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Global Perspective

The Wisdom of Buddhist Humanism—No More Nukes

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Annual Peace Proposals:
Abolishing the Evil of Nuclear Weapons

Photo by OC Gonzalez

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

We live in a crucial time to stand up for the survival of the human race and life on planet Earth. Just one year ago the threat of nuclear weapons appeared an issue of the past, and we focused on other pressing challenges. This year, however, the use of nuclear weapons has reentered the political discussion, placing our world at a dangerous crossroads. Even a small-scale nuclear war would cost millions of lives and disrupt the earth’s ecosystem, causing a “nuclear famine.” A large-scale nuclear war would usher in a “nuclear winter,” making the earth uninhabitable for most life forms.

While the Cold War and nuclear arms race was intensifying, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda took an unequivocal stance against nuclear weapons on September 8, 1957, when he made his Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. At that time, the theory of nuclear deterrence, which uses the threat of nuclear weapons as a means of national security, had taken root. In his declaration, Mr. Toda said:

Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons is now underway around the world, it is my wish to attack the problem at its root, that is, to rip out the claws that are hidden in the very depths of this issue.[1]

For Mr. Toda, the enemy was not nuclear weapons per se but the thinking that justified their existence.

Buddhism recognizes that the cause of mistrust, hatred and violence, as well as compassion and peace reside in the human heart. According to Buddhism, nuclear weapons are the physical manifestation of the most evil tendencies inherent in life that seek to rob others of their existence. Therefore, simply outlawing nuclear weapons is not enough. Ikeda Sensei writes about this:

Toda had the insight to understand that the logic that justifies the possession of nuclear weapons grows from the most extreme form of human desire—the desire to dominate and bend others to our will, the readiness to annihilate them, destroying their lives and livelihoods, should they resist.[2]

Our Buddhist practice addresses the root of violence and destruction in the human mind.

Through Buddhism, we can transform not only our own tendencies toward mistrust but those of others as well, creating an environment where both parties develop mutual respect. Sensei explains that the key to uprooting the evil that gave birth to nuclear weapons is to create a groundswell of empathy through dialogue. He writes:

Dialogue challenges us to confront and transform the destructive impulses inherent in human life. I earnestly believe that the energy generated by this courageous effort can break the chains of resignation and apathy that bind the human heart, unleashing renewed confidence and vision for the future.[3]

SGI members in 192 countries and territories are practicing and promoting this kind of dialogue to create a fundamental change in their communities and societies.

—Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Peace Proposals

Citizen Diplomacy (2008)

At the height of Cold War tensions, seeking to reduce these tensions and prevent further escalation of the arms race, I called for summit meetings between the leaders of the superpowers and engaged in citizen diplomacy to encourage dialogue and exchange. At a time when, in addition to the U.S.-Soviet confrontation, tensions between China and the Soviet Union were at a critical level (1974–75), I traveled to all three countries in a private capacity, meeting, among others, with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976), Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin (1904–80) and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Through such efforts, I hoped to build bridges that would lead to improved relations.

In this I was driven by the determination to prevent at all costs full-scale nuclear warfare, which would have catastrophic effects for the entire human race, and to put an end to the wars that were dividing the world and inflicting massive suffering upon people. With the end of the Cold War, while the threat of full-scale nuclear warfare has receded, we now face new and emerging dangers in the form of nuclear proliferation.

In my 2007 peace proposal, I called for a transition to a system of security that is not reliant on nuclear weapons, and to this end urged the establishment of an international nuclear disarmament agency to ensure the good-faith fulfillment of existing legal commitments to nuclear disarmament.

Equally essential to nuclear abolition is establishing consensus within the international community regarding the fundamental illegality of nuclear weapons.[4]

Nuclear Weapons Are a Negation of Life (2013)

Nuclear weapons are the contemporary embodiment of Goethe’s “quick dagger.”

The French philosopher Paul Virilio has explored the question of speed in relation to the different problems of contemporary civilization in a manner similar to that of Goethe’s probing of the human psychology that drives the quest for a quick dagger. In Speed and Politics he writes: “The danger of the nuclear weapon, and of the arms system it implies, is … not so much that it will explode, but that it exists and is imploding in our minds.”

The destruction wrought by a nuclear explosion would of course be massive and irreparable, but Virilio’s point is to stress the abnormality of living under the threat of nuclear confrontation, and the spiritual impact of this even when these weapons are not used. This is an important perspective. Without it, essential aspects of our situation will be obscured. For example, as Virilio points out, “as a continuation of total war by other means, nuclear deterrence marked the end of the distinction between wartime and peacetime.”

More than half a century ago, as Cold War competition to develop ever more destructive nuclear weapons was intensifying, my mentor second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda (1900–58) issued a declaration calling for their abolition. In it, he stressed that possession of nuclear weapons represents an outright negation of the dignity of life and declared that this was impermissible under any circumstances. He called for a thoroughgoing repudiation of such ways of thinking:

Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons.

In other words, while acknowledging the importance of efforts to ban nuclear testing, he stressed that the fundamental answer to this problem requires that we challenge the root thinking that enables and justifies possession of these weapons of mass destruction.

Nuclear weapons do not distinguish between combatants and noncombatants; they destroy whole cities, killing vast numbers of people instantaneously. Their impact on the natural environment is severe, and the aftereffects of radiation exposure inflict long-term suffering on people. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made evident the indescribably inhumane nature of these weapons.

What is it, then, that is used to justify their continued possession?

It is, I believe, the same psychology that brought humanity to the point of total war. To restate this using the frameworks I explored earlier in this proposal, it is the way of thinking that monolithically identifies everyone on the opposing side, regardless of individual differences, as the enemy. This denies the possibility of any other way of relating to them, leaving only the option of a violent severing of all ties. Is this not an ultimate disavowal of the dignity of life?

Nothing here is mediated by what Arendt termed “the readiness to share the world with other men,” which she contrasted with the cruel coldness of the misanthrope who “regards nobody as worthy of rejoicing with him in the world and nature and the cosmos.” This is a life-state dominated by the impulse to dismiss and destroy the lives of others—what Buddhism refers to as our fundamental darkness.

It is for this reason that Toda’s determination to “rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons” and to protect the right of the world’s people to live was expressed in these striking terms: “I propose that humankind applies, in every case, the death penalty to anyone responsible for using nuclear weapons, even if that person is on the winning side.”

Toda had, as a Buddhist, often declared his opposition to the death penalty, so his seeming call for this ultimate punishment must be understood as an expression of his sense of the absolute unacceptability of the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Further, this was a clear refutation of the logic of nuclear weapons possession, under which states pursue their security interests by in effect holding the world’s peoples hostage.

When Toda made this declaration in 1957, the world was divided into the opposing camps of East and West, with both sides trading diatribes about the arsenal possessed by the other. In contrast, Toda denounced nuclear weapons as the central evil of contemporary civilization, and he did so in the name of the world’s peoples, unswayed by the distortions of ideology or national interest.

Since that time, the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons has continued to increase, and the work of preventing their further proliferation has naturally been seen as an urgent task. Nonetheless, I think it is crucial that we attend to the core problem of nuclear weapons—their underlying inhumanity—that my mentor so starkly exposed.

As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out: “The possession of nuclear weapons by some encourages their acquisition by others. This leads to nuclear proliferation and the spread of the contagious doctrine of nuclear deterrence.” Unless we confront the fundamental source of that contagion, moves to prevent proliferation will be neither convincing nor effective.[5]


  1. The Human Revolution, p. 1780. ↩︎
  2. September 28, 2007, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  3. Ibid. ↩︎
  4. 2008 Peace Proposal <>. ↩︎
  5. 2013 Peace Proposal <>. ↩︎

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