Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
The following are excerpts from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's 2015 peace proposal, "A Shared Pledge for a More Humane Future: To Eliminate Misery from the Earth." The full text is available at www.daisakuikeda.org/main/peacebuild/peace-proposals/pp2015.html.
One of the key teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is the idea of dependent origination, that the world is woven of the relatedness of life to life. But it is only when we sense and treasure in others a dignity as valued and irreplaceable as that in our own lives that our interconnection becomes palpable. It is then that the tears and smiles we exchange spark in each of us a courageous will to live.
Here, I would like to reference the ideas of psychologist Erik H. Erikson (1902-94), as I explore the infinite possibilities that arise from the teaching of dependent origination, namely the capacity for self-empowerment, which can enable people burdened by suffering to illuminate their community and society as a whole with the light of their inner dignity.
The first of these ideas is that the mature person needs to be needed. So long as we are made to feel necessary to others, we will be moved by the desire to respond. This desire awakens the inner capacities of life, keeping alive the flame of human dignity.
This brings to mind the example of the peace scholar Elise Boulding (1920-2010) and the way she lived her final years.
After entering a care facility, she spent each day motivated by the thought that there must be something she could do, despite the limitations she faced. Her student Dr. Kevin Clements recalls that she told him that she felt she could bring good to those around her by smiling and being complimentary to others and thanking the medical staff for their kindness. She continued, until just prior to her passing, to welcome visitors with a beautiful spirit of hospitality. As Dr. Boulding demonstrated, we are always capable of maintaining a sense of connection with others, and through this can offer moments of authentic happiness to those around us, bringing our humanity to an ever-greater luster. These moments become the living record of our being, held in our own hearts and the hearts of others.
related article SGI Organizes Event on Women’s Leadership at CSW59 On March 17, SGI organized a parallel event on women’s leadership during the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) held at the UN Headquarters in New York from March 9-20. CSW59 marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 where the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) was adopted. Another element of Erikson's thought is the idea that the effort to reconfigure meaning has the power to prevent suffering from spreading and generating destructive cycles. We cannot redo our lives. But by recounting to others the steps that have led us to the present moment, we can reformulate the meaning of past events. Erikson considered this a source of hope.
This can be seen in the practice of the SGI's faith activities, in particular the sharing of personal experiences, through which practitioners together develop deepened confidence.
Here people speak of what brings them happiness and how they find meaning in life, as well as such trials as the deaths of family members, illness and difficult work and family situations. It is a place of collective recognition of the weight and irreplaceable nature of each individual's life journey, a place where people are encouraged in the struggle to transform suffering.
Through such sharing, the speaker develops a clear awareness that any and all experiences were in fact milestones in the formation of their present self, enabling them to use those experiences as fuel for their future progress. For listeners, the shared experience can help bring forth the courage needed to confront their own challenges. This chain reaction of empowerment, based on empathy, is at the heart of our practice of faith.
What I would also like to stress is the far-reaching impact of the life story of a single individual who has succeeded in discovering a sense of purpose from within the depths of personal suffering. These life stories can transcend national boundaries, connect generations and offer courage and hope to many.