Feature

Let’s Transform Our Land Through an Inner Revolution

KUBKOO / GETTY IMAGES


The World Tribune held a roundtable discussion with the SGI-USA youth leaders to address the recent incidents of racial violence and civil unrest that followed. Olivia Saito, Ryo Kuroki and Maya Gunaseharan respond to some of the questions that have been top of mind for many SGI-USA members.

World Tribune: Thank you for speaking with us today. In the last few months, numerous senseless killings of Black people throughout our country sparked a burgeoning movement to address the injustice in our country. What is at the forefront of your minds as SGI-USA youth?

Olivia Saito (SGI-USA youth leader): The recent weeks have not been easy. Together with the youth of the SGI-USA, I have been grappling with what is happening and reflecting on what I can do. I’ve had dialogues that have opened my eyes and heart, and each one has changed me in some way. Uniting with our four-divisional national team, I am praying deeply to figure out how to take action and move forward together in solidarity with the SGI-USA at this time to create a society that respects the dignity of life.

Maya Gunaseharan (SGI-USA young women’s leader): As I witness and think about recent events, and with my own identity as a Black woman, who will soon be a mother, I am pained. I have felt myriad emotions every day, from rage and sadness to determination and hope. But I am doing my best to acknowledge the feelings coming up in my heart and reconfirm that I can use my Buddhist practice to create value and meaning out of these tragedies, no matter what.

Ryo Kuroki (SGI-USA young men’s leader): As I’m reminded of the deep-rooted racism in this country, I’ve gone on a personal journey of deep soul searching to find my voice as a young man, a Japanese American, and an SGI-USA member and leader. I’ve been inspired listening to fellow young men’s division members, who are convinced that the only solution to overcoming racism in this country is to elevate the basic life condition of the people.

WT: How do we create value out of the anger many youth are experiencing right now?

Maya: Our Buddhist philosophy teaches that anger against injustice is necessary because it helps us make a strong resolution to take action to protect our fellow human beings. The question then becomes, How can I use my anger to fuel my efforts to fight for something better, in a way that will create the greatest value?

In Ikeda Sensei’s 2002 peace proposal, he discusses the notion of self-mastery and the importance of not functioning out of habits of mental and spiritual sloth, or under the sway of the negative, destructive energy that characterizes the worlds of hell, hunger, animality and anger. He describes our efforts to strengthen our will and mind so that we may bring forth the positive, compassionate energy of the worlds of bodhisattva and Buddhahood as a “ceaseless endeavor.” In other words, it is a constant and never-ending battle to transform our inner state of life.

Sensei says:

This ceaseless effort to polish our lives empowers us to avoid stagnation, the tendency to view present conditions as fixed and immutable. We can then exercise the self-mastery required to respond creatively to the unique problems and possibilities of each moment.[1]daisakuikeda.org

Olivia: Without the anger that second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda felt upon hearing that his mentor, first Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, died at the hands of the authorities in prison during WWII, we wouldn’t have our SGI organization today. His anger catalyzed his resolve to avenge his mentor’s death by building a movement centering on the happiness of all people. This was the way he fought back against the unjust forces in society.

WT: In Buddhism, we speak a lot about dialogue as the solution, but how do you dialogue with someone who has different views from you?

Olivia: In Sensei’s September 1993 Harvard University address, he discusses the importance of dialogue and refers to Shakyamuni, who spoke of “a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of all people.”[2]My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340. This arrow, Sensei says, refers to the “prejudicial mindset”[3]Ibid. and an unreasoning emphasis on differences that exist among people.

He stresses: “The conquest of our own prejudicial thinking, our own attachment to difference, is the necessary precondition for open dialogue. Such discussion, in turn, is essential for the establishment of peace and universal respect for human rights.”[4]Ibid.

Dialogue in Buddhism serves to humanize people. When people are dehumanized, we start to see them as “the other,” disconnected from our existence, and it becomes easier to inflict violence and cause them suffering. Our SGI organization exists to develop deep bonds among human beings as equals. It takes courage to open our hearts to others through dialogue. However, Nichiren Daishonin states, “Even a stranger, if you open up your heart to him, may be willing to lay down his life for you.”[5]“Rebuking Slander of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444.

Ryo: Yes. It also takes courage to listen to a person who has different views from your own. It is easy to walk away, but lasting change in each individual’s heart only occurs when we stay engaged.

Sensei shares: “Compassion consists in the sustained courageous effort to seek out the good in all people, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others.”[6]My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 445. The ability to hold a sustained discussion with another person, regardless of their behavior, while seeking out their inherent goodness, I feel, is a skill that we must cultivate in our everyday lives as human beings.

While dialogue may feel time consuming and even stressful, I’m learning that if we give up on it, we’ll continue to build walls that further separate us. Sensei clarifies that “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 humanity.”[7]Ibid. In this way, dialogue can be the means to bridge differences, the source to strengthen and unleash the collective creativity of all people for the betterment of humankind.

WT: What should our attitude be moving forward?

Olivia: First, let’s reconfirm our belief in the revolutionary teachings of the Lotus Sutra in which Shakyamuni broke down barriers and taught that all people inherently possess Buddhahood and, therefore, are worthy of the highest respect. Grounded in this belief, it goes without saying that Buddhist philosophy teaches that Black lives are worthy of the utmost respect.

Next, let’s recommit to doing our own human revolution. I’m realizing that for my environment, family, community and even for the SGI-USA to change, I have to undergo this deep process of transformation. I have to evolve. Together with each of you, I am committed to engaging in this process so I can transform the land.

Finally, by deepening our belief in each person’s Buddha nature, let’s continue to rise above differences and forge ties, persevering in dialogue no matter how challenging it may be.

As our mentor reminds us, precisely because America is a land of rich diversity, it is our mission to transform the tendency to disrespect human life—not only for our country but for all humanity. Uniting more than ever as disciples of Sensei, let’s create an alliance of good dedicated to the cause of transforming this world.

Notes   [ + ]

1. daisakuikeda.org
2. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. “Rebuking Slander of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444.
6. My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 445.
7. Ibid.