Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
by Daisaku Ikeda
What makes a global citizen? In the following excerpts from an address delivered at Columbia University Teachers College, New York, on June 13, 1996, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda outlines what he considers to be the essential qualities of global citizenship and the role of education in nurturing these values. The full text of the address, titled “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,” is available here.
The first president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, whose thinking is the founding spirit of Soka University, referenced with great respect the writings and ideas of [John] Dewey in his 1930 work, The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy. Dewey and Makiguchi were contemporaries. On opposite ends of the earth, amidst the problems and dislocations of their newly industrializing societies, both wrestled with the task of laying a path toward a hope-filled future.
Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners.
He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation. Put simply, value creation is the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstance. Makiguchi’s philosophy of value creation grew from the insights into the inner workings of life his study of Buddhism afforded him.
related article The Two Bundles of Reeds There is a Buddhist concept called "dependent origination" (Jpn. engi) which means that all phenomena are interrelated. In other words things exist only in relation to other things. Though the term engi has now come to mean omens or luck in popular usage and is often used in a negative context, it originally meant "arising in relation." Both Dewey and Makiguchi looked beyond the limits of the nation-state to new horizons of human community. Both, it could be said, had a vision of global citizenship, of people capable of value creation on a global scale.
What, then, are the conditions for global citizenship?
Over the past several decades, I have been privileged to meet and converse with many people from all walks of life and I have given the matter some thought. Certainly, global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks or the number of countries to which one has traveled.
I have many friends who could be considered quite ordinary citizens, but who possess an inner nobility; who have never traveled beyond their native place, yet who are genuinely concerned for the peace and prosperity of the world.
I think I can state with confidence that the following are essential elements of global citizenship:
The all-encompassing interrelatedness that forms the core of the Buddhist worldview can provide a basis, I feel, for the concrete realization of these qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion. The following parable from the Buddhist canon provides a beautiful visual metaphor for the interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena.
Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality.
When we learn to recognize what [Henry David] Thoreau refers to as “the infinite extent of our relations,” we can trace the strands of mutually supportive life, and discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors. Buddhism seeks to cultivate wisdom grounded in this kind of empathetic resonance with all forms of life.
When we learn to recognize the infinite extent of our relations, we discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors.
In the Buddhist view, wisdom and compassion are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing.
Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is the realization that even those we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives and can afford us opportunity to grow in our own humanity.
Further, it is the compassionate desire to find ways of contributing to the well-being of others that gives rise to limitless wisdom.
Buddhism teaches that both good and evil are potentialities that exist in all people. Compassion consists in the sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in any person, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others.
Engagement requires courage, however. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment.
Buddhism calls a person who embodies these qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion, who strives without cease for the happiness of others, a bodhisattva.
In this sense, it could be said that the bodhisattva provides an ancient precedent and modern exemplar of the global citizen.
“Goodness” can be defined as that which moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature.
The pathology of divisiveness drives people to an unreasoning attachment to difference and blinds us to human commonalities. This is not limited to individuals, but constitutes the deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism.
The struggle to rise above such egoism, and live in larger and more contributive realms of selfhood, constitutes the core of the bodhisattva’s practice. Education is, or should be, based on the same altruistic spirit as the bodhisattva.
The proud mission of those who have been able to receive education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity. At times, education may become a matter of titles and degrees, and the status and authority these confer. I am convinced, however, that education should be a vehicle to develop in one’s character the noble spirit to embrace and augment the lives of others.
Education should provide in this way the momentum to win over one’s own weaknesses, to thrive in the midst of society’s sometimes stringent realities, and to generate new victories for the human future.
related article Thoughts on Friendship by Daisaku Ikeda In this excerpt from "Discussions on Youth", SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses friendship in the context of Buddhism. The work of fostering global citizens, laying the conceptual and ethical foundations of global citizenship, concerns us all. It is a vital project in which we all are participants and for which we all share responsibility. To be meaningful, education for global citizenship should be undertaken as an integral part of daily life in our local communities.
Like Dewey, Makiguchi focused on the local community as the place where global citizens are fostered. In his 1903 work, The Geography of Human Life, which is considered a pioneering work in social ecology, Makiguchi stressed the importance of the community as the site of learning.
This is consonant with Dewey’s observation that those who have not had the kinds of experience that deepen understanding of neighborhood and neighbors will be unable to maintain regard for people of distant lands.
Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to develop ourselves and those around us. Each of our interactions with others—dialogue, exchange and participation—is an invaluable chance to create value.