Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
by Kimiaki Kawai, SGI Peace and Human Rights Director
How do you get ordinary people, immersed in the complexities of day-to-day life, to pay attention to an issue that is seemingly abstract and distant, but which actually has paramount relevance to their lives?
Since the end of the Cold War, people no longer seem to feel the imminent threat and personal relevance of nuclear issues. Rather, they seem passively to accept the notion that nuclear weapons are a “necessary evil.” They feel hopeless and powerless in the face of this gigantic and complex problem, which, it seems to them, can only be addressed by governments.
But resignation is a luxury we cannot afford. With thousands of nuclear warheads still in existence, together with the threat of nuclear terrorism, the current situation is untenable. Humanity is, in the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “sleepwalking towards disaster.” We need to find more creative ways of presenting nuclear issues not as something beyond our reach and control, but as something relevant to everyone.
But how can we best communicate the message to effectively reach a wide range of people? This is the challenge that the SGI has taken on throughout the history of its commitment to the cause of nuclear abolition over the last half-century.
We have organized petition drives, staged awareness-raising exhibitions, hosted and co-organized symposiums and produced DVDs and websites. Many of these activities are organized by and targeted toward young people.
And, at the heart of all these efforts, is a simple belief in the efficacy of dialogue. People learn and are empowered through dialogue because they are in the presence of another human being who shares their interests and concerns.
Dialogue is something anyone can do. We consider dialogue and encounter as the prime tools for empowering people to care about things beyond their immediate experience, including people in distant countries and the members of future generations. Thus, the focus of the SGI’s activities has been to create forums for encounter where people, especially youth, can exchange views, share ideas and experiences, and inspire each other.
Exhibitions in particular create a kind of public space where people can learn and think together about critical issues. On many occasions, I have seen complete strangers viewing one of our SGI exhibition panels spontaneously strike up a conversation. Whatever the medium, we try to provide people with opportunities to share their views and feelings and to learn about actions they can take in their daily lives.
The “People’s Decade of Action for Nuclear Abolition” is the latest of the SGI’s initiatives. Launched in 2007, it aims to increase the number of people who reject nuclear weapons as an “absolute evil” and to expand a global grassroots network, which is aimed specifically at the complete ban of nuclear weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC).
Together with international antinuclear movements such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) initiated by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the SGI will continue to promote the network of global citizens toward this shared goal.
As part of the “People’s Decade” initiative, the SGI launched an antinuclear exhibition, “From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit.” This exhibition highlights how our daily lives are impacted by nuclear weapons. It introduces the idea of “human security” which holds that a people-centered view of security—securing fundamental human needs first—is necessary for national, regional and global stability. It also presents the personal and spiritual dimensions of disarmament. One viewer remarked, “I realized that what is needed is a change in the human heart if we are to triumph over violence. In the end, the nuclear issue is up to each and every one of us. A change in attitude can change the world.”
“Transforming the Human Spirit” has been viewed in over 200 cities in 24 countries and territories in five languages including English, Spanish and Chinese. It has also been partially translated into Serbian and Macedonian.
Through these various initiatives, the SGI has always focused on communicating the personal and spiritual dimensions of disarmament based on its understanding of the nature of nuclear weapons: that they are a complete offense against and negation of life because of their devastating effects on human beings and the natural environment for generations to come.
Nuclear weapons can be understood from a Buddhist perspective as the ultimate expression of self-centeredness stemming from our blindness to our interconnection and interdependence, the delusion that we can protect our own self-interest and build our own security by terrorizing others.
related article Treasuring Diversity Daisaku Ikeda has written, "The Buddha's teaching begins with the recognition of human diversity.... The humanism of the Lotus Sutra comes down to the tenet of treasuring the individual." Buddhism teaches that this kind of destructive self-centeredness is in fact a function of the “fundamental darkness” inherent in human life. Only by restoring a sense of our mutual relatedness—the fact that your happiness is absolutely necessary to mine—can we overcome what SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has termed the “real enemy.”
It was from this Buddhist perspective that second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900–58) issued his declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War in 1957. He asserted that everyone on our planet has “an inviolable right to live” and condemned anyone who jeopardizes that right as “a devil incarnate.”
Among those listening that day was Daisaku Ikeda, who succeeded Toda as third Soka Gakkai president. Ikeda has campaigned tirelessly for nuclear disarmament for half a century, constantly citing the example and inspiration of his mentor.
Today, SGI members in 192 countries and territories around the world are working to create a world free from the threat of nuclear weapons based on a Buddhist appreciation of the sanctity of all life. SGI members are from all economic, cultural and educational backgrounds, enabling them to reach a wide range of social strata.
We now have a unique opportunity to make a change, as never before. The NPT final document this year refers, for the first time ever, to proposals for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Meanwhile, military experts like Henry Kissinger and William Perry have begun to talk about a world without nuclear weapons. There is the possibility of bringing together traditional peace advocates and realists to work for a nuclear-weapon-free world.
We need to seize this opportunity, generating a groundswell demanding an NWC to get such voices of conscience heard by policy makers. I believe that the SGI’s network has the potential to contribute to this in a unique way.
Today, more and more people are becoming aware of the obscene folly of holding all life on this planet hostage to political or ideological goals that are not even relevant anymore. The key challenge now is to build global solidarity, bringing together people of all religious and political persuasions to focus on the common cause of human survival. The SGI will continue to work to initiate and expand forums for encounter and dialogue toward this shared goal.
[Courtesy October 2010 SGI Quarterly]
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