What does it mean to be a global citizen?
A: People everywhere facing similar challenges with the coronavirus pandemic make the ideal of “global citizenship” all the more relevant.
It is often easier to focus on differences of race, nationality, ethnicity, culture, gender and the like. However, the Buddhist perspective on global citizenship underscores our shared commonalities, with the happiness of all people as its core aim.
Rather than being about how many languages we speak or countries we have visited, Ikeda Sensei teaches that global citizens are those who, under even the most challenging circumstances, can create value that enhances their own lives as well as contribute to others’ lives.
Thus, he explains that the cornerstones of global citizenship are:
1) the wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living;
2) the courage not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures and to grow from encounters with them; and
3) the compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places. (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 444)
Regarding the interrelatedness of wisdom and compassion, he says:
Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is the realization that even those whom we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives and can afford us opportunities to grow in our own humanity. Further, it is the compassionate desire to find ways of contributing to the well-being of others that gives rise to limitless wisdom. (Ibid., p. 445)
Compassion comes from our sustained efforts to find good in everyone, which often requires courage. Sensei continues:
[Compassion] means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others. Engagement, however, requires courage. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment. (Ibid.)
These virtues of wisdom, courage and compassion are also the core attributes of the bodhisattva. The practice of bodhisattvas entails striving to bring forth these virtues while combatting destructiveness and divisiveness in ourselves and helping others do the same.
To become capable bodhisattvas and global citizens, we must cultivate the wisdom to identify divisiveness that blinds us to our commonalities, the courage to confront such negative tendencies, and the compassion to continue deepening our belief in the inherent goodness of all people.
Today there is an even greater need to expand the ranks of fellow human beings who can transform our current deadlock into an opportunity to build a respectful society based on the shared desire for security, peace and harmony.