A True Appreciation for Diversity

Removing the “invisible arrow” of prejudice from our hearts.

Society today is rife with racial conflict, political divisiveness and uncertainty about the future, among a growing multitude of complex issues.

Ikeda Sensei addressed, the ever-changing challenges of the world in his September 1993 Harvard University address, titled “Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization.” In this lecture, he discusses the root cause of division and conflict in society, referring to Shakyamuni, who spoke of “a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.”

Equating this single arrow to “a prejudicial mindset, an unreasoning emphasis on individual differences,” 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” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 340).

The Three Realms of Existence

A number of concepts in Buddhism explain the dynamic web of relationships present in life.

One key idea is the principle of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life,” which offers a systematic way to understand that life at each moment contains myriad possibilities. And a core component of this principle is the “three realms of existence,” which can offer insight into universal qualities of life found amid the diversity of individual living beings, their relations with others and their interactions with nature.

The three realms of existence are defined as: “the realm of the five components,” “the realm of living beings” and “the realm of the environment.”

The realm of the five components refers to five elements that temporarily merge and integrate to form a living being as seen from the perspective of how that being interacts with the external world. They are:

1) Form: a physical form or body through which the outer world is perceived

2) Perception: the function of receiving external information through sense organs

3) Conception: the process of taking what is perceived and forming ideas and concepts

4) Volition: the initiation of action based on ideas and concepts formed from perceptions

5) Consciousness: the cognitive function to integrate and discern what has been perceived, conceived and actions taken

Based on the integration of these five components, a living being can distinguish objects, characteristics, exercise judgments and decide upon courses of action. In essence, the realm of the five components helps us see that rather than being static and fixed, living beings are constantly changing and responding to changes in their environment.

The realm of living beings posits that living beings can display any of the Ten Worlds, or 10 potential states of life, at any time. An individual is an integrated whole, but since no living being exists in isolation, this realm refers to the collective body of individuals who interact with one another. In essence, it points to society.

The realm of the environment refers to the place where living beings dwell. The dominant states of life of its inhabitants determine which of the Ten Worlds is reflected in the land. In addition, Buddhism teaches that the same land can manifest different states of life for different people.

Acknowledging Differences and Affirming Equality and Respect

The word realm in this concept of the three realms of existence connotes distinctions or differences. Each individual has different physical traits, with unique family situations, financial circumstances, societal and environmental conditions, and so on.

All three realms of existence are vital to life and intertwined with one another. A problem in any one of these realms impacts the others.

Yet, most vital is the transformation in the internal realm of the individual, which is key to creating change in the social and natural realms. Buddhism teaches that amid the myriad differences of life, we find the fundamental truth that all life is equally worthy of respect.

Thus, while it is paramount that we continue striving on a societal level to lessen the undue prejudices that are needlessly injected into our society, what we can and must do is appreciate our differences while seeking out our more deeply rooted and shared humanity. It is vital that we consistently strive in this way to remove from our hearts the “invisible arrow” of prejudice and break the destructive cycle of divisiveness that is perpetuated by unreasonable attachments to differences.

Diversity: A Catalyst for Greater Creativity and Value

In another address, given in 1995, Sensei says:

The wisdom of Buddhism can also shed considerable light on the question of diversity. Because one central tenet of Buddhism is that universal value must be sought within the life of the individual, it works fundamentally to counter any attempt to enforce uniformity or standardization.

In the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin we find the passage “The cherry, the plum, the peach, the damson … without undergoing any change” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 200). This passage confirms that there is no need for everyone to become “cherries” or “plums,” but that each should manifest the unique brilliance of his or her own character.

This simile points to a fundamental principle of appreciation for diversity that applies equally to human beings, and to social and natural environments. As the concept of “revealing one’s intrinsic nature” indicates, the prime mission of Buddhism is to enable all of us to blossom to the fullest of our potential. The fulfillment of the individual, however, cannot be realized in conflict with or at the expense of others but only through active appreciation of uniqueness and difference, for these are the varied hues that together blossom into the flower gardens of life. (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, pp. 365–66)

Based on our Buddhist practice, we can find the wisdom to see diversity as a catalyst for creativity and fostering greater value. Nichiren teaches that while all people are diverse, we can unite based on the belief in the inherent goodness, or Buddhahood, of all people. He writes:

All living beings in the nine worlds and the six paths differ from one another in their minds. For example, two persons, three persons, a hundred, or a thousand people all may have faces about a foot in length, but no two look exactly alike. Their minds differ, and therefore so do their faces. How much greater still is the difference between the minds of two persons, of ten persons, and of all the living beings in the six paths and the nine worlds! … There are many kinds of people.

But though they differ from one another in such ways, once they enter into the Lotus Sutra, they all become like a single person in body and a single person in mind. … “Not a one will fail to attain Buddhahood.” (“The Treasure of a Filial Child,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1042)

As SGI members, it is through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that we can transform—even revolutionize—the three realms of existence. Chanting and teaching others about the life-affirming philosophy of Buddhism is the quickest route to bringing forth our Buddhahood and improving our own lives, our communities and the world. And through carrying out dialogues that are open and directed toward fostering respect and mutual understanding, we can give rise to a new era of genuine equality and harmony.

Prepared by the SGI-USA Study Department staff