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Democracy and Buddhism

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photo by Ken Howard/GettyImages.


“In a democracy, all individuals have to recognize that they are society’s protagonists—they play a leading role in society—and that as such they have a responsibility to fulfill.”[1]Discussions on Youth, p. 331
—Ikeda Sensei

In volume 20 of The New Human Revolution, which we are studying this month, Ikeda Sensei (who appears in the novel as Shin’ichi Yamamoto) visits Washington, D.C., in January 1975 to meet with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

As we follow Sensei’s travels through The New Human Revolution, this month’s cover features the Lincoln Memorial at the U.S. Capitol—the site of pivotal moments in American history and the center of democracy.

In postwar Japan, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda deeply contemplated the significance of democracy from the standpoint of Buddhism. While the word democracy had gained popularity, it was still new to the people and its meaning had taken on an abstract life of its own.

He observed that unless the people were well informed and well educated, democracy could degenerate into rule by an ignorant mob. In response, he published A Comprehensive Course on Democracy in 1946, one of the first books in Japan on the subject.

Ultimately, Mr. Toda concluded that true democracy was only possible with a philosophy that refines, elevates and ennobles each individual, and that unites independent individuals in the common cause of mutual welfare.[2]See July 17, 1998, World Tribune, pp. 1–11.

The humanistic philosophy of Buddhism teaches that each person possesses within them the noble and precious Buddha nature. And it is on this foundation of respect that each individual is responsible for refining and
elevating themselves, while uniting together with others for peace.

This is why the Soka Gakkai—a grassroots organization built by and for the people—is a community of individuals resolved to confront the various complexities of life and continuously striving to become part of the solution based on their own human revolution.

In the following excerpt, Sensei writes about John Dewey’s idea of a “creative democracy,” and the strongholds underlying it.

A Way of Life

The most important value for John Dewey, which he dedicated his life to defending, was democracy. In his view, democracy was not merely a political system. It was something that extended much further—it was a way of life.

In other words, democracy meant that people should not discriminate against others, or be discriminated against, because of their color, their birth, their religious or other personal beliefs. It meant each individual believing in the possibilities of human nature and, based on close exchange and dialogue, leading lives of mutual growth and self-improvement. It meant each individual becoming strong and wise, resolutely opposing the enemies of democracy, and triumphing in that struggle. It meant everyone contributing and working continuously to create a more humane world.

Dewey called this “creative democracy.”

What did Dewey regard as the strongholds of this living democracy? They were not the parliaments of power or the authoritarian cathedrals of organized religion. Instead, they were the street corners where neighbors gathered and discussed events, the living rooms of houses and apartments where friends and family freely conversed with one another. This was the conclusion of one of the world’s great educators.[3]July 13, 2000, World Tribune, p. 7.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Discussions on Youth, p. 331
2. See July 17, 1998, World Tribune, pp. 1–11.
3. July 13, 2000, World Tribune, p. 7.