Bulgaria National TV
Interview with SGI President Daisaku Ikeda
Excerpts from an interview conducted in August 2000 for Bulgarian National TV (Broadcast on November 11, 2000.)
Q: First, could you say a few words to the people of Bulgaria on the occasion of the publication of your dialogue with Dr. Axinia D. Djourova, The Beauty of a Lion's Heart, in Bulgarian in November?
Ikeda: I've shared thoughts with many of the world's leading thinkers, opinion-makers and cultural figures, and I've been able to publish dozens of our dialogues. We've exchanged views on a vast array of topics--culture, education and, on occasion, even on world history and the subject of humankind itself. I've done so because I see dialogue as being the significant road, an indispensable vector and means, to peace. [. . .] I'm impressed with how important a role Bulgaria has played in history. This is historical fact. I am fascinated by Bulgarian history--that is, how the country succeeded in developing a remarkable civilization, as the Western terminus of the Silk Road, even as it struggled against the Ottoman Empire. Dr. Djourova is an exceptionally gifted scholar and a person of great dignity. When I met her, I realized there and then that I wanted to carry on a dialogue with the professor. Her abilities are representative of Bulgaria, and she knew everything about Bulgarian culture. [. . .]
Q: Over the years, you have consistently promoted cultural exchange, not only with Bulgaria but with many other nations as well. Is that because you believe people-to-people exchanges are ultimately more beneficial than those held at the political and economic level?
Ikeda: The 20th century has been a century of war. [. . .] War is carnage. It is wanton destruction, misery and hellish suffering. And while war is the most barbarous of all human endeavors, we lived in just such a century. We've now advanced a step, into an era of economic competition. War is an act of physical force but economics is driven by profit and loss. So poverty will become even more rampant. [. . .] It's clear that this kind of competition will create yawning divides, undermining human equality and freedom, but of coursethe human aspiration to improve one's lot in life is a natural and vital element in the way we live. People are the most important. The starting point and rationale of politics or economics is to make human beings happy. How can people enjoy peace, happiness and fulfillment over the course of their lives? It is a question that every school of philosophical thought, every political act, economic decision or cultural activity must address. It was what these human endeavors originally sought to answer, but we have since deviated from this point.
In that sense, I believe humanity must once again shed light on the human being, to reorient its gaze and rethink our stance. Without this quest, we stand to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past. [. . .]
Why do human beings exist? How should they live? How can they find happiness? And how can they live in peace? Every academic discipline, educators and leaders of all fields must pay the utmost attention to and place the highest emphasis on a people-first principle, which I would call humanism.
These are the imperatives that must be addressed in the 21st century: to restore a sense of humanity for humanity's sake; to associate human rights with the right to become happy; for all people to equally enjoy the right to live in peace, happiness and fulfillment; to build a truly new century. That's why I advocate a people-first philosophy, to regain our own humanity and restore human beings to their rightful place.
Q: Numerous scholars and commentators view the Soka Gakkai as a grassroots movement. They are impressed by the first three Soka Gakkai presidents' concern for ordinary people and consistent emphasis on individual empowerment. What are your thoughts on this?
Ikeda: That is a very important question, as it addresses the very concept of "people" and the human being. The truth is, even a dictator starts out as an ordinary individual, yet, once he amasses power and wields it, he changes. This transformation is a fearful thing. Likewise, an ordinary person who amasses immense wealth grows to disdain the people who helped him to achieve such riches, holding the poor and needy in contempt. That, too, is tragic. Thus, if we are to build a truly new century, we must ensure that all people enjoy freedom and happiness. It is this ideal century, a model era and society, that every great individual, every philosopher, has aspired to achieve. Real sovereignty must rest with the people. One renowned Bulgarian poet, when asked what his nation needed most, replied that it did not need an emperor, only that its citizens, every last one of them, become truly happy and content. Humankind must place the needs of ordinary people as its foremost priority, the object of all our endeavors. Ordinary people and their happiness must become the end, not merely a means. [. . .]
In the 21st century, humanity must shift its emphasis back to people, to ensure that every human endeavor will be mobilized in their service. This, I believe, is what humanity has sought, an aspiration we have nursed over the ages.
So what needs to be done? The key is education. As a first step, education itself must become better, to improve our capacity for wisdom. If more and more people become wiser, then they will neither yield to the powerful nor tolerate the abuse of power. So it boils down to the improvement of education, for the people's sake.
It is our duty to become wiser, so we can elect those who will best represent the public interest into office and keep vigil over those in power. The people possess absolute sovereignty, and we must never forget that no one else wields such power.
If this is indeed an age of democracy then the people themselves must assume center stage. They are sovereign. And those in power, the government, the strata of leadership, they all exist to serve the public. Unless we go this far, humanity may never achieve ideal happiness, peace and freedom in the future.
Q: You say education is vital. You describe Soka (value creating) education as "humanistic," not one that crams facts into its students, but an educational system that truly focuses on people.
Ikeda: From ancient times, education has generally been seen as a means to foster intellect and understanding, a pursuit of academic discipline. All these elements comprised an education. It sought to sharpen the human mind and deepen knowledge to benefit society. It had its positive aspects, putting to full use the knowledge of machines, architecture and so forth in commerce, politics and other fields.
Yet, this kind of education has failed in that major wars have erupted on numerous occasions. The 20th century was a century of war. So the educational model was flawed. People believed that education itself would make for sharper minds, flourishing cultures and build lands of peace. But this view contained a grievous flaw for modern civilization, one people failed to recognize.
If ordinary people were able to improve their own education, to join the "educated class" en masse, then the outcome would have been different. What happened, however, was that only a certain class of people, the intelligentsia or those providing the education, assumed positions of authority. A large gap was thus created, which we must now fill.
To fill this gap, everyone must be privy to a quality education. Such an education is the greatest source of strength, an unsurpassed dynamic for peace and freedom. And it must be provided to all, and in a thorough way.
The process will be a painstaking and unremitting one, achieved through interaction with each and every individual. And while it may seem the long way about, government officials, educators and young people should never forget that this process is the surest way to build a foundation upon which peace and happiness for all people may be built.
Education can change people, for better or worse. Since everyone has the capacity for both good and evil, education can help manifest either trait. When it brings out evil, then the result is repeated bouts of war and violence. The purpose of a humanistic education, however, is people, for the happiness, freedom and peace of humanity.
Soka University of America (SUA) is slated to open next year. I am very pleased that SUA is attracting considerable attention among educators. I also feel an enormous sense of responsibility. I'm resolved to create a new path in education through SUA. I'm hoping that the institution will provide the basis for an ideal model of education, a bold experiment to be carried out in close cooperation with many members of the educational community.
Why was the university located in the United States? I founded one in Japan, but America is the land of liberty. The US plays a pivotal role in the world, standing at the forefront of freedom. And freedom is a prerequisite for education. Without it, it is impossible to conduct real education. A country bereft of freedom drills its pupils on nationalistic dogma. That's what happened in Japan, for instance. A flawed educational system led the Japanese to war, then defeat, plunging the nation into tragic suffering. We must never fall into the same trap. It was a tragedy caused by an educational system blinded by nationalism.
Wartime Germany was more or less the same. Its educational system was devoted to nationalism, to Nazism, to Hitler; it was not global in its outlook. Nor did it embrace higher concepts such as freedom; the system was closed and exclusivistic, designed to produce obedient servants of the state. So we can see how great an influence education exerts on people. Education is the impetus that generates a complex chain of effects, which is why it is so profound and vital. [. . .]
Q: What would you say to young people in regards to the challenges awaiting humanity in the 21st century?
Ikeda: I'm just an ordinary person, so my words fall short of those by the great figures of the world. But I can say that my concern for and commitment to youth is second to none. They are the ones who must open the doors to a new age and future. They alone possess the spirited drive and energy, the creative inspiration to build something new, to envisage and build a better future for themselves--attributes that heads of state and governments, politicians and industrialists, for all their experience and past success, cannot match.
To cherish, train and educate youth so they may go on to become outstanding individuals--that is the hallowed task entrusted to educators and politicians, the duty and responsibility of all adults.
I have faith in young people. They have the power to create a better future for humankind, to construct a world of ideal peace and joy, a heartwarming, serene and cheerful world. Similar expectations cannot be made of the aged or those in power. Young people should be cherished as humanity's greatest treasure. That's my conclusion.
Q: You have consistently stressed the importance of the mentor-disciple relationship as a way to pass on and actualize visionary ideals. Has this conviction served to sustain your work?
Ikeda: That's a difficult question. The answer depends on the individual or movement or country discussing the issue. However, I can say that while all animals share the bonds of parent and child, they do not share the bonds of mentor and disciple. Only human beings may enter into a relationship of mentor and disciple, a most noble and worthy bond. It inspires people with the sense of justice, passion and energy to build nations and societies, to create a new age. Only human beings can do that.
A mentor is someone who shares with disciples the causes and ideals that she or he has aspired to achieve, a person who teaches others the value and justice of those aspirations. Why? Because one can only live for so long. The torch must be passed, from one to another, then on to others. Many refuse to do so--be they politicians, educators, business leaders or celebrities--they try to stay on to the very end. It poisons the process, and they become corrupt and conceited as a result.
Such people begin to scorn their younger peers, a sure path to ruin for both parties. In contrast, a mentor is always humble with young people, confident of their abilities as disciples who will go on to achieve even greater things; that they have what it takes to achieve their goals and that it is their mission to keep achieving them. That is the dynamic of mentorship, its purpose. Humanity's progress depends on this process being repeated, leading all to a better world. The country, movement or person losing sight of this point is fated to stagnate in the end. The mentor-disciple bond is therefore a precious association, one that human beings alone may prize. We need to reevaluate this relationship, restore it to its rightful place and put it into practice. I say this because the collapse of the mentor-disciple relationship will lead to this vicious cycle. [. . .]
A life that ends without the benefit of a mentor-disciple relationship is like a short, petty play. It is merely self-complacent. A life founded on the bonds shared by mentor and disciple, however, is serene and timeless, as majestic as a mighty river uniting all of humanity. It is a spiritual relay where the passing of the baton is never-ending. That is the mentor-disciple relationship put into practice.
It's wrong to think the mentor alone is worthy of respect. Buddhism holds that mentor and disciple are one and inseparable. Both traverse the path for justice, each devoted to the cause of world peace and human happiness, the one succeeding the other.
Mentor and disciple are like runners in a relay, forging ahead at full speed. The mentor is simply the lead runner: that's how I've looked at it. Unless someone runs in the lead, the baton cannot be passed to other runners.
Mr. Toda, my mentor in life, often said that disciples must go on to achieve even greater things than that achieved by the person who mentored them. The imperious mentor, those who order their disciples about, is a petty creature. A truly great mentor, however, trusts disciples and counts on them to accomplish that which he or she could not. Likewise, one who inherits the mentor's spirit and vision, surpassing his or her expectations, is a truly great disciple.
Q: As we stand at the threshold of the 21st century, much attention is being focused on Buddhism and Buddhist principles. As a Buddhist, how do you think Buddhism can contribute to making the new century a peaceful one?
Ikeda: This is a question of vital import. A person of creed or conviction should be compelled to translate it into confident action for the sake of the future--anything less is irresponsible. A business magnate operates on a special set of principles, perhaps working to improve the welfare and wealth of a large number of people. So do politicians, within the capacity of public office. Buddhists also have a mission, which naturally entails responsibility. As you say, the world teems with people from all walks of life, by numerous organizations and infinitely diverse lifestyles and ways of thinking.
Given this diversity, how can the interests of the greatest number of people best be served? Therein lies the original task of all human endeavors, from politics and philosophy to the various schools of thought and political administration.
The one area that Buddhism excels is that it is based on reason, on ethicality. It is not dogmatic. It embraces life in its totality. It becomes a bit technical but Buddhism expounds that life inherently possesses ten different states of being, with 3,000 possible permutations at any given moment. This in turn serves to explain life's relationship with the universe.
Buddhism holds that "benefit" is an inherent force found in life, that it is manifested in people's lives as happiness and fulfillment. This manifestation is proof of this force in action. Buddhism is not mere theory. Everything works according to reason, and this reason can be universally understood. This is another essential aspect of Buddhism.
Much of religion is theoretical. Many religious schools have become authoritarian, and people have fallen sway to such authority. Buddhism takes another approach. It is a law based on reason, whose logic is understandable and convincing to everyone. It is a teaching that clearly clarifies that a majestic rhythm weaves together life, society and the cosmos.
Secondly, Buddhism is absolutely committed to the sanctity of life. It forbids war and murder. It remains impartial to all, as everyone, regardless of social standing, is equal from the standpoint of life. Things like status and class are masquerades, we being equals in life. Buddhism thus has no place for discrimination or differences.Equality may sound like a simple thing to achieve. Yet human history has been founded on difference and division. Buddhism is remarkable in that it provides a fundamental breakthrough and realignment of the course of history.
Next, Buddhism is humanistic. Many associate religion with churches, temples and priests. Shakyamuni, who founded Buddhism, made it clear he was a common mortal, and he distrusted religious authoritarianism and formality. Nichiren [the Buddhist thinker whose teachings inspire SGI activities] was no different. The clergy was a construct only added later. Nichiren saw no distinction between men and women, between anyone. Equality is where Buddhism begins. That's why it's so effective, easy to accept and convincing. In that sense, Buddhism transcends the framework of conventional religions.
The SGI no longer has temples. They didn't exist during the time of Shakyamuni, either. What matters is our conduct as human beings. While Nichiren lived, his school of Buddhism had no temples. That is what it really means to be people-first.
Buddhism is humanism. Everything begins and ends with the human being. Buddhism exists solely for the sake of humanity. It teaches people to live in harmony with the universe and nature, embracing all living beings with compassion.