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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 Ryoji Iwata / 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 in 1983 on January 26—the Soka Gakkai International’s founding day—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 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 recognizes 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 globally minded 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 described 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 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

Understanding Relationality (2016)

I would like to examine two important functions of learning. The first is to enable people to accurately assess the impact of their actions and to empower them to effect positive change for themselves and those around them.

The founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871–1944), was a pioneer of humanistic education. In his 1930 work Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy)—a work of germinal importance to the SGI—he describes three different ways of life as human beings: dependent, independent and contributive.

In a dependent way of life, a person is typically unable to sense their own potential, giving up on any real possibility of transforming their current situation and instead passively accommodating themselves to others and their immediate surroundings or to the larger trends in society. In an independent way of life, people have the desire to find their own way forward but tend to have little interest in those with whom they are not directly involved. They are quick to assume that however trying the circumstances of another person, it is up to that person to find a solution through their own efforts.

Makiguchi used to illustrate the problematic nature of such a way of life with the following example. Suppose someone has placed a large stone on a railroad track. Needless to say, this is an evil act. But if, despite knowing it is there, one fails to remove the stone, a train will be derailed.

In other words, if one recognizes a danger but does nothing about it because it has no direct impact upon oneself, this failure to do good will produce an evil outcome.

Everyone speaks of the wrongfulness of an evil act, but inexplicably no one is held accountable for the wrongfulness of failure to do good. And thus, fundamental social evils remain unresolved.

Any doubt that failure to do good is equivalent to actively doing evil is dispelled when we imagine ourselves aboard the train heading toward disaster.

In politics, economics and other areas of contemporary thought, we see a tacit acceptance of the sacrifice of certain people’s interests in the pursuit of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. The pitfalls of this way of thinking are illustrated by the climate crisis. A willingness to accept other people’s sacrifice can erode the foundations for humanity’s survival; even if one is not at risk at present, over the long run no part of Earth is likely to remain unaffected.

The American political philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum has warned of the dangers of pursuing short-term interests and calls for efforts to foster an awareness of global citizenship.

More than at any time in the past, we all depend on people we have never seen, and they depend on us. …

Nor do any of us stand outside this global interdependency.

Fostering imaginative capacities through education and learning expands grassroots solidarity and action for the resolution of global issues.

For his part, Makiguchi asserted that the way of life to strive for is a contributive one. “Authentic happiness cannot be realized except through sharing the joys and sufferings of the masses as a member of society.” Today, we need to expand such awareness to encompass the entire world: Nothing is more crucial.

Buddhism views the world as a web of relationality in which nothing can be completely disassociated from anything else. Moment by moment, the world is formed and shaped through this mutual relatedness. When we understand this and can sense in the depths of our being the fact that we live—that our existence is made possible—within this web of relatedness, we see clearly that there is no happiness that only we enjoy, no suffering that afflicts only others.

In this sense, we ourselves—in the place where we are at this moment—become the starting point for a chain reaction of positive transformation. We are able not only to resolve our personal challenges but also to make a contribution to moving our immediate environment and even human society in a better direction.

This palpable awareness of interdependence provides a framework or set of coordinates by which to reconsider the relationship between self and other and between ourselves and society as a whole. This is the approach that Buddhism urges us to adopt.

Here, education is vital as it enables us to populate this field of coordinates with the actual experience of empathy felt when encountering the pain of others. Our perceptive capacities are honed by learning about the background and underlying causes of such issues as environmental degradation or human inequality, and this in turn clarifies and strengthens the system of ethical coordinates within which we strive to address these issues.

The second function of learning is to bring forth the courage to persevere in the face of adversity.

The challenges that confront humankind, such as poverty or natural disasters, manifest themselves uniquely depending on location and circumstance. And as I mentioned with reference to climate change, the impacts of different threats are such that they can affect anyone, anywhere, at any time. That is why day-to-day efforts are needed in each locality to enhance resilience—the capacity to prevent crises or their escalation and the ability to act with wisdom to respond flexibly and energetically to difficult conditions in the aftermath of disaster.

As an educator, Makiguchi focused on enhancing learners’ capacity to grasp the import of events in their environment and to respond proactively, something he termed “the courage of application.” For him, the authentic objective of education is to foster the habit of discovering opportunities to apply the knowledge gained through education and to do so to maximum effect through concrete action.[4]

A World Citizens’ Charter (1988)

It is of urgent necessity to educate as many people as possible to become world citizens in order to achieve lasting peace.

Such an educational program would cover comprehensively the most important themes humankind must grapple with today—the environment, development, peace and human rights. Each one of these topics requires citizens to have a global perspective that goes beyond the confines of national entities. The four themes are interrelated and must be studied together, as they all factor into the ultimate goal of securing peace for humanity.

I would also suggest that a “World Citizens’ Charter” be created as a basis for education for world citizenship. It would be a charter for comprehensive peace education dealing with the topics mentioned above. While people’s awareness that they belong to one world is becoming widespread, that world is still mired in constant conflicts stemming from ethnic and religious confrontation.

The preamble of a “World Citizens’ Charter” would embrace all people as citizens of the world from a universal point of view, calling on them to pursue peace and happiness for humanity—comparing cultural, religious, linguistic and other differences among peoples to the diversity in the species of vegetation rooted in the common soil of the Earth.

Needless to say, the standpoints of world citizenship and ethnic independence do not contradict each other. In today’s world, it is fully possible to deepen one’s own ethnic and cultural identities and to work toward a community of humanity with a global perspective at the same time.[5]


  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. 2016 Peace Proposal, ↩︎
  5. A Forum for Peace, pp. 386–87. ↩︎

District Discussion Meeting Material

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