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Global Perspective

The Wisdom of Buddhist Humanism—World Citizen Education

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Annual Peace Proposals: World Citizen Education

Photo by Fernando / 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.

Understanding the Interdependence of Life

The challenges we face transcend national borders—the refugee crisis, climate change, the ongoing pandemic and the specter of nuclear war. The SGI’s movement for peace is based on a global outlook that acknowledges our limitless potential to overcome these challenges.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi’s educational philosophy recognized the interconnectedness of life and sought to imbue students with a universal outlook. Ikeda Sensei writes:

Makiguchi understood our sense of belonging and rootedness as members of a local community to be the foundation for a consciousness of global citizenship: “To know that our life extends to the entire world. The world is our home, and all the nations within it are the field of our action.”[1]

Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda articulated the Soka Gakkai’s globallyminded heritage as the phrase chikyū minzoku shugi or “one-worldism.” He championed a humanistic worldview informed by his insight into the fundamental causes of conflict and societal strife, and the means of solving them. As Sensei relates:

My mentor, Josei Toda, said: “One of the fundamentals of Buddhism is to not inflict harm on anyone and to help free all people from suffering. Another is to bring joy to all people. This is the heart of the Buddha’s compassion. … [The mission of SGI members] is to elevate all people to the life state of Buddhahood—in other words, elevate the character of humankind to the highest level. … If all people can be elevated to the life state of Buddhahood, be made to reveal their highest character, war and famine would disappear, epidemics and poverty would be eradicated. Helping all human beings become Buddhas—that is, express their highest character—is to carry out the ‘Thus Come One’s work.’”[2]

In 1996, Ikeda Sensei encapsulated three essential elements of global citizenship and explained their intimate connection to Buddhist practice:

Global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks or the number of countries to which one has traveled. … I can state with confidence that the following are essential elements of global citizenship:

• The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living.

• The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them.

• The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places. … 

Buddhism calls a person who embodies these qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion, who strives without cease for the happiness of others, a bodhisattva. In this sense, it could be said that the bodhisattva provides an ancient precedent and modern exemplar of the global citizen.[3]

As we exert ourselves in faith, practice and study, we awaken to our innate Buddha nature, transform our own lives and help guide others to do the same. Through this continual process of human revolution, we each act as educators in our communities, awakening those we encounter to their inherent power and irreplaceable mission to contribute to society. 

—Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff

Excerpts From Ikeda Sensei’s Peace Proposals

Humanity Transcending Boundaries (1987)

When asked his nationality, Socrates is said to have replied that he was not only an Athenian but also a citizen of the world. His remark shows us the kind of philanthropic spirit that, transcending narrow bounds of nation, race and region, regards the whole world as home. This attitude should be at the heart of world citizen education.

In more concrete terms, this course of education must include such currently vital problems as environment, development, peace and human rights.

Education for peace should reveal the cruelty of war, emphasize the threat of nuclear weapons and insist on the importance of arms reduction. Education for development must deal with the eradication of hunger and poverty and should devote attention to establishing a system of economic welfare. … Harmony between humanity and nature should be the theme of education in relation to the environment. It is important to bring the most serious consideration to the extent to which nuclear explosions harm the ecosystem. Learning to respect the dignity of the individual must be the cornerstone of education in relation to human rights. In all four of these essential categories, education must go beyond national boundaries and seek values applicable to all humanity.[4]

Respect for Each Individual (1998)

It is my belief that education, in the broadest sense of the word, holds the key to meeting the challenges of global responsibility and fostering the spirit of tolerance. Education does not mean coercing people to fit one rigid and unvaried mold; this is mere ideological indoctrination. Rather, it represents the most effective means of fostering the positive potential inherent in all people—self-restraint, empathy for others and the unique personality and character of each person. To do this, education must be a personal, even spiritual encounter and interaction between human beings, between teacher and learner.

The teachings of Buddhism employ the analogy of flowering fruit trees—cherry, plum, pear, etc.—each blossoming and bearing fruit in its own unique way, to express the value of diversity. Each living thing, in other words, has a distinct character, individuality and purpose in this world. Accordingly, people should develop their own unique capabilities as they work to build a world of cooperation where all people acknowledge both their differences and their fundamental equality, a world where a rich diversity of peoples and cultures is nourished, each enjoying respect and harmony.

A related Buddhist principle is jitai kensho, which means to give full and creative expression to the intrinsic individuality of the self, without clashing with or preying on the individuality of others. It teaches that the true way of living is found in compassion, learning from each other’s differences how to grow and improve ourselves and thereby creating a realm of happiness woven of harmony and coexistence.

The late Dr. David L. Norton, the respected American philosopher who was well versed in the educational philosophy of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, shared his view of the Buddhist model of diversity in a 1991 address:

For the reorganized world that must come, our responsibility as educators is to cultivate in our students a sensibility of respect and appreciation of cultures, beliefs, and practices that differ from their own. This can only be done on the basis of the recognition that other cultures, beliefs, and practices embody aspects of truth and goodness, as the blossoms of the cherry tree, the sour plum, the sweet plum, and the pear tree each embody beauty in a distinctive aspect. To achieve this means that our students must abandon the supposition that the beliefs and practices with which they are most familiar have a monopoly on truth and goodness. This supposition is called parochialism, or narrow-mindedness when it is the innocent result of ignorance, but it breeds the aggressive absolutism of the “closed society” mentality.

Soon after World War II, as the East-West ideological confrontation escalated, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda spoke of the underlying unity of the human race, calling for the realization of a “global family.” His appeal grew from the same roots as what today is called “world citizenship” and sought to transcend the constraints of self-centered and bigoted nationalism. There are, of course, those who believe a clash of civilizations to be unavoidable. My view is that such a clash would not occur between civilizations, but between the savage elements that lurk within each civilization. If people from different cultural traditions are willing to work over time to build tolerant and enduring links, rather than indulging in the temptation to dominate and forcibly influence others, the very nature of culture is such that humanity will be enriched by their interaction, and their differences will give birth to new values.[5]

The Collective Wisdom of Humankind (2014)

When I met with Nelson Mandela in Tokyo in October 1990, we focused on education and youth development as the most crucial themes for creating a new era. President Mandela, who had been released from prison in February of that year, believed that a new South Africa must be built upon a foundation of education. I expressed strong agreement, noting that education is an essential driver of national development whose positive impact extends centuries into the future. Through this exchange, I believe we both deepened our conviction that education is the source of light that enables people’s dignity to shine.

Education holds the key to the future not only of a nation but of all humanity. President Mandela was able to endure over twenty-seven years of imprisonment because he continued to educate himself, nurturing the great dream of healing conflict to create a society of peace and coexistence for all. He wrote these words from prison.

It is only my flesh and blood that are shut up behind these tight walls. Otherwise I remain cosmopolitan in my outlook; in my thoughts I am as free as a falcon. The anchor of all my dreams is the collective wisdom of mankind as a whole.

He read classical Greek drama to find inspiration and the inner strength to persevere under adversity. By turning Robben Island into a “university,” he and his fellow prisoners strove ceaselessly to develop their capacity to transform their ideals into reality.

The world today needs the kind of education that can develop the capacity to create value, underpinned by indomitable hope and the spirit of learning from the collective wisdom of humankind.[6]


  1. For a Sustainable Global Society: Learning for Empowerment and Leadership (2012), ↩︎
  2. The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 3, p. 8. ↩︎
  3. A New Way Forward, pp. 88–90. ↩︎
  4. A Forum for Peace, pp. 35–36. ↩︎
  5. May 1998, Living Buddhism, pp. 26–27. ↩︎
  6. 2014 Peace Proposal, ↩︎

Developing Our Wisdom for a Humane World

Songs of Kosen-rufu—Volume 28, Chapter 1