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Buddhism teaches that the same power which moves the universe exists within our lives. Each individual has immense potential, and a great change in the inner dimension of one individual's life has the power to touch the lives of others and transform society. When we change our inner determination, everything begins to move in a new direction.
Hope, in this sense, is a decision. When we possess the treasure of hope, we can draw forth our inner potential and strength. A person of hope can always advance.
Hope is a flame that we nurture within our hearts. It may be sparked by someone else--by the encouraging words of a friend, relative or mentor--but it must be fanned and kept burning through our own determination. Most crucial is our determination to continue to believe in the limitless dignity and possibilities of both ourselves and others.
Mahatma Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle for Indian independence from British colonial rule, succeeding against all odds. He was, in his own words, "an irrepressible optimist." His hope was not based on circumstances, rising and falling as things seemed to be going better or worse. Rather, it was based on an unshakable faith in humanity, in the capacity of people for good. He absolutely refused to abandon his faith in his fellow human beings.
Keeping faith in people's essential goodness, and the consistent effort to cultivate this goodness in ourselves--as Gandhi proved, these are the twin keys to unleashing the great power of hope. Believing in ourselves and in others in this way--continuing to wage the difficult inner struggle to make this the basis for our actions--can transform a society that sometimes seems to be plummeting toward darkness into a humane and enlightened world where all people are treated with respect.
related article The Poor Woman's Lamp In a letter Nichiren wrote 700 years ago in appreciation of the sincere offerings made by a devout woman named Onichi-nyo, there is a passage which reads: "A poor woman cut off her hair and sold it to buy oil [for the Buddha], and not even the winds sweeping down from Mount Sumeru could extinguish the flame of the lamp fed by this oil." There may be times when, confronted by cruel reality, we verge on losing all hope. If we cannot feel hope, it is time to create some. We can do this by digging deeper within, searching for even a small glimmer of light, for the possibility of a way to begin to break through the impasse before us. And our capacity for hope can actually be expanded and strengthened by difficult circumstances. Hope that has not been tested is nothing more than a fragile dream. Hope begins from this challenge, this effort to strive toward an ideal, however distant it may seem.
It is far better to pursue a remote, even seemingly impossible goal than to cheat ourselves of the forward motion that such goals can provide. I believe that the ultimate tragedy in life is not physical death. Rather, it is the spiritual death of losing hope, giving up on our own possibilities for growth.
My mentor, Josei Toda, once wrote: "In looking at great people of the past, we find that they remained undefeated by life's hardships, by life's pounding waves. They held fast to hopes that seemed mere fantastic dreams to other people. They let nothing stop or discourage them from realizing their aspirations. The reason for this, I feel certain, is that their hopes themselves were not directed toward the fulfillment of personal desires or self-interest, but based on a wish for all people's happiness, and this filled them with extraordinary conviction and confidence."
Here he pointed to a crucially important truth: real hope is found in committing ourselves to vast goals and dreams--dreams such as world without war and violence, a world where everyone can live in dignity. related article Global Citizenship—Tracing the Infinite Extent of Our Relations by Daisaku Ikeda What makes a global citizen? 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 problems that face our world are daunting in their depth and complexity. Sometimes it may be hard to see where--or how--to begin. But we cannot be paralyzed by despair. We must each take action toward the goals we have set and in which we believe. Rather than passively accepting things as they are, we must embark on the challenge of creating a new reality. It is in that effort that true, undying hope is to be found.
A longer version of this essay first appeared in Hold Hope, Wage Peace (2005) edited by David Krieger and Carah Ong, available from www.wagingpeace.org.