Feature

Peace, Dialogue and Nonviolence

On the founding ideals of Buddhism.

Photo: by Win McNamee / Getty Images


A person fully awakened to the jewel-like dignity of their own life is capable of truly respecting that same treasure in others.

—SGI President Ikeda
www.daisakuikeda.org

by David Witkowski, Olivia Saito and Michael O’Malley
SGI-USA Youth Leader, Young Women’s Leader and Young Men’s Leader

In a time of violence and conflict, how do we as Buddhists effect change? The roots of Nichiren Buddhism are found in Nichiren Daishonin’s great vow to eradicate people’s misery and establish a society based on fundamental respect for human life.

Nichiren Daishonin asserted that: “Life is the foremost of all treasures”[1]“The Gift of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1125. and, “One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures of the major world system.”[2]“On Prolonging One’s Life Span,” WND-1, 955. To realize a world in which life is valued above all, the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents embarked on the grand struggle of courageous propagation.

Our “truer roots.”

Nichiren held that the key lies in spreading the profound philosophy of the Lotus Sutra, in which Shakyamuni proclaimed that all people equally possess the potential for enlightenment. The three founding Soka Gakkai presidents inherited the legacy of Shakyamuni and Nichiren, and embarked on the grand struggle to realize worldwide kosen-rufu through the compassionate propagation of the Law.

Through Buddhist philosophy, we learn that misery, hatred and violence all stem from ignorance of the true reality of our lives—the fact that we are all Buddhas. SGI President Ikeda penned the poem “Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land” in response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, a social climate all too familiar to our current times. In it, he implores us to transcend differences by calling forth our deepest identity of Jiyu, Bodhisattva of the Earth:

As each group seeks its separate
roots and origins,
society fractures along a thousand fissure lines.
When neighbors distance themselves
from neighbors, continue your
uncompromising quest
for your truer roots
in the deepest regions of your life.
Seek out the primordial “roots” of humankind.
Then you will without fail discover
the stately expanse of Jiyu
unfolding in the depths of your life.[3]My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 208.

The conviction that each person, no matter what their circumstance or appearance, is a Buddha, serves as the basis for us to “seek out the primordial ‘roots’ of humankind.” When we tap this deeper life condition, our differences are no longer a source of suffering. What’s more, practicing Nichiren Buddhism empowers us to consistently call forth our fundamental enlightenment so that over time, it can become the driving force in our lives.

Based on the understanding that all people possess in nite capacity for wisdom, courage, creativity and compassion, we begin to understand the Daishonin’s assertion that “Life is the foremost of all treasures.”[4]See footnote 1. While nearly every object we engage has a certain worth based on its value to us, Nichiren Buddhism teaches that precisely because each person possesses the capacity for Buddhahood, life itself is an inestimable treasure.

But what of those who seek to dominate and bend others to their will? Do they possess this capacity for Buddhahood? Nichiren explains that no life is irredeemable when he writes:

The heart of the Lotus Sutra is the revelation that one may attain supreme enlightenment in one’s present form without altering one’s status as an ordinary person. This means that without casting aside one’s karmic impediments one can still attain the Buddha way.[5]“Reply to Hakiri Saburo,” WND-1, 410.

The SGI’s philosophy is found in the heart of Nichiren’s teaching that all people, good or evil, have the potential for Buddhahood.

Overcoming the fundamental
darkness inherent in life.

Devilish functions arise from fundamental darkness within the lives of people and manifest as negative tendencies that try to make us lose confidence in the greatness of our lives. President Ikeda explains, “ ‘Devil’ means robber of life; the exact opposite of ‘Buddha,’ one who restores and invigorates life.”[6]The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 57.

What, therefore, is the Buddhist approach to surmounting devilish functions? President Ikeda explains:

Manifesting the world of Buddhahood and defeating the devilish functions are one and the same. Devils exist both within our lives and in our environment. But whether we defeat them or are defeated by them depends solely on our own spirit and determination.

The important thing is that we win over them and that we do so continually. Buddhist practice means never coming to a standstill. We have to cultivate a self that absolutely no negative influence can deter.[7]The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, pp. 188–89.

Nichiren Buddhism provides people with the means to confront the fundamental darkness in their lives and thereby bring forth an enlightened state of life.

The “enemy” in Buddhism, therefore, can never be described as a certain individual or group. Rather, the enemy is the inherent negativity in life that seeks to divide people based on superficialities and, in the end, to destroy life itself. This is what Shakyamuni described when asked which living beings must we not kill, to which he responded, “It is enough to kill the will to kill.”[8]See September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 17.

Courageous dialogue implies that rather than simply associating with people who think like us, we make an effort to engage in dialogue with others who may not share our opinions.

Many philosophies expound equality. However, through Buddhist practice, we are able to manifest the life force to carry out those ideals amid the realities of daily life. The key is chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon and sharing this practice with others.

Nichiren writes: “Illuminated by the light of the ve characters of the Mystic Law, they display the dignified attributes that they inherently possess. This is the object of devotion.”[9]“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832.

When we are bereft of hope, we have the Gohonzon, encouragement in the publications and the support of fellow members in the SGI. President Ikeda states:

If you have no hope,
create some.
If the world around you is dark
be the sun that illuminates all.[10]See Peace—The Foundation for Lasting Human Happiness.

Dialogue is the act of respecting life.

Dialogue constitutes the practice of respecting life and acknowledging the limitless potential of the other. It implies a willingness to listen to opinions that may differ from ours and express our own views.

Dialogue does not necessarily need to end in agreement, but rather, in respect for one another’s experience and reality. Ultimately, the ability for true dialogue takes courage. President Ikeda explains of this process:

From a healed, peaceful heart, humility is born; from humility, a willingness to listen to others is born; from a willingness to listen to others, mutual understanding is born; and from mutual understanding, a peaceful society will be born.[11]One by One, p. 62.

The more that people use dialogue to break down walls of judgment and apathy in their own lives, the more quickly friendship and trust will come to embed the fabric of society.

The key to peace—Brandon Simms, 12, of California, says of his drawing: "The key to peace in my opinion would be for the whole world to put their differences aside, and concentrate on happiness and compassion for others. If everyone agreed that we are all equal, then there would never be racism or hate crimes like there are today.”
The key to peace—Brandon Simms, 12, of California, says of his drawing: “The key to peace in my opinion would be for the whole world to put their differences aside, and concentrate on happiness and compassion for others. If everyone agreed that we are all equal, then there would never be racism or hate crimes like there are today.”

What, then, does Buddhism say about engaging in dialogue with people who promote violence and disrespect life? In a message to the SGI-USA marking the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Ikeda wrote that we must be deeply convinced that a fresh reformation of the times becomes possible when we engage in substantive dialogue:

A transformation in the awareness of a single person can eventually change the whole world. Efforts to enable a reformation in the life of one person will ultimately move the hearts of many people, reforming society and changing the history of humankind.[12]Dec. 6, 2002, World Tribune, p. 5.

Courageous dialogue implies that rather than simply associating with people who think like us, we make an effort to engage in dialogue with others who may not share our opinions. This kind of dialogue has the power to help someone who disrespects life move closer to understanding the preciousness of life.

President Ikeda describes the kind of courage we must embody, saying:

Now is the time for each of us to bring forth such courage: the courage of nonviolence, the courage of dialogue, the courage to listen to what we would rather not hear, the courage to restrain the desire for vengeance and be guided by reason.”[13]One by One, pp. 60–61.

Amid the violent bloodshed in his country, Mahatma Gandhi was often asked which side he was on, to which he declared that he was willing to be cut in two if that was what people wanted. The only thing he didn’t want was for India to be cut in two. President Ikeda says of Gandhi’s unwavering commitment to his ideals:

Many revered his name, but few truly shared his beliefs. For Gandhi, nonviolence meant an overflowing love for all humanity, a way of life that emanated from the very marrow of his being. It made life possible; without it, he could not have lived even a moment.[14]Ibid., p. 57.

A humanistic revolution.

SGI members around the world wield the core message of Buddhism that all life is precious and irreplaceable, and they engage in courageous dialogue, one person at a time, to make the dream of a peaceful society a reality.

In the late ’60s, when violent student protests spread throughout the world, one student asked, “How can we best lead our lives as people dedicated to realizing a better society?” President Ikeda said in response:

Nichiren Daishonin writes,“The sharp sword that severs the fundamental darkness inherent in life is none other than the Lotus Sutra.”[15]“A Comparison of the Lotus Sutra and Other Sutras,” WND-1, 1038. Indeed, the solution lies in carrying out kosen-rufu, a movement in which each individual reveals the great life state of Buddhahood through Buddhist practice and fundamentally transforms his or her life.

Kosen-rufu is a comprehensive revolution based on the revolution of the individual. It is the process of actualizing the Buddhist spirit of compassion and the philosophy of the sanctity of life in the realms of government, economics, education, art and every area of human endeavor. The purpose of kosen-rufu is to build a society in which science, medicine, law, and all other disciplines and systems created by human beings contribute to the happiness of humanity and produce genuine value. That is why, as Buddhists, we must never turn a blind eye to the reality of society.[16]The New Human Revolution, vol. 14, p. 20.

As SGI-USA youth, we are further committed to studying and propagating the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism, and, in the process, building a peaceful society, in which the dignity of all can truly shine.

(To read more about the Buddhist philosophy of peace, see the September 2016 issue of Living Buddhism.)

 

(pp. 6–7)

Notes   [ + ]

1. “The Gift of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1125.
2. “On Prolonging One’s Life Span,” WND-1, 955.
3. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 208.
4. See footnote 1.
5. “Reply to Hakiri Saburo,” WND-1, 410.
6. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 3, p. 57.
7. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, pp. 188–89.
8. See September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 17.
9. “The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832.
10. See Peace—The Foundation for Lasting Human Happiness.
11. One by One, p. 62.
12. Dec. 6, 2002, World Tribune, p. 5.
13. One by One, pp. 60–61.
14. Ibid., p. 57.
15. “A Comparison of the Lotus Sutra and Other Sutras,” WND-1, 1038.
16. The New Human Revolution, vol. 14, p. 20.