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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 Aaron Burden / Unsplash

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

Confronting Existential Threats With a Vow (2014)

In our world today, there is a tendency for people to avert their eyes from pressing problems; this tendency becomes stronger the more serious the problems are. Even among those who are aware, for example, of the threat posed by nuclear weapons or the dangers of environmental destruction, people are apt to give up without trying, convinced that their efforts would not be meaningful.

More than anything, breaking the shackles of denial, powerlessness and apathy requires a deep sense of mission and commitment based on a personal vow. This idea was expressed by President Mandela throughout his life. In his autobiography, he voiced the heartfelt cry: “Men, I think, are not capable of doing nothing, of saying nothing, of not reacting to injustice, of not protesting against oppression, of not striving for the good society and the good life in the ways they see it.” The same sentiment is evident in the words of the founder of the Green Belt Movement, Dr. Wangari Maathai, articulating the pledge that consistently guided her actions: “We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds.”

The reference to lotus flowers in muddy water was originally used in the Lotus Sutra to describe the emergence of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. These are bodhisattvas who had vowed to Shakyamuni that, throughout their lives, they would work for the sake of people mired in despair and were willing to be born in times of confusion and social unrest in order to do so.4

Defeating Fundamental Delusion (2015)

I was struck by the following words contained in the Report and Summary of Findings of the Vienna Conference: “As was the case with torture, which defeats humanity and is now unacceptable to all, the suffering caused by nuclear weapons use is not only a legal matter, it necessitates moral appraisal.” This appeal echoes the point that my mentor, Josei Toda, emphasized in the declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons that he made in September 1957, at a time when Cold War tensions were rising and the nuclear arms race was accelerating. In the declaration, Toda urged:

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.

Buddhism teaches that the most serious threat to human dignity is the evil arising from the fundamental delusion inherent in all life known as paranirmitavasavarti-deva or the devil king of the sixth heaven. This is a state manifesting the willingness to reduce the existence of each individual to insignificance and rob life of its most essential meaning. Toda asserted that what is hidden in the depths of nuclear weapons is this most extreme form of evil.

Therefore, he urged that we must go beyond the prohibition of the testing of nuclear weapons and reject the logic of nuclear deterrence, which is predicated on the readiness to sacrifice the lives of vast numbers of people. This is the fundamental solution to the threat of nuclear weapons and must be pursued in the name of the right of all the world’s people to live.5

Taking Up Arms Instills Fear (2017)

The idea of the inherent dignity of life has been developed in Buddhism through just such an in-depth exploration of human nature, and I believe it is pertinent in this regard. I would like to quote the following words of Shakyamuni, attributed to him when he was mediating a conflict between two tribes over water rights.

Look at those who fight, ready to kill! Fear arises from taking up arms and preparing to strike.

It is noteworthy how Shakyamuni observes the workings of the hearts of those facing a hostile confrontation: They did not take up arms in fear of the opponent, but rather were filled with fear the moment they took up arms. While they might have felt rage toward an adversary that was trying to take their water, they were not possessed by fear. But the moment they were armed, prepared to strike deadly blows against their adversaries, their hearts were filled with dread.6

Adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) (2018)

A series of negotiations at the United Nations finally led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in July [2017]; to date it has been signed by more than 50 states. Once it enters into force, the Treaty will follow bans on biological and chemical arms to complete the international framework prohibiting all weapons of mass destruction. …

In her speech at the Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony held in December, Setsuko Thurlow, who spoke after ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn, declared the following based on her experience as a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima:

Humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist. … These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil.

This conviction is shared by the members of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), who have been working together with ICAN since soon after its founding—a collaboration that was reconfirmed when Ms. Fihn visited the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Japan this January.

To fundamentally negate the existence of those seen as enemies, to be willing to eradicate them with an extreme destructive power—this cruel tendency to deny human dignity underlies the thinking that justifies the possession of nuclear weapons.

This is precisely what my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900–58), expressed in his declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons in September 1957 amidst the intensifying nuclear arms race of the Cold War. As the nuclear threat expanded in the name of a deterrence-based peace, Toda declared, “I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons,” condemning the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons as fundamentally jeopardizing the right of the world’s people to live.7

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