Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
This text is taken from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2013 Peace Proposal, “Compassion, Wisdom and Courage: Building a Global Society of Peace and Creative Coexistence.” In these excerpts he discusses the central Buddhist values of compassion and respect for the inherent dignity of life, with particular reference to the sudden devastation inflicted by natural and social disasters.
In ancient India, Buddhism arose in response to the universal question of how to confront the realities of human suffering and engage with people ensnared in that suffering.
The founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni, was of royal birth, which guaranteed him a life of earthly comforts. Tradition has it that his determination as a young man to abandon those comforts and seek truth through monastic practice was inspired by the “four encounters” with people afflicted by the pains of aging, illness and death.
But his purpose was never simply to reflect passively on life’s evanescence and the inevitability of suffering. Shakyamuni’s concern was always with the inner arrogance that allows us to objectify and isolate people confronting such sufferings as aging and illness. He was thus incapable of turning a blind eye to people suffering alone from illness or the aged cut off from the world.
The philosophical foundation of the SGI is the teachings of Nichiren (1222–82), who emphasized the supremacy of the Lotus Sutra which, he stated, marks the epitome of Shakyamuni’s enlightenment. In the Lotus Sutra, a massive jeweled tower arises from within the earth to symbolize the dignity and value of life. Nichiren compared the four sides of the treasure tower to the “four aspects” of birth, aging, sickness and death, asserting that we can confront the stark realities of aging, illness and even death in such a way that we remain undefeated by the suffering that accompanies them. We can make these experiences—normally only seen in a negative light—the impetus for a more richly dignified and valuable way of living.
The dignity of life is not something separate from the inevitable trials of human existence, and we must engage actively with others, sharing their suffering and exerting ourselves to the last measure of our strength, if we are to open a path toward authentic happiness for both ourselves and others. Inspired by these teachings, SGI members—often derided in our early years in Japan as “a gathering of the sick and poor”—have advanced with pride in our tradition of mutual support and encouragement among people afflicted by various forms of suffering.
Today, this spirit is particularly relevant as so many people around the world are being impacted by the experience of sudden deprivation, exemplified by the devastation wrought by natural disasters and economic crises. These can rob people of all that they treasure in just moments, saddling them with an unbearable burden of pain. This makes it particularly important that they not be left isolated and forgotten.
related article Victory Over Violence—SGI-USA by Nicolás Aragón, USA Victory Over Violence (VOV) is a campaign that exists not merely as an opposition to violence, but to educate young people about how to recognize and counteract the root causes of violence in their lives. The struggles of individuals to rebuild their lives and regain some sense of inner wholeness are difficult and ongoing. This is why it is so important that we not forget these suffering people, and that society as a whole support reconstruction, fostering the kinds of overlapping connections and bonds that enable people to live with hope.
The determination to continue to encourage people until smiles return to their faces—never abandoning them and sharing every trial and joy—empowers us to meet and overcome life’s successive challenges and guides us through the seemingly capricious obstacles life throws at us.
It is through persistent efforts to defend that which is irreplaceable and to bring forth our own and others’ dignity that the inequalities of society can be rectified and the unshakable basis of social inclusion be established.
The Buddhist teaching of “dependent origination” emphasizes our interdependence, the fact that all things exist within a fabric of mutual influence. The moment-by-moment flux of overlapping causes and effects propagates through this web of interdependence, influencing others and our surroundings. Thus our actions in this moment have the power not only to transform ourselves but to create a new and cascading series of positive reactions and outcomes.
This same principle is expressed in the Lotus Sutra through a number of skillfully woven parables, and what is of particular note is that these are told not by Shakyamuni himself but in the voices of various disciples. Examples of these include the parable of the wealthy man and his poor son and the parable of the jewel in the robe.
The first of these describes a man who after a life of wandering and great misfortune unknowingly returns to the home of his wealthy father where he finds work. In the latter, a man lives out his life in ignorance of the jewel of immense value that has been sewn into the hem of his robe by a friend.
These parables are told by the Buddha’s disciples to express the overflowing joy and determination they feel on encountering the core of Shakyamuni’s teachings, which is that all people equally possess the Buddha nature and are thus capable of manifesting the profound and boundless wisdom of the Buddha.
Buddhism thus stresses that humanity can advance one step at a time through our ceaseless efforts to inspire each other and to understand that, just as Shakyamuni’s awakening sparked an awakening in his disciples, what is possible for one is possible for all.
Few people have expressed this idea of the warmth of hope more aptly than the American philosopher Milton Mayeroff (1925–79). Mayeroff was the proponent of the theory of caring, which is based on a focused attentiveness to others.
“There is hope that the other will grow through my caring . . . [I]t is akin, in some ways, to the hope that accompanies the coming of spring . . . Such hope is not an expression of the insufficiency of the present in comparison with the sufficiency of a hoped-for future; it is rather an expression of the plenitude of the present, a present alive with a sense of the possible.”
What is important here is that hope is not relegated to the status of a kind of promissory note for the future. Rather, we find hope within the sense of plenitude and sufficiency of life in this moment.
What matters is not how our lives have been to this point: the instant that we awaken to our original worth and determine to change present realities, we start to shine with the light of hope.
related article Conservation and Education in the Amazon—Brazil SGI by Celso Hama, Brazil Introducing the Soka Institute Amazon Environmental Research Center in Brazil. Throughout his life, Nichiren took pride in the fact that he was “born poor and lowly to a chandala family,” and always stood with people who were victimized by various social evils. He described the dynamic and transformative functioning of life as analogous to “fire being produced by a stone taken from the bottom of a river, or a lantern lighting up a place that has been dark for a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand years.”
Visions that can only be realized in the far-distant future—however grand and lofty—will not propel the kind of ceaseless spiritual struggle that is required to nurture possibilities and bring them to fruition. Nor do they provide concrete opportunities for people to change their surroundings through the transformation they achieve in their own lives. Only when hope is experienced on an immediate day-to-day level as “the coming of spring” can we succeed in patiently cultivating with joy and with pride the seeds of possibility. Only then can we have a positive impact on those around us through our own inner transformation and work in a sustained way for the betterment of society.
The full text of this proposal can be read at www.sgi.org/about-us/president-ikedas-proposals.html