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Global Perspective

The Wisdom of Buddhist Humanism—Human Rights

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Annual Peace Proposals:
Human Rights

Photo by Wylly Suhendra / Unsplash

Our voices have the power to move people’s hearts and to change society and the world. With this spirit, Living Buddhism is highlighting key themes from Ikeda Sensei’s peace proposals, which he began issuing annually in 1983 on January 26, the Soka Gakkai International’s founding day, to set into motion a new momentum toward peace. Today, his proposals are read by leading thinkers around the world.

The goal of the SGI’s movement for peace, culture and education is the happiness of all living beings. Based on the Buddhist principle of dependent origination, working for the betterment of others is inseparable from improving one’s own life. Ikeda Sensei explains how Buddhism provides a philosophical foundation for establishing human rights:

Some find it impossible to respect those who are different, so they discriminate against or pick on them. They violate their rights as individuals. … All people have a right to flower, to reveal their full potential as human beings, to fulfill their mission in this world. You have this right, and so does everyone else. This is the meaning of human rights.[1]

When we see others as separate from ourselves, or a threat to our well-being, we can develop a worldview intolerant toward those who are different. Sensei writes about this:

Those unable to see people of other countries as human beings the same as themselves are spiritually impoverished. They have no sound philosophy of life. They do not ponder life’s more profound questions. They care only for their petty concerns. Our society is filled with people who are consumed by hunger and at the mercy of unrestrained greed and animality, picking on the weak and fawning on the strong. These negative tendencies are what make our society discriminate against and ignore human rights.[2]

Buddhism teaches that to develop a society and world that protects and upholds human rights for all people, more individuals must awaken to the interconnectedness of life. This can be expressed as thoughts like: I need to fight for your happiness and dignity in order to achieve my own. I cannot build my happiness on your unhappiness. My nation cannot build its happiness on the unhappiness of another nation. Sensei writes about our mission to strive for human rights:

The Soka Gakkai’s movement is a human rights struggle—by the people, for the people. Our movement’s history is one of extending a helping hand to those suffering, those lost and forgotten—to people exhausted by sickness and poverty; people devastated by destructive relationships; people alienated and forlorn as a result of family discord or broken homes. We have shared people’s sufferings and risen together with them.[3]

Below are selections from Sensei’s peace proposals illustrating key ideas on human rights.

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Peace Proposals

Overcoming the Culture of War (1999)

Ways of resolving international problems and conflicts peacefully must be devised if we are to break successfully with the culture of war. Too often in the past, military intervention has been considered the only way. …

In the final analysis, since they usually leave scars that continue to fester, forcibly imposed “hard power” solutions are not real solutions at all. As [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel suggested, no matter how much we try to justify or rationalize them, as long as the opponent regards them as unfair, such measures will always lead to an intractable cycle of conflict or revenge.

Instead of resorting to hard power solutions, we must first clarify the nature of the problem and then employ dialogue—the essence of soft power— to remove, one by one, the obstacles to solution. …

Even the most entrenched conflicts are not beyond resolution. The important thing is not to cast the other party in the role of the enemy but to determine the nature of the problem and the cause of the disagreement. The first step toward peace is recognizing the other party’s humanity. …

In our information-saturated society, we are being inundated by ready-made stereotypes obscuring the truth of people and situations. This is why person-toperson dialogue—always the basis of dialogue among civilizations—is more than ever in demand.

Even at the height of the Cold War, confident that we all share the same humanity, I worked hard to build bridges of friendship by frequently visiting the Soviet Union, China and other communist countries. Similarly I have engaged in dialogue with people from many different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I am convinced that we can solve any problem as long as we keep our minds open and stand firm in our belief in our common humanity.

No one really wants war. Unfortunately, however, isolation breeds mistrust, and mistrust breeds conflict. Convinced that humanity cannot afford to isolate any country or ethnic group, I have traveled the world over and, sometimes through dialogue, sometimes through educational and cultural activities, have striven, step by step, to strengthen bonds of friendship and to build bridges of peace.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung emphasized that real and fundamental change in individuals can come only from direct personal interaction. The effort of each individual to pursue dialogue today will lead to a culture of peace and a global community of harmonious coexistence tomorrow.[4]

Creating Peace Through Day-to-Day Efforts (2000)

Humanity is charged with the task of not merely achieving a “passive peace”—the absence of war—but of transforming on a fundamental level those social structures that threaten human dignity. Only in this way can we realize the positive, active values of peace. Efforts to enhance international cooperation and the fabric of international law are, of course, necessary. Even more vital, however, are the creative efforts of individuals to develop a multilayered and richly patterned culture of peace, for it is on this foundation that a new global society can be built. …

In addition to these efforts, it is equally essential to work to create in concrete, tangible ways a culture of peace in daily life. Dr. Elise Boulding, a renowned peace studies scholar, stresses that cultures of peace are to be found in each individual’s process of tenaciously continuing peace-oriented behavior. She attaches particular importance to women’s role in this aspect.

Peace is not something to be left to others in distant places. It is something we create day to day in our efforts to cultivate care and consideration for others, forging bonds of friendship and trust in our respective communities through our own actions and example. As we enhance our respect for the sanctity of life and human dignity through our daily behavior and steady efforts toward dialogue, the foundations for a culture of peace will deepen and strengthen, allowing a new global civilization to blossom. With women leading the way, when each and every person is aware and committed, we will be able to prevent society from relapsing into the culture of war, and foster and nurture energy toward the creation of a century of peace.[5]

Respect for Diversity and the Spirit of Dialogue (2005)

Problems are caused by human beings, which means that they must have a human solution. However long the effort takes, so long as we do not abandon the work of unknotting the tangled threads of these interrelated issues, we can be certain of finding a way forward.

The core of such efforts must be to bring forth the full potential of dialogue. So long as human history continues, we will face the perennial challenge of realizing, maintaining and strengthening peace through dialogue, of making dialogue the sure and certain path to peace. …

Seeking to look beyond national and ideological differences, I have engaged in dialogue with leaders in various fields from throughout the world. I have met and shared thoughts with people of many different philosophical, cultural and religious backgrounds, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. My consistent belief, reinforced through this experience, is that the basis for the kind of dialogue required in the 21st century must be humanism—one that sees good in that which unites and brings us together, evil in that which divides and sunders us.

As I review my own efforts to foster dialogue in this way, I gain a renewed sense of the urgent need to redirect the energies of dogmatism and fanaticism— the cause of so much deadly conflict— toward a more humanistic outlook. In a world rent by terrorism and retaliatory strikes, by conflicts premised on ethnic and religious differences, such an attempt may appear to some a hopeless quest. But even so I believe that we must continue to make efforts toward this goal.[6]

A Global Society That Puts Children First (2010)

In both the developed and developing worlds, it is children who are forced to pay the highest price when their societies face a crisis. With economies falling into recession and both national and family budgets hit hard by the current crisis, there are concerns over the increasing numbers of children who are denied access to adequate nutrition and health care or are forced to quit school in order to work.

I would like to suggest that schools should function as a refuge to protect children from various threats—as strongholds of human security— and become a venue for fostering children as protagonists of a new culture of peace. …

We must establish the means by which children develop into individuals who can be effective advocates for their own rights and dignity, as well as those of others. Children must play a key role in enabling a culture of peace to take root in society.

Children are envoys of the future; they are humanity’s shared treasure. Convinced that instilling courage and hope in their hearts is the most certain path to a peaceful world, we will continue striving to build a global society that puts children first.[7]


  1. Discussions on Youth, p. 121. ↩︎
  2. Ibid., 124. ↩︎
  3. Ibid., 129. ↩︎
  4. A Forum for Peace, pp. 289–91. Adapted from Ikeda Sensei’s 1999 Peace Proposal, “Toward a Culture of Peace: A Cosmic View.” ↩︎
  5. A Forum for Peace, pp. 292–95. Adapted from Ikeda Sensei’s 2000 Peace Proposal, “Peace through Dialogue: A Time to Talk.” ↩︎
  6. A Forum for Peace, pp. 299–302. Adapted from Ikeda Sensei’s 2005 Peace Proposal, “Toward a New Era of Dialogue: Humanism Explored.” ↩︎
  7. A Forum for Peace, pp. 306–08. Adapted from Ikeda Sensei’s 2010 Peace Proposal, “Toward a New Era of Value Creation.” ↩︎

District Discussion Meeting Material

Treasuring Each Person—The Heart of Our Shared Struggle for Kosen-rufu