environmental movement. In 1963, one year before her death, she expressed her views thus: Now, I truly believe that we in this generation must come to terms with nature, and I think we’re challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.

The increasing attention focused on the Pacific Rim relates in no small way, I am convinced, to the hope that this “experimental sea,” characterized by such remarkable ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, will play a leading role in bringing together the human family.

Hawaii is the crossroads of the Pacific and has a rich history of peaceful coexistence–accepting the contributions of many cultures and encouraging the mutual appreciation of diverse values. As such I am convinced that Hawaii will continue to be a pioneering model for the emerging pan-Pacific civilization.

The wisdom of Buddhism can also shed considerable light on the question of diversity. Because one central tenet of Buddhism is that universal value must be sought within the life of the individual, it works fundamentally to counter any attempt to enforce uniformity or standardization.

In the teachings of Nichiren we find the passage, “The cherry, the plum, the peach, the damson . . . without undergoing any change . . .” This passage confirms that there is no need for all to become “cherries,” or “plums,” but that each should manifest the unique brilliance of his or her own character.

This simile points to a fundamental principle of appreciation for diversity that applies equally to human beings and to social and natural environments. As the concept of “revealing one’s intrinsic nature” (Jpn. jitai kensho) indicates, the prime mission of Buddhism is to enable each and all to blossom to the fullest of our potential. The fulfillment of the individual, however, cannot be realized in conflict with, or at the expense of, others, but only through active appreciation of uniqueness and difference, for these are the varied hues that together weave the flower gardens of life.

Nichiren’s teachings also contain the following parable, “When you face a mirror and bow respectfully, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you.”

I think this beautifully expresses the all-encompassing causality that is the heart of Buddhism. The respect we demonstrate for the lives of others returns to us, with mirror-like certainty, ennobling our lives.

The Buddhist principle of dependent origination (Jpn. engi ) reflects a cosmology in which all human and natural phenomena come into existence within a matrix of interrelatedness. Thus we are urged to respect the uniqueness of each existence, which supports and nourishes all within the larger, living whole.

What distinguishes the Buddhist view of interdependence is that it is based on a direct, intuitive apprehension of the cosmic life immanent in all phenomena. Therefore, Buddhism unequivocally rejects all forms of violence as an assault on the harmony that underlies and binds the web of being.

The following words of Professor Anthony Marsella of the University of Hawaii are an excellent summation of the essence of dependent origination.

I intend to accept and to embrace the self-evident truth that the very life force that is within me is the same life force that moves, propels, and governs the universe itself, and because of this I must approach life with a new sense of awe, humbled by the mystery of this truth, yet elated and confident by its consequences. I am alive! I am part of life!

By focusing on the deepest and most universal dimensions of life, we are able to extend a natural empathy toward life in its infinite diversity. And it is the failure of empathy, as that great pioneer of peace studies Professor Johan Galtung notes, that in the end makes violence possible.

Professor Galtung and I are presently engaged in preparing a published dialogue. One subject of our discussion has been the education of children and youth, and the need to instill a spirit of positive engagement with those whose very difference and “otherness” can extend and enrich us.

This kind of open-ended empathy enables us to view human diversity as a catalyst for creativity, the basis of a civilization of inclusion and mutual prosperity.

I would like to note in passing that the SGI’s efforts to promote cultural exchange and interaction around the world are based on this conviction and determination.

From National to Human Sovereignty

The third transformation I would like to discuss is from national to human sovereignty.

Undeniably, sovereign states and issues of national sovereignty have been the prime actors in much of the war and violence of the twentieth century. Modern wars, waged as the legitimate exercise of state sovereignty, have involved entire populations willy-nilly in untold tragedy and suffering.

The League of Nations and later the United Nations, each founded in the bitter aftermath of global conflict, were in a sense attempts to create an overarching system that would restrain and temper state sovereignty. However, we must acknowledge that this bold project today remains far from the realization of its original aims. The United Nations approaches its fiftieth anniversary laden with a trying array of problems.

It is my belief that, if it is to become a true “parliament of humanity,” the United Nations must base itself on the so-called “soft power” of consensus and agreement reached through dialogue, and that the enhancement of its functions must be accompanied by a shift away from traditional, military-centered conceptualizations of security. It is to be hoped that, to offer one suggestion, through the creation of a new environment and development security council, the United Nations will be empowered to engage the pressing questions of human security with renewed energy and focus.

In this effort, it is essential that we effect a paradigm shift from national to human sovereignty–an idea expressed powerfully by the words, “We the peoples . . .” with which the United Nations Charter opens. Concretely, we must promote the kind of grassroots education that will foster world citizens committed to the shared welfare of humanity, and we must foster solidarity among them.

In our capacity as a non-governmental organization, the members of the SGI are engaged in developing effective activities on a global scale, focusing particularly on youth, to inform and raise the awareness of the world’s citizens surrounding the unique opportunity presented by the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations’ founding.

From the viewpoint of Buddhism, the transformation from state to human sovereignty comes down to the question of how to develop the resources of character that can bravely challenge and wisely temper the seemingly overwhelming powers of official authority.

In the course of our dialogues held some twenty years ago, the British historian Arnold Toynbee defined nationalism as a religion, the worship of the collective power of human communities. This definition applies equally, I feel, to both sovereign states and to the kind of nationalism which, in its more tribal manifestations, is fomenting regional and sub-national conflicts throughout the world today. Toynbee further required that any future world religion be capable of countering fanatical nationalism as well as “the evils that are serious present threats to human survival.” In particular, I am unable to forget the profound expectation which Toynbee expressed with regard to Buddhism, which he termed “a universal system of laws of life.”

Indeed, Buddhism possesses a rich tradition of transcending, and making relative, secular authority through appeals to, and reliance on, inner moral law.

For example, when Shakyamuni was asked by a Brahmin named Sela to become a king of kings, a chief of men, Shakyamuni replied that he was already a king, a king of the supreme truth.

Seven Questions for Security

Equally striking is the drama of Shakyamuni halting the plans of the imperial state of Magadha to exterminate the Vajjian republics. In the presence of the minister of Magadha, who had come with brazen intent to inform Shakyamuni of the planned invasion, Shakyamuni asked his disciple seven questions about the Vajjians. With some elaboration, these are:

  1. Do they (the Vajjians) value discussion and dialogue?
  2. Do they value cooperation and solidarity?
  3. Do they value laws and traditions?
  4. Do they respect their elders?
  5. Do they respect children and women?
  6. Do they respect religion and spirituality?
  7. Do they value people of culture and learning, whether they be Vajjian or not? Are they open to such influences from abroad?

The answer to each of these questions was “yes.” Shakyamuni then explained to the minister of Magadha that so long as the Vajjians continue to observe these principles, they will prosper, and not decline. Thus, he explained, it will be impossible to conquer them.

These are the famous “seven principles preventing decline,” the seven guidelines by which communities prosper, expounded by Shakyamuni during his last travels.

It is interesting to note the parallels with contemporary efforts to establish security, not through military might, but through the promotion of democracy, social development and human rights.

This incident is also a vivid portrait of Shakyamuni’s dignity and stature as a king of the supreme truth addressing secular authority.

It was in this same spirit that Nichiren issued his famous treatise, the “Rissho Ankoku Ron,” in 1260, directed at the highest authorities in Japan at that time, admonishing them for remaining “deaf to the cries of the people.”  From that time, Nichiren’s life was a series of unending, often life-threatening persecutions.

He, however, expressed his sense of inner freedom thus: “Since I have been born in the ruler’s domain, I must follow him in my actions. But I need not follow him in the beliefs of my heart.”

Elsewhere, “I pray that before anything else I can guide to the truth the sovereign and those others who persecuted me.”

And also, “The occurrence of persecutions should instill a sense of peace and comfort.”

Relying on the eternal law within to rise above the sway of evanescent authority in pursuit of non-violence and humanity–it is in the course of this grand struggle that one experiences an indestructible life condition of comfort and security.

I am further confident that these declarations of soaring human dignity will resound strongly and deeply in the hearts of world citizens as they create the global civilization of the twenty-first century.

The three transformations which I have outlined come together in the process of human revolution, the reformation of the inner life, its expansion toward and merger with the “greater self” of wisdom, compassion and courage. It is my firm conviction that a fundamental revolution in the life of a single individual can give rise to the kind of consciousness and solidarity that will free humanity from its millennial cycles of warfare and violence.

During the Second World War, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, founder and first president of the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value Creating Education Society) engaged in a spirited confrontation with the military authorities of Japan. Even in prison, and until his death there at age seventy-three, he pursued principled debate, leading several among those who had judged and jailed him to appreciate and even take faith in Buddhism.

Seeking to live up to that spiritual inheritance, I began my own dialogue with the world’s citizens here in Hawaii thirty-five years ago. It is my determination to devote the rest of my life to the endeavor, which I hope I will share with you, of marshaling the manifest wisdom of peace to create a new era of hope and security in the coming century.

In closing I would like to share the following words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose lifetime devotion to the themes we have discussed today has long inspired my profound affection and respect:

“You have to stand against the whole world although you may have to stand alone. You have to stare the world in the face although the world may look at you with bloodshot eyes. Do not fear. Trust that little thing that resides in your heart . . .”

Source: AWAKEN


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