Encouragement

Universal Respect for Human Dignity:
The Great Path to Peace

SGI President Ikeda’s Peace Proposal to the United Nations

Selected Excerpts The following are excerpts from SGI President Ikeda’s Peace Proposal to the United Nations, commemorating SGI Day, January 26, 2016. The full text of this proposal can be accessed on www.daisakuikeda.org.

This year marks the 35th year since the Soka Gakkai International began activities in support of the United Nations as an accredited nongovernmental organization. Born of the searing experience of two world wars, the U.N. declared as its objective the building of a world free from the scourge of war, where human rights are respected and discrimination and oppression eliminated. This vision is deeply compatible with the core values of peace, equality and compassion that we, as Buddhists, uphold.

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 U.N. are a natural and necessary expression of this.

Our world today is beset by crises that present a dire threat to the lives and dignity of vast numbers of people.

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The Deep Current of Humanity

In our world today, there are people who greet the sudden appearance of refugees in their communities with a deep empathy for all that they have endured, who spontaneously extend the hand of support and welcome. For people who have been forced to flee their homes, each such act is an important source of encouragement, an irreplaceable lifeline.

Even a seemingly small gesture can have a significant, perhaps decisive impact on the person to whom it is offered. In regard to critical voices asserting that it is impossible to save everyone, Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) told his grandson:

On those occasions, it’s a matter of whether one touches the life of an individual. We can’t look after thousands of people. But if we can touch one person’s life and save that life, that is the great change that we can effect.[1]Translated from Japanese. Jun Shioda, Ganji o tsuide (Carrying on Gandhi’s Legacy), (Tokyo: Nihon Hoso Kyokai, 1998), p. 201.

The Basis of Altruistic Action

The foundation of Buddhism is a belief in the inherent dignity of all people. But this is something which, as the following passage from Shakyamuni’s teachings indicates, is to be awakened through a process of self-reflection and self-awareness:

All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.[2]The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita, (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1996), 10:130:2.

In other words, Buddhism takes as its starting point the universal human impulse to avoid suffering or harm and the undeniable sense of the unique value of our own being. It then leads us to the realization that others must feel the same. To the degree that we can put ourselves in the place of another, we gain a tangible sense of the reality of their suffering. Shakyamuni called upon us to view the world through such empathetic eyes and thus commit ourselves to a way of life that will protect all people from violence and discrimination.

The altruism taught in Buddhism does not arise from a negation of the self. An awareness of the unavoidable pain of our own existence and the attachment we feel to the path in life that has brought us to this point can open us to the universality of human anguish, beyond all differences of nationality and ethnicity. It is our refusal to dismiss any form of suffering as unrelated to us that brings our humanity to its true luster.

According to the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) in his portrait of Shakyamuni, when the Buddha declared, “In a world grown dark I will beat the deathless drum,”[3]Karl Jaspers, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus: The Paradigmatic Individuals. Translated by Ralph Manheim, (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1962), p. 24. he was motivated by the confidence that “to speak to all is to speak to each individual.”[4]Ibid., p. 35.

As present-day heirs to this spirit, the members of the SGI have worked to empathetically share the sufferings and joys of the people in our lives and to advance together with them in a growing network of life-to-life bonds.

The Buddhist spirit of treasuring each individual can be supplemented by an additional perspective: the conviction that each person, whatever their path of life or their current condition, has the capacity to illuminate the place where they find themselves right now. We strive to avoid judging a person’s worth or potential on the basis of present appearance and instead focus on the inherent dignity of each individual. In this way, we seek to inspire in each other the confidence to live with hope from this day forward, bathed in the light of that dignity.

Buddhism encourages us to draw lessons and strengths from the challenges we have met in life so that we can achieve personal happiness while inspiring courage in those around us and in society as a whole. Nichiren (1222–82), the 13th-century Buddhist priest whose teachings underpin the activities of the SGI, emphasized that the principle that all living beings can attain Buddhahood—that all people possess an inner dignity and can realize limitless possibilities—constitutes the essence of Shakyamuni’s Lotus Sutra and lies at the very heart of the Buddhist teachings.

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The Courage of Application

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.[5]Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Kachiron (The Philosophy of Value), Expanded and revised by Josei Toda, (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1961), p. 186.

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.

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.[6]Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, (Princeton, New Jersey, and Woodstock, United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 79–80.

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.”[7]Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (The Complete Works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), (Tokyo: Daisanbunmeisha, 2005), vol. 5, p. 131.

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Climat change has had observable effects on the environment, with, for example, shrinking glaciers and longer, more intense heat waves that cause greater degrees of evaporation and precipitation. Photo: © istockphoto / piyaset
Climate change has had observable effects on the environment, with, for example, shrinking glaciers and longer, more intense heat waves that cause greater degrees of evaporation and precipitation. Photo: © istockphoto / piyaset

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.”[8]Ibid., vol. 4, p. 44. 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.”[9]Ibid., vol. 4, p. 45.

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 . . .

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 17-year-old young woman from Zimbabwe who spoke at a panel organized by U.N. Women at U.N. 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![10]UN Women, “Photo Essay: They Were Not at the Beijing Conference, but . . .” February 4, 2015, www.unwomen.org/en/news/ stories/2015/02/they-werenot-at-the-1995-beijing-conference-but (accessed January 26, 2016).

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.

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Dialogue as a Path to Empathy

In addition to this learning-based approach, we have stressed the importance of dialogue as the foundation for our activities. It is my personal conviction that dialogue is essential if we are to build a world in which no one is left behind.

To successfully meet the challenges facing humankind, it is vital to continually revisit such questions as what it is that we must protect, who is going to protect it, and how. We must start from the perspective of those most severely impacted and work with them to find paths toward resolution. Dialogue provides the framework for this.

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Disarmament and the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

In September 1957, amidst deepening Cold War antagonism and the escalation of the nuclear arms race, my mentor Josei Toda issued a declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons:

Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons. (http://www.joseitoda.org/vision/declaration/read.html)

Even as he expressed his sympathy with the earnest voices of people around the world calling for a ban on nuclear testing, Toda went further and stressed that a genuine solution is only possible when we overcome the disregard for life that underlies a system of national security premised on the suffering and sacrifice of countless ordinary citizens. What my mentor referred to as the “claws” hidden in the depths of nuclear weapons is the toxic way of thinking that permeates contemporary civilization: namely, the pursuit of one’s objectives by any means, of one’s security and national interest at the expense of the people of other countries, and of one’s immediate goals in disregard of the impact on future generations. With his words echoing in my heart, I have worked toward resolving the nuclear arms issue, believing that success in this challenge can set the world in a new and more humane direction. The nuclear-weapon states and their allies adhere to the idea that they have no choice but to maintain a nuclear deterrent as long as these weapons exist. They might believe that possessing a nuclear deterrent puts them in control. Yet the truth is that the dangers of an accidental detonation or launch multiply in proportion to the number of nuclear weapons and states possessing them. Seen from this perspective, the nuclear weapons possessed by a state actually hold the fate of not only that country but of all humankind in their grasp.

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Generation of Change

More than anything, it is the depth and intensity of the commitment and pledge that lives in the hearts of the younger generation that will transform the world from one where nuclear weapons threaten the lives and dignity of people to one in which all people can live in peace and fully manifest their inherent dignity.

It is the firm pledge of the SGI to offer our unflinching support for the abolition of nuclear weapons and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals based on the solidarity of youth, the generation of change. In this way we will continue to work for a world, a global society, in which no one is left behind.


Three Action Areas

In his 2016 Peace Proposal, SGI President Ikeda offers proposals in three areas, which he says require “prompt and coordinated action by governments and civil society” and are “oriented toward the ideal of a world in which no one is left behind.”

These areas and proposals can be summarized as follows:

1. Humanitarian aid and human rights protection
  • Response to the worsening refugee crisis must be based on international human rights law.
  • Strengthen U.N. programs in support of host countries taking in refugees in the Middle East and prioritize a similar approach in other regions of Asia and Africa.
  • Countries participating in the World Humanitarian Summit to commit to working in solidarity to facilitate activities, such as improving health care, and food and safe drinking-water supplies, under the U.N.’s Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3 RP).
2. Ecological integrity and disaster risk reduction
  • Cooperation among China, Japan and Korea—which account for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions—to adopt a three-country environmental pledge focused on regional cooperation to counter global warming.
  • World cities to work together to promote the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
  • Inspire youth and children everywhere to become engaged as active participants in reducing destruction of ecosystems by conducting projects such as tree-planting campaigns.
3. Disarmament and the prohibition of nuclear weapons
  • Strengthen the institutional framework to prevent the proliferation of conventional weapons, which contribute to incidents of terrorism around the world.
  • Countries should promptly ratify the Arms Trade Treaty toward reducing violence, insecurity and injustice.
  • Urge the remaining eight states that have not yet ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban-Treaty to do so as soon as possible.
  • The U.N. Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) to consider three items: removal of nuclear retaliatory forces from high-alert status; withdrawal from the nuclear umbrella; and a halt to the modernization of nuclear weapons.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Translated from Japanese. Jun Shioda, Ganji o tsuide (Carrying on Gandhi’s Legacy), (Tokyo: Nihon Hoso Kyokai, 1998), p. 201.
2. The Dhammapada: The Buddha’s Path of Wisdom, translated by Acharya Buddharakkhita, (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1996), 10:130:2.
3. Karl Jaspers, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus: The Paradigmatic Individuals. Translated by Ralph Manheim, (San Diego, New York and London: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1962), p. 24.
4. Ibid., p. 35.
5. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Kachiron (The Philosophy of Value), Expanded and revised by Josei Toda, (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1961), p. 186.
6. Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, (Princeton, New Jersey, and Woodstock, United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 79–80.
7. Translated from Japanese. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Makiguchi Tsunesaburo zenshu (The Complete Works of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi), (Tokyo: Daisanbunmeisha, 2005), vol. 5, p. 131.
8. Ibid., vol. 4, p. 44.
9. Ibid., vol. 4, p. 45.
10. UN Women, “Photo Essay: They Were Not at the Beijing Conference, but . . .” February 4, 2015, www.unwomen.org/en/news/ stories/2015/02/they-werenot-at-the-1995-beijing-conference-but (accessed January 26, 2016).

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