Feature

Creating True and Lasting Change

UCLA’s Buddhist symposium highlights 3 steps each individual can take to transform society from inside out.


In spring 1974, the country was plagued by extreme political, economic and social unrest. The Watergate scandal dominated the news, and, although the U.S. had begun withdrawing troops from Vietnam, the war raged on.
It was in this milieu that Daisaku Ikeda, a relatively unknown Buddhist leader from Japan, was invited to lecture at UCLA on April 1, 1974—42 years ago this month—marking his first university lecture outside Japan.
As a Buddhist philosopher, peacebuilder and educator, he has since given lectures at universities, research institutes and academies around the world, including Harvard University, University of Bologna, Columbia University, University of Moscow and Institut de France. SGI President Ikeda has also received over 360 honorary doctorates and professorships from educational institutions of higher learning worldwide.
To commemorate President Ikeda’s UCLA lecture, the university’s SGI-USA student campus club on April 10 hosted “Buddhism in America,” an introduction to Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism, which was attended by some 200 students and guests.
The following is an excerpt from SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss’ lecture, in which he touched on 3 keys to creating true and lasting change in society.
AdinStrauss_headshot
Adin Strauss

It’s undeniable that we are living in times of tremendous instability and change. This is particularly visible in American society.

Social unrest, huge disparities in income and the treatment of people, yawning chasms in ideology and religion that often spill over into violence—these have only seemed to grow in intensity with the passage of time.

Locally, there are concerns about suicides or sexual assaults on campus, the pressure of failing—not to mention student debt. This litany has sadly become so familiar that we can be numb to it all.

The vital question of what to do has taken on more importance than ever, given the extent to which anxiety and fear have increasingly come to pervade American society. I believe that I’m not alone in sensing that, faced with the grave problems in our country, people are gravitating to one of two “camps,” neither of which offers a true solution to our problems.

Let's talk humanism-Nearly 200 students and guests join UCLA's SGI-USA student campus club symposium "Buddhism in America," which featured a talk by General Director Adin Strauss. Photos by Gerry Hall and Emily Terada.

In the first camp, some, faced with the onslaught of negativity from the media or from their immediate environment, withdraw into passivity and powerlessness—the sense that nothing can be done or changed, and that we are ultimately prisoners of karma and circumstance.

There seems to be an increasing tendency to group things into categories: things we can “control” and things that are “beyond our control.”

Our own action and determination are key. The “right time” is not something we wait for, but something we ourselves must create.

The way to deal with life is to not be concerned about or obsess over things we “cannot control.” Unfortunately, this can lead us to care only about our immediate family and friends, without regard for the larger world.

In the other camp are those who lash out blindly at a nameless, abstract “other”—whatever group of people in the environment, be they a political party or ethnic group, etc., who are somehow the cause of all the problems.

Once we dehumanize those we disagree with and make them into an abstract “other,” it’s all too easy to proceed to the next step, which is to simply obliterate them.

More than ever, American society is crying out for another way, a different way to truly solve our problems and create lasting peace without resorting to either passive acceptance or instinctive blame.

Photos by Gerry Hall and Emily Terada.

There is indeed a third option. Daisaku Ikeda, the founder of the SGI and a person whom I consider as my mentor in life, asserts the following:

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.[1]Daisaku Ikeda, The Human Revolution (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2014), p. viii.

So what is “human revolution”? It refers to a fundamental process of inner transformation whereby, through Buddhist practice, we bring forth our happiest and most noble state of life. While remaining the same person, we move away from a life state bound by concern only for oneself, and cultivate a “greater self” capable of caring and taking action for the sake of others.

Nichiren Buddhism teaches that within the life of every person, without exception, resides the potential for every kind of life state—from Hell to Buddhahood.

Buddhahood is not some transcendent state to be attained after lifetimes of practice, nor is it a special state of life reserved for the chosen few. Rather, it is the right—or privilege—of every human being to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime, in their present physical form.

Buddhahood is a life state of unshakable happiness, characterized by profound wisdom drawn from within, boundless compassion for others and the profound awareness that your happiness and that of those around you are inextricably linked.

A “Buddha” is none other than a human being awakened to his or her inherent infinite potential.

Looking across human history of thousands of years, we have tried to effect change in myriad different ways. But the underlying life condition of society hasn’t changed.

Specifically—and regrettably—what we’ve come to call “peace” seems to be a quick break between the last war and the next.

Why is that? It’s because while rulers and economic systems and political philosophies come and go, the underlying life condition of human beings has not changed.

Daisaku Ikeda further elaborates as follows:

Unless people thoroughly confront their own egoism, there’s no telling when their good intentions will be transformed into a desire to rule, a desire that seeks approval by cloaking itself in the fine costume of ideology . . .

Real progress or reform in the human condition cannot be effected unless it develops spontaneously through internal urges and internal strength.[2]Daisaku Ikeda, For the Sake of Peace: Seven Paths to Global Harmony (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2001), pp. 20–21.

Our own action and determination are key. The “right time” is not something we wait for, but something we ourselves must create.

So how, concretely, to go about creating true and lasting change in society?

The first step is to challenge your own inner transformation, or what we might term “human revolution.”

The second step is to have dialogue, to engage heart-to-heart with those around you.

Daisaku Ikeda expands on the Soka philosophy on dialogue, stating:

A choice requiring courage and strength. Dialogue starts by clearly recognizing the positions and interest of the respective parties and then carefully identifying the obstacles to progress, patiently working to remove and resolve [them]. It is the ultimate constructive undertaking of the human spirit.

And it is for just this reason that conflict resolution through dialogue—unlike military force whose essence is destruction— holds the promise of a genuine and lasting solution.[3]Olivier Urbain, Daisaku Ikeda’s Philosophy of Peace (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2010), pp. 120–21.

The third and final step is global citizenship, which is defined as:

• The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.

•The courage not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow through encounters with them.

•The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond our immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.[4]Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends in America, third edition (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2012), p. 444.

Transforming and mastering ourselves— creating waves of change in our environment through determined prayer and action, then reaching out to others in the form of dialogue and so creating bonds of global citizenship—this may seem like an agonizingly slow process.

Nonetheless, as a person whose mother experienced severe persecution in Nazi Germany, I am totally confident that this is the only sure way to create the lasting change we want to see. And the sooner, the better!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Daisaku Ikeda, The Human Revolution (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2014), p. viii.
2. Daisaku Ikeda, For the Sake of Peace: Seven Paths to Global Harmony (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2001), pp. 20–21.
3. Olivier Urbain, Daisaku Ikeda’s Philosophy of Peace (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2010), pp. 120–21.
4. Daisaku Ikeda, My Dear Friends in America, third edition (Santa Monica: World Tribune Press, 2012), p. 444.