Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
Section four of ten of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2016 peace proposal, “Universal Respect for Human Dignity: The Great Path to Peace.”
In our activities in support of the United Nations, we have focused on a learning-centered approach, one that emphasizes the practice of dialogue.
Here, I would like to examine two important functions of learning. The first is to enable people to accurately assess the impact of their actions and to empower them to effect positive change for themselves and those around them.
The founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944), was a pioneer of humanistic education. In his 1930 work Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy)—a work of germinal importance to the SGI—he describes three different ways of life as human beings: dependent, independent and contributive.
In a dependent way of life, a person is typically unable to sense their own potential, giving up on any real possibility of transforming their current situation and instead passively accommodating themselves to others and their immediate surroundings or to the larger trends in society. In an independent way of life, people have the desire to find their own way forward but tend to have little interest in those with whom they are not directly involved. They are quick to assume that however trying the circumstances of another person, it is up to that person to find a solution through their own efforts.
Makiguchi used to illustrate the problematic nature of such a way of life with the following example. Suppose someone has placed a large stone on a railroad track. Needless to say, this is an evil act. But if, despite knowing it is there, one fails to remove the stone, a train will be derailed.
In other words, if one recognizes a danger but does nothing about it because it has no direct impact upon oneself, this failure to do good will produce an evil outcome.
“Everyone speaks of the wrongfulness of an evil act, but inexplicably no one is held accountable for the wrongfulness of failure to do good. And thus, fundamental social evils remain unresolved.”
Any doubt that failure to do good is equivalent to actively doing evil is dispelled when we imagine ourselves aboard the train heading toward disaster.
related article Universal Respect for Human Dignity: The Great Path to Peace All people have the right to live in happiness. The prime objective of our movement is to forge an expanding solidarity of ordinary citizens committed to protecting that right and, in this way, to rid the world of needless suffering. Our activities in support of the UN are a natural and necessary expression of this. In politics, economics and other areas of contemporary thought, we see a tacit acceptance of the sacrifice of certain people’s interests in the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The pitfalls of this way of thinking are illustrated by the climate crisis. A willingness to accept other people’s sacrifice can erode the foundations for humanity’s survival; even if one is not at risk at present, over the long run no part of Earth is likely to remain unaffected.
The American political philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum has warned of the dangers of pursuing short-term interests and calls for efforts to foster an awareness of global citizenship.
“More than at any time in the past, we all depend on people we have never seen, and they depend on us. . .
“Nor do any of us stand outside this global interdependency.”
Fostering imaginative capacities through education and learning expands grassroots solidarity and action for the resolution of global issues.
For his part, Makiguchi asserted that the way of life to strive for is a contributive one. “Authentic happiness cannot be realized except through sharing the joys and sufferings of the masses as a member of society.” Today, we need to expand such awareness to encompass the entire world: Nothing is more crucial.
Buddhism views the world as a web of relationality in which nothing can be completely disassociated from anything else. Moment by moment, the world is formed and shaped through this mutual relatedness. When we understand this and can sense in the depths of our being the fact that we live—that our existence is made possible—within this web of relatedness, we see clearly that there is no happiness that only we enjoy, no suffering that afflicts only others.
In this sense, we ourselves—in the place where we are at this moment—become the starting point for a chain reaction of positive transformation. We are able not only to resolve our personal challenges but also to make a contribution to moving our immediate environment and even human society in a better direction.
This palpable awareness of interdependence provides a framework or set of coordinates by which to reconsider the relationship between self and other and between ourselves and society as a whole. This is the approach that Buddhism urges us to adopt.
Here, education is vital as it enables us to populate this field of coordinates with the actual experience of empathy felt when encountering the pain of others. Our perceptive capacities are honed by learning about the background and underlying causes of such issues as environmental degradation or human inequality, and this in turn clarifies and strengthens the system of ethical coordinates within which we strive to address these issues.
related article Soka Gakkai in America: Focused on Servant Leadership and Dialogic Teaching by William Aiken, director of public affairs, SGI-USA Reflecting upon the SGI-USA community, William Aiken provides a Buddhist perspective on the future trends for religion in the US. The second function of learning is to bring forth the courage to persevere in the face of adversity.
The challenges that confront humankind, such as poverty or natural disasters, manifest themselves uniquely depending on location and circumstance. And as I mentioned with reference to climate change, the impacts of different threats are such that they can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. That is why day-to-day efforts are needed in each locality to enhance resilience—the capacity to prevent crises or their escalation and the ability to act with wisdom to respond flexibly and energetically to difficult conditions in the aftermath of disaster.
As an educator, Makiguchi focused on enhancing learners’ capacity to grasp the import of events in their environment and to respond proactively, something he termed “the courage of application.” For him, the authentic objective of education is to foster the habit of discovering opportunities to apply the knowledge gained through education and to do so to maximum effect through concrete action.
To this end, what is needed, much more than simply providing students with the right answer, is “to point children to those areas where opportunities to apply what they have learned abound, and to focus their attention on this.”
Makiguchi stressed the importance of bringing forth the courage of application—the capacity to resolve problems through one’s own efforts—based on the insights into the nature of those problems gained through learning. Such courage is what enables us to avoid being overwhelmed by our circumstances and to be able instead to create the kind of future we desire.
For example, the exact contours of the sustainable global society that the SDGs seek to realize are not something clearly established or known from the outset. Just as various crises and threats manifest themselves differently in different settings, there is no universally applicable formula for sustainability. Even as the pursuit of sustainability through efforts to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions produces positive results, no one outcome should be taken as final.
Recent years have seen a growing focus on the value of resilience as the ability to respond to an ever-changing reality. As Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy have stated, “the goal ought to be healthy dynamism, not a dipped-in-amber stasis.” This is an approach that resonates deeply with the Buddhist worldview of reality as a web of relationality.
The clear outlines of a sustainable global society will come into view as each of us takes an inventory of the things we feel to be of irreplaceable value and acts with wisdom to protect and pass them on to the future. Herein lies the significance of the effort to create value in the place where we are now, through the words and actions to which we alone can give rise.
Makiguchi’s use of “the courage of application” as opposed to a more formalistic phrase such as “the act of application” expresses his faith in the inherent human capacity to remain undefeated in the face of adversity and his commitment to the unbounded worth of each individual.
From this perspective, the words of a seventeen-year-old young woman from Zimbabwe who spoke at a panel organized by UN Women at UN Headquarters in February last year ring a powerful chord:
“We are 860 million young women and girls living in developing nations. We are more than a statistic. We are 860 million dreams, 860 million voices and we have the power to make a difference!”
Faced with ever more daunting threats and crises, it becomes easy to lose sight of the weightiness of people’s lives as individuals and their truly unlimited potential. The magnitude of the challenges can submerge the unique narrative of each individual’s life, their dreams, their unvoiced feelings and their ability to initiate a process of transformation within their immediate circumstances. Through our educational activities the SGI has sought to spark an awareness of the rich possibilities of each individual, the capacity to respond effectively to the realities around us.
Specifically, starting with the exhibition “Nuclear Arms: Threat to Our World” launched at UN Headquarters in New York in 1982, we have placed education for global citizenship at the center of our grassroots activities for the resolution of global issues.
Through education for global citizenship, which embodies the two functions of education that I have been discussing, we have worked to encourage the following four intertwined processes:
Heartened by the fact that the new SDGs make explicit reference to the importance of education for global citizenship, we will further accelerate our activities with a focus on these four processes.