Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
In this excerpt, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda explains the concept of human revolution—the process of fundamental inner change at the core of Buddhist practice.
“A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind.”
Human revolution is not something extraordinary or divorced from our daily lives. Let me give you some very familiar examples.
Let’s say there’s a young boy who spends all his time playing and never studies. Then, one day he decides to make an effort to improve his future chances in life and he begins to take his studies seriously. That is his human revolution.
Or there is a father who thinks only of his own small world—himself, his family and his friends. One day he decides to break out of these narrow confines just a little and extend a helping hand to those who are ill or suffering, giving earnest thought to what he can do to help them find happiness in life. As a result, he starts participating in activities devoted to that purpose. That is his human revolution.
Human revolution, in other words, refers to raising one’s gaze beyond one’s restricted, ordinary, everyday world and striving for and dedicating oneself to achieving something more lofty, more profound, more all-embracing.
Will you take a step forward, or will you be content to stay where you are now? Everything in your life is determined by that decision.
The times when we experience the most intense suffering, unbearable agony and seemingly insurmountable deadlock are actually brilliant opportunities for doing our human revolution.
If you’re the type of person whose resolve tends to melt away easily, if you find it difficult to stick to your goals, then just renew your determination each time you find yourself slipping. If you keep struggling valiantly, pressing forward despite setbacks and disappointments, always thinking “This time I’ll make it! This time I will succeed!” you will eventually achieve your human revolution without fail.
Life is a very complicated affair. We are defined by all sorts of factors—our personality, our habits, our karma, our family background. It is very difficult to free ourselves from these factors or influences, which are all intertwined and linked.
Life flashes by in an instant. Many spend their days running around busily, absorbed with small, trivial worries and shallow concerns. Many never go beyond the six lower paths of life—the worlds of Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity and Rapture.
However, when we resolve to break through those lower states of life and access the states of Bodhisattva and Buddhahood by showing greater compassion in our daily conduct and behavior, we are undertaking an “action” revolution—human revolution.
There are all sorts of revolutions: political revolutions, economic revolutions, industrial revolutions, scientific revolutions, artistic revolutions, distribution and communications revolutions, and many others. Each has its own significance and, often, necessity. But no matter what one changes, the world will never get any better as long as people themselves—the guiding force and impetus behind all endeavors—remain selfish and lacking in compassion. In that respect, human revolution is the most fundamental of all revolutions, and at the same time, the most necessary revolution for humankind.
Revolution means “to overturn.” It means a sudden and dramatic change. Gradual change over the years as we grow and mature is part of the natural process of life. But human revolution occurs when we transcend that normal pace of growth and undergo a rapid change for the better. The process of human revolution is one of steady, marked improvement, enabling us to keep growing and developing throughout our lives and for all eternity. We will never hit a limit, a dead end, in our journey for self-perfection. And faith is the engine, the power source for our ongoing human revolution.
related article What Is Love? In this excerpt from “Discussions on Youth,” SGI President Daisaku Ikeda discusses the concept of love from a Buddhist perspective. An uncountable number of books designed to inspire us toward self-improvement and self-perfection have been written since ancient times. If human revolution could be achieved simply by reading, if we could change our karma through the power of words alone, it would be a very easy matter indeed.
The SGI is not in pursuit of some abstract intellectual doctrine, but a complete and actual human revolution—a revolution in which people change their fundamental attitudes and ways of thinking and focus their minds, their actions and their lives on the highest good.
This revolution essentially takes place when our lives are in the state of Buddhahood. When we fuse our lives with the enlightened life of the Buddha, we can tap the power within us in order to change ourselves in a fundamental way.
Human beings possess the unique capacity to aspire for self-improvement and personal growth. We can conceive of changing the direction of our life, instead of merely following its flow.
When people speak of wanting to be a success, they generally mean gaining status and prestige in society. But doing our human revolution is a much more profound aspiration, for it involves changing and elevating our lives from within. The transformation achieved as a result is everlasting and far, far more valuable and precious than social status or prestige.
A human being is a human being. No one is superhuman. For that reason, the most important thing is simply to become the very best human being you can. No matter how you adorn yourself with the trappings of fame, rank, academic credentials, knowledge or wealth, if you are impoverished or bankrupt inside, your life will be barren and empty. What kind of person are you when all those externals have been stripped away, when you stand unadorned except with your own humanity? Human revolution is the challenge to change our life at the very core.
Excerpted from Discussions on Youth (SGI-USA, 1998).