Feature

Combatting Poverty

Soka Philosophy of Peace: Overcoming Greed

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Shakyamuni Buddha lived in a society with a rigid class hierarchy. In this caste system, people who were born into certain social classes had no hope of ascending to a higher level, regardless of their capabilities. When he taught the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni sought to shatter this social construct, making Buddhism equally accessible to all. Today, while most of the world has adopted the idea of equal access to education and opportunities for social mobility, many still live in dire poverty and spend their lives simply trying to survive another day. SGI President Ikeda has pointed out that poverty and a widening gap between rich and poor only fuels social tension, resulting in an endless cycle of violence. About this issue, he has said, “When people’s basic needs are met and they are given the opportunity to establish their lives, they naturally develop their abilities and, manifesting those abilities, begin to take an active role in society” (A Forum for Peace, p. 180). The kosen-rufu movement promoted by the SGI seeks to empower one individual after another and, in doing so, create a society where people can meet their basic needs, enabling them to give full play to their inherent potential. The following are excerpts on combatting poverty by President Ikeda.

Choosing to Sever the Vicious Circle of Poverty

The eradication of poverty is a humanitarian challenge of great urgency. One effect of globalization has been an ever-growing gap between rich and poor. While people in a few countries consume a disproportionately massive amount of resources and enjoy affluent lifestyles, fully one-quarter of the world’s population subsists in extreme poverty. For these people, human dignity is under constant assault. We must eliminate these obscene imbalances if we are to fulfill our responsibilities for the new millennium.

It is not impossible to achieve that goal. According to an estimate by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the costs of eradicating poverty would be about 1 percent of global income and no more than 2 to 3 percent of national income in all but the poorest countries. Cuts in military spending, with the saving channeled to poverty reduction and measures for human development, would realize a considerable alleviation of the problem.

Poverty is one of the key causes of conflict, as it destabilizes societies. Poverty gives rise to conflict, which in turn further aggravates poverty. Choosing to sever this vicious circle would simultaneously lead to the eradication of one of the causes of war and resolve this global injustice. Removing the causes of war and poverty that menace human dignity will enhance enjoyment of human rights. (A Forum for Peace, p. 184)

Correcting the Imbalances of Our Global Society

When we talk about human dignity, one issue that we must not overlook is poverty. Despite the growth that the world economy has recorded over the past thirty years, poverty has increased dramatically. According to World Bank statistics, the number of people living in abject poverty, who have neither the means to obtain adequate nutrition nor the ability to meet minimum subsistence needs, is estimated to be as high as 1.5 billion.

In my 1996 peace proposal, I urged the world community to “take a direct approach to the intractable problem of eradicating poverty as a first step toward correcting the distortions and imbalances that presently afflict global society.”[1]Daisaku Ikeda, “Toward the Third Millennium: The Challenge of Global Citizenship,” 1996 peace proposal, in A Forum for Peace: Daisaku Ikeda’s Proposals to the UN, ed. Olivier Urbain (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014), p. 181. This is my hope . . .

The leaders of the industrialized countries must realize and take more seriously the destabilizing threat that poverty poses to the global social order. As Gandhi states, “True economics . . . stands for social justice, it promotes the good of all equally, including the weakest.”[2]The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, LXVI (August 1, 1937–March 31, 1938) (New Delhi: The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1976), p. 168. We must recognize that something is terribly off kilter when the economic system contributes to increasing impoverishment and when society abandons its most vulnerable suffering in poverty.

Ultimately, I believe that the most effective key to overcoming poverty is education. (Our World to Make, pp. 145–46)

Developing a Constructive Economy

In many cases, the devastating conflicts in various parts of the world are rooted in economic deprivation. The central issue of the current era is crushing poverty. There can be no peace where hunger reigns.

We must eradicate hunger and poverty and devote attention to establishing a system of economic welfare for the approximately five hundred million people who suffer from malnutrition today and to the two-thirds of the world’s nations that are impoverished.

Instead of engaging in cutthroat competition, we should strive to create value. In economic terms, this means a transition from a consumer economy—the mad rush for ownership and consumption—to a constructive economy where all human beings can participate in the act of creating lasting worth. (For the Sake of Peace, pp. 8–9)

Replacing Despair With Hope

In a “survival of the fittest society,” the strong grow stronger and the voice of the weak goes unheeded. As the gap between rich and poor widens, it contributes to the creation of an unjust society. We must fundamentally change this negative structure; to do so, we need to have sympathetic, understanding discussions. That is why Aurelio Peccei said in our dialogue that we must heed and harmonize the ambitions of those who have plenty with the demands of those who are struggling desperately not to sink into devastating poverty.

Misunderstanding, prejudice, hatred and conflict generate the cycle of violence; refusal to engage in dialogue is related to this process. So the harder the situation, the more resolutely we must strive to promote dialogue. Our dialogues must heed the voices of the suffering; they must replace despair with hope. The leaders of international organizations, such as the United Nations, must promote dialogue of this kind and back it up with relevant action. (A Dialogue Between East and West: Looking to a Human Revolution, p. 49)

(p. 24-25)

Notes   [ + ]

1. Daisaku Ikeda, “Toward the Third Millennium: The Challenge of Global Citizenship,” 1996 peace proposal, in A Forum for Peace: Daisaku Ikeda’s Proposals to the UN, ed. Olivier Urbain (New York: I.B. Tauris, 2014), p. 181.
2. The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, LXVI (August 1, 1937–March 31, 1938) (New Delhi: The Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1976), p. 168.