Discussion Meeting

Juneteenth and the Buddhism of Absolute Freedom

June 2021 Discussion Meeting Presentation

Photo by Ales Krivec / Unsplash


For this month’s topic-driven SGI-USA district discussion meetings, a video presentation from the SGI-USA Practicing Buddhism as People of African Descent Group will be provided. The following can be used as reference material for the presentation.

World Tribune issues dated the third Friday of the month will include an insert with key passages related to the topic for the following month. The video presentation and full discussion meeting presentation and script can be found at sgi-usa.org/monthly-downloads.

Currently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussion meetings are being held through videoconference or other virtual means.


Why are we studying Juneteenth at a Buddhist meeting? We will briefly review its history and how we can change our lives and society based on Buddhist principles, including the following:

• Buddhism exists to transform the inhumanity that exists within people’s hearts.
• Our mission as SGI members is to become unshakably happy and help others do the same.
• Human revolution is the most fundamental revolution to transform the world.

June 19, 1865: Juneteenth

Only through the 13th Amendment did emancipation end slavery throughout the United States.

But not everyone in Confederate territory would immediately be free. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved Black people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth” by the newly freed people in Texas.

National Museum of African American History & Culture,
https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/historical-legacy-juneteenth

Negativity Gives Rise to the Desire to Control Others

The devil king of the sixth heaven is the fundamental negative impulse that resides in the depths of people’s lives. This devilish nature or negativity gives rise to the desire to control others or even take others’ lives and causes destruction and war. To conquer this devilish nature, we need to bring forth our inherent Dharma nature, or fundamental nature of enlightenment, which exists along with our fundamental darkness. (Ikeda Sensei, Teachings for Victory, vol. 1, p. 71)

Creating the Time With an Awareness of Our Mission

To know the time is also to understand people’s hearts. …

From the Buddha’s standpoint, “that time” is the time when the Buddha initiates the struggle to enable all people to attain enlightenment. …

In terms of our practice … “that time” exists only when we pray to the Gohonzon and manifest determination and awareness of our mission for kosen-rufu. We have to make a determination, pray and take action. Unless we do so, our environment will not change in the least; though five or 10 years may pass, “that time” will never arrive. …

“That time” is the moment you resolve from the depths of your heart, “Now I will stand up and fight!” From that instant, your destiny changes. Your life develops. History begins. (Sensei, The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, pp. 25–26)

Steady Efforts Create Lasting Reform

Becoming a global citizen begins nowhere else but within one’s family, workplace and community. … It is our sure and steady efforts in these areas that form the first steps toward any lasting reform. Wherever we find ourselves at the present moment, that is the place to rise into action, burning with commitment, passion and hope. When we ourselves move forward with new vitality as if reborn, our local organizations and communities will likewise begin to achieve fresh and dynamic growth. (Sensei, The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, p. 74)

Kosen-rufu Means to Purify the Negative Ideas That Prevail in the Latter Day

During an interrogation while in prison in wartime Japan, founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi was asked about the meaning of kosen-rufu, to which he boldly replied that it is the process of purifying the negative ideas and thinking that prevail in the Latter Day of the Law, a corrupt age like the present, with the truth of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. … Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda often described kosen-rufu as a state in which individual happiness and social prosperity go hand in hand, insisting that the individual should never be sacrificed for a prosperous society. (Sensei, February 2021 Living Buddhism, p. 60)

True Faith = Taking Concrete Action to Alleviate Others’ Suffering

We must stand up strongly for those who suffer the ravages of injustice. [Martin Luther King, Jr.] described this as the ability to understand and willingly share the suffering of others.

In Buddhism, we call this the “spirit of empathy” and believe that carrying this spirit in our hearts and engaging in altruistic actions on behalf of others are the marks of true faith. The reason that the Soka Gakkai International has developed … in 192 countries and territories is that we have been unflaggingly committed to working together with people to alleviate their hardships and misfortunes. (Sensei, America Will Be!, p. 124)

Human Revolution Is the Most Profound Revolution

There are all sorts of revolutions—political, economic, industrial, scientific, artistic and those in distribution and communications. And there are many others. Each has its significance and, often, necessity.

But no matter what one changes, the world will never get any better as long as the people—the guiding force and impetus behind all endeavors—remain selfish and lack compassion. In that respect, human revolution is the most fundamental of all revolutions and, at the same time, the most necessary. (Sensei, Discussions on Youth, p. 256)

True Freedom Is Happiness for Oneself and Others

What gives someone the strength to go on living? It seems to me that it is human bonds—the desire to live for the sake of others. … When we courageously take action for others, the wellspring of our own life is replenished.

When we look after and care for others—that is, help others draw forth their life force—our own life force increases. …

To only speak of benefiting others leads to arrogance. It conveys a sense of self-righteousness, as if we are somehow doing others a favor by “saving” them. Only when we recognize that our efforts on others’ behalf are also for our own sake will we be filled with humble appreciation for being able to develop our lives.

Our lives and the lives of others are ultimately inseparable. (Sensei, The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, pp. 104–05)

Discussion Questions

1. How can we engage in our own human revolution to create a more just and equitable world where all human life is valued and respected?

2. Based on what was shared today, what does true freedom look like?