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Global Perspective

40 Years of Ikeda Sensei’s Peace Proposals

Photo by Yvonne Ng.

The heart of the SGI’s peace movement can be found in Nichiren Daishonin’s statement, “Life is the foremost of all treasures.”[1]

This sentiment is no more persuasively expressed than in the landmark Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, which second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda delivered in September 1957 and which, thus, marked the starting point of the Soka Gakkai’s movement for peace.

In it, President Toda voiced his desire to not just eradicate nuclear weapons but to “rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons.”[2] He sought to underscore the logic that justifies the possession of nuclear weapons: “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.[3]

Ikeda Sensei inherited Mr. Toda’s quest for global peace and has worked tirelessly as a Buddhist humanist and citizen diplomat to bridge gaps between cultures and people. Among his enduring legacy is the 40 annual peace proposals he began writing in 1983, published annually on January 26, SGI’s founding day. In them, he has offered solutions and responses grounded in Buddhist philosophy, which he regards as essential to the establishment of world peace.

In this article, we highlight peace proposals from the past four decades. In reviewing this crucial element of our Buddhist peace movement, we can consider what contributions we can make as Sensei’s disciples, transmitters of Buddhist humanism in society.

1983: A New Proposal for Peace and Disarmament

Key Points

This was the first peace proposal, submitted on the 8th anniversary of Ikeda Sensei establishing the SGI in Guam, on January 26, 1975. In it, he explains how the arms race has led humanity to a crossroads, where we must take the course of diplomacy. Among other things, he proposes the creation of a Forum for Peace made up of dedicated intellectuals who can discuss how to overcome global issues threatening humankind.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Today, the power structures supported by the terrible destructive powers of the military appear to be securely in the control of a few elite policy-makers. But are these policy-makers really in control? It is possible that they may actually be under the influence of the evil inherent in nuclear weapons and political power. This kind of evil is called “fundamental ignorance of the true nature of existence” in Buddhist philosophy. Under the cover of the darkness of ignorance, humanity is certain to be degraded to a secondary role in all areas of society.

In truth, more than anything else I see a lack of humanity within people who glibly speak of the possibility of limited nuclear war. This is a prospect that goes beyond the concept of the nuclear deterrent. Puppets of the nuclear devil, these people cannot possibly admit the anguish of the dying into their calculations of murder of thousands and millions. In their scenario, nuclear weapons play the lead, and humanity is given the wretched secondary role of defeated antagonist. Of course, such devilry is not restricted to nuclear arms. It is a shadow on weapons of all kinds. But the terror of nuclear weapons is in their grotesque magnification of this devilry to the utmost limits.

[Carl von] Clausewitz was able to say that war is “nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with an admixture of other means” because in his time he could safely assume that war was something that could be controlled by men. But the advent of nuclear arms has invalidated such reassuring assumptions. That is why I believe that the existence of nuclear weapons is one of the catastrophes of all of modern civilization, and why I believe that the appearance of nuclear weapons was a fateful event in human history. The fact that a few elite groups have control over the power structures based on nuclear might surely is a declaration of man’s defeat, of the death of human dignity.

What does this fateful event, the advent of nuclear arms, demand of us? It demands that man, the people, recover the lead in the drama of human history. Here, I would like to reaffirm our immutable guiding principle that “the Soka Gakkai will eternally stand on the side of the common people.”

1987: Spreading the Brilliance of Peace Toward the Century of the People

Key Points

Sensei outlines how the balance of freedom and self-control brings out the good in humanity. In addition, he discusses why freezing military spending would greatly stimulate the world economy and repurpose funds to improve the lives of common people.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Long ago, I stated that “various powers in the world—authority, money, brutality—attempt to violate human dignity. The role of the Soka Gakkai in society is to employ the spirit that wells from the very depths of life to do battle with such powers.” By spirit I mean the good that is in humanity and, above all, the power of self-control. Progressive and strong-willed, this spirit is free but cannot degenerate into license since it is always controlled, balanced and self-restrained.

The powers of brutality, authority and money tend to stimulate the evil in humanity. The superior human spirit, on the other hand, acts as a catalyst evoking good. Manifesting this spirit is the royal road of the champion of peace, shining with the dignity of humanity as expressed in these words of Mahatma Gandhi:

Nonviolence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship.

The power of the word is the primary weapon of the champion of the spirit. Long described as the single characteristic most clearly differentiating humans from other animals, language has often been the decisive factor in victory.

1991: Dawn of the Century of Humanity

Key Points

With the Cold War coming to a close, Sensei emphasizes the need to shift the focus from national to human sovereignty, putting the interests of individuals before the state. He proposes that a major step to global peace is regional harmony, and as an example, he urges the leaders of North and South Korea to come together to announce their commitment to mutual nonaggression.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

With the invention of nuclear arms, war as a nation’s sovereign right became an act that could lead directly to the annihilation of the human race. Because of that, as I have repeatedly stressed, humankind has no choice but to learn to transcend the framework of the state and master the shift in perceptions from “national” to “human” interests, from the sovereignty of the state to the sovereignty of humanity. The question always in my mind, therefore, is how our system can be transformed into one built on the idea of human sovereignty.

Professor Norman Cousins, known as a vigorous advocate of world federalism, spoke very eloquently in our conversations on this subject. He pointed out that there are two kinds of sovereignty, one being absolute and the other relative. The former centers around military might, while the latter indicates jurisdiction over the way of life and activities carried out within the state. Professor Cousins said:

Creating safety on earth does not necessitate the total dissolution of the nation-state. To make national sovereignty meaningful, it is necessary only to eliminate those of its attributes that contribute to world anarchy and to assure and underwrite those of its attributes that constitute national responsibility.

His idea is that only absolute sovereignty should be dissolved.

It would be daydreaming to think that nation-states would simply disappear with the adoption of a world federation. Professor Cousins did not think it possible for a unitary world-state to come into being immediately. His idea, rather, was that there would be clearcut distinctions between world jurisdiction and national jurisdiction, between the sovereignty that would be pooled in the federation and the sovereignty retained by the “nation-states.” The notion of a world federation offers much food for thought in regards to how to sublimate the negative attributes of state sovereignty and build a system for war-free coexistence among peoples.

1999: Toward a Culture of Peace: A Cosmic View

Key Points

With the rise in identity crises, Sensei calls on humanity to adopt a cosmic view of the self that transcends superficial identity constructs. He also makes the following proposals: 1) Prohibit the military recruitment of children under age 18; 2) Extend the competence of the International Criminal Court to enable it to take steps against nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction; 3) Create a regional forum for Northeast Asia, as a venue for dialogue and conflict resolution; 4) Inhibit the arms trade through mandatory reporting of all arms transfers and the strengthening of international efforts to limit their trade; and 5) Create a systemic framework for disarmament, of both small arms and nuclear weapons.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Although the method may seem roundabout, I suggest that for the sake of overcoming the identity crises undermining the soul of modern humanity we must attempt to discover a new cosmology. Unless we raise our sights this high, hopes of nurturing true world citizens must inevitably prove illusory.

In the European Middle Ages, people lived within the framework of a clearly defined and widely accepted cosmology. This was most eloquently portrayed in La Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri. He imagined the world as consisting of the circles of the Inferno descending to the center of the Earth, then the mountain island of Purgatorio and finally to the celestial Paradiso, where God dwells. Whatever the merits of the cosmology set out in Dante’s masterpiece—and history showed that it could not stand up to scientific verification—it did give answers to the fundamental questions: Who are we? Where did the world come from? Why are we here? In this way it provided a framework for human identity. By cultivating a sense of divine will at work in times of happiness and unhappiness, pain and pleasure, prosperity and decline, it created a meaningful and well-ordered spiritual hierarchy in which people could live their lives.

However, the change from the Middle Ages to the modern period, it has been said, represented, not a shift from an old to a new cosmology, but the abandonment of any cosmology at all.

The modern scientific-mechanistic worldview has been built on a refusal even to address these fundamental human concerns and has thus sacrificed any pretense to being a cosmology.

Unaware of this and determined to remain so, modern humanity mistakes knowledge for wisdom and pleasure for happiness. After having run headlong down the path of modernization, we find ourselves reduced to mere consumers—the slaves of commodities. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that the crisis of human identity continues to deepen. …

At the heart of the SGI movement is the effort to develop a new cosmology and to address the identity crisis head-on. The starting point for this undertaking is the awakening my mentor Josei Toda experienced in 1944, while imprisoned for his opposition to Japan’s war effort. Having determined on January 1 of that year to read the Lotus Sutra with his whole being, he was able, through deep prayer, to experience two epiphanies, one in March and one in November.

On the first occasion, he was enlightened to the reality that what the sutras refer to as the Buddha is nothing other than life itself. On the second, he realized that he too was among the Bodhisattvas of the Earth described in the Lotus Sutra, who symbolize the inherent capacity for enlightened and compassionate action that exists within all people irrespective of education or social status. In the solemn gathering on Eagle Peak during which Shakyamuni expounded the Lotus Sutra, the Bodhisattvas of the Earth receive responsibility to carry on this legacy of compassion into the future regardless of the obstacles they encounter. In other words, Toda realized the gathering on Eagle Peak and the Bodhisattvas of the Earth were not just a myth, but a present reality.

2002: The Humanism of the Middle Way: Dawn of a Global Civilization

Key Points

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Sensei makes a strong appeal to the international community that, while it is important to bring terrorists to justice, the only way to avoid a full-on clash of civilizations is to develop mutual understanding through dialogue. Some of his proposals include establishing the International Criminal Court, creating an Afghanistan Peace Center in Japan, eliminating land mines and establishing an office of the U.N. high commissioner for the environment.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Vengeance invites vengeance. Any act of reprisal will inevitably provoke a response, and the cycle will continue without end. This is the lesson, rooted in the depths of human nature, that has been learned at the cost of untold suffering and bloodshed. …

If we are to free ourselves from the vicious spiral of revenge and truly conquer the urge for retribution—feelings that are all too human—we must first undergo a spiritual odyssey of anguished inner conflict, reflection and renewal in the depths of our being, of the kind that [Leo] Tolstoy experienced. Only then will we be truly qualified to speak out. …

This brings me now to the third aspect of the humanism of the Middle Way that I would like to discuss: the way that it probes the depths of the inner life of humanity until it strikes the rich vein of universal qualities shared by all people. As a result, it rejects no one, embracing all people by the simple virtue of their being human. As mentioned earlier, according to the Buddhist theory of the mutual possession of the ten worlds, within the “world” of hell there is still the latent potential for the worlds of bodhisattva and Buddhahood. The clear implication is that regardless of the situation or the behavior of the other person, it is always possible to find an opening toward an avenue of genuine communication.

2004: Inner Transformation: Creating a Global Groundswell for Peace

Key Points

The year prior saw an increased threat in the use of weapons of mass destruction and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Sensei responds by cautioning world leaders that using “hard power” will only plant more seeds of hatred and violence. He proposes strengthening the United Nations’ authority in resolving global issues, encouraging the five nations on the Security Council, all of whom possess nuclear weapons, to initiate negotiations for nuclear disarmament and increasing human security through insuring access to education for all people.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Self requires the existence of other. We cannot engage with others in an effective and productive manner if we lack the inner tension, the will and spiritual energy to guide and control our emotions. It is by recognizing that which is different from and external to ourselves, sensing the resistance it offers, that we are inspired to exercise the self-mastery that brings our humanity to fruition. To lose sight of the other is thus to undermine our full experience of self.

The starting point for the Buddhist worldview is Shakyamuni’s insistence that real happiness—joy that springs from the very depths of life—can be experienced only when we resist the impulse to turn away from the suffering of others and instead challenge it as our own. Such happiness lives and breathes only when we take suffering as an opportunity to forge and temper our inner life, and commit to the hard yet rewarding mission of working for the happiness of both ourselves and others.

Contemporary civilization, determined to avoid all pain, has tried to ignore death. Rather than facing the inevitable sufferings of life and death, we try to manage and control them with biotechnology and cutting-edge medical therapies. Such efforts, of great value in themselves, have often come at the expense of the even more crucial work of developing modes of human and social existence that will enable people to successfully confront these sufferings and to enjoy truly fulfilling lives.

In averting its eyes from death, our civilization attempts to externalize death, making it “someone else’s problem,” numbing people to the pain and suffering of others. I cannot help but feel that humanity’s collective turning away from personal confrontation with death has fundamentally weakened restraints against violence. The result has been the mass slaughter of two world wars and countless regional conflicts that made the past century an era of “megadeath.”

This is the deeper meaning of Josei Toda’s call for the abolition of nuclear weapons and his determination to “de-claw” the forces lying behind their creation. Nuclear weapons are the most horrific manifestation of a civilization that treats death as someone else’s problem. By damning them in the strongest possible terms, Toda was putting the knife to the darkest aspects of modern civilization in order to transform it.

Just as there can be no unhappiness that is strictly limited to others, happiness is not something that we can hoard or keep to ourselves. We are faced with the challenge and opportunity to overcome our narrow egotism, to recognize ourselves in others as we sense others within us and to experience the highest fulfillment as we mutually illuminate each other with the inner brilliance of our lives.

2007: Restoring the Human Connection: The First Step to Global Peace

Key Points

This year marked 50 years since second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda delivered the Declaration for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, where he categorized nuclear weapons as the ultimate manifestation of evil. Sensei calls for the U.S. and Russia to decrease their nuclear arsenal to a few hundred warheads, for the formation of an international nuclear disarmament agency in the U.N., to ensure the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) enters into force and the complete demilitarization of space.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

In our correspondence, Joseph Rotblat posed the question, “Can we master the necessary arts of global security and loyalty to the human race?”[4] Three months after writing these words to me, Dr. Rotblat passed away. I believe his choice to leave this most crucial matter in the form of an open question was an expression of his optimism and his faith in humanity.

When our thinking is reconfigured around loyalty to the human race—our sense of human solidarity—even the most implacable difficulties will not cause us to lapse into despair or condone the panicked use of force. It will be possible to escape the snares of such shortsighted thinking. We will be empowered to engage in the kind of persistent exertion that Max Weber viewed as the ideal of political action, and the door will be open to the formation of consensus and persuasion through dialogue.

2013: Compassion, Wisdom and Courage: Building a Global Society of Peace and Creative Coexistence

Key Points

Sensei discusses three guidelines to develop a society of peace and creative coexistence: 1) the determination to share the joys and sufferings of others; 2) faith in the limitless possibilities of life; and 3) the vow to defend and celebrate diversity. His proposals include: imploring all countries to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Japan and China working together to launch an organization for environmental cooperation in East Asia.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

Everything, dear Friend, nowadays is ultra, everything perpetually transcendent in thought as in action. Young people are excited much too early, and then carried away in the whirl of the time. Wealth and rapidity are what the world admires, and what everyone strives to attain.[5]

While these might sound like the words of a contemporary intellectual, this incisive critique of civilization is in fact that of the German literary master Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832).

I am currently engaged in a dialogue with Dr. Manfred Osten of the Goethe Society, headquartered in Weimar, Germany, about the life and thought of the great German writer. Dr. Osten focuses on the way that Goethe examines this pathology of civilization in his masterpiece Faust, where he portrays the human folly that drives us in a ceaseless quest for the “magic mantle” (the fastest means of transportation), the “quick dagger” (the quickest weapons) and “fast money,” which are deployed to fulfill a succession of desires but lead ultimately to our downfall.

Dr. Osten refers to these items, which Mephistopheles supplies to Faust in response to his requests, as “the tools of demonic rapidity.”[6] Their names and forms, he says, differ from those of the beginning of the 21st century but their content is the same. He goes on to ask whether we have the capacity to recognize ourselves as contemporaries of Dr. Faust, and indeed I think we cannot afford to ignore the similarities between our age and that which Goethe described. Without calling on the assistance of any Mephistopheles, we have created a tragic situation where that which should be valued and treasured is ground underfoot with hardly a thought. The pathology that Goethe exposed has reached a crescendo in our present age.

We see it in nuclear weapons, whose use would “defend” the possessor nation at the price of humanity’s extinction; in a society where free market competition is glorified at the cost of widening disparities and the conscious neglect of its most vulnerable members; in the unabated pace of ecological destruction driven by the prioritization of economic growth; in a global food crisis brought about by commodity speculation. …

We need a new spiritual framework that will bring into greater clarity those things we cannot afford to ignore, while ensuring that all that we do contributes to the larger objective of a global society of peace and creative coexistence.

2017: The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering in a New Era of Hope

Key Points

Sensei conveys his belief that when young people take a leading role in contributing to society, a safe space is created from which change begins. He reviews proposals such as implementing relief programs for refugees, building a culture of human rights and eradicating gender-based discrimination.

Excerpt from Ikeda Sensei

In his portrait of Shakyamuni, the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) states: “The Buddha did not appear as a teacher of knowledge but as the herald of the path to salvation.”[7]

Jaspers notes that the phrase “a path to salvation” derives from an ancient Indian medical term. And what underlies all of the Buddha’s teachings is encouragement that functions like medicine prescribed for the specific conditions of various ailments.

Shakyamuni called on his disciples and comrades: “Go ye now, O Bhikkhus, and wander, for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many.”[8] Thus Shakyamuni and his disciples who continued the practice of traveling to wherever people were in need, without distinction to differences of race or class, were referred to as “the people of the four directions.”[9]

Shakyamuni himself embraced a profound conviction in the dignity and preciousness of life. He was convinced that this dignity exists in the lives of all people and that it is always possible to bring forth life’s inherent potentialities under even the most trying conditions.

In the society of his time, two currents of thought prevailed. One was a kind of fatalism that our present and our future are entirely determined by karma accumulated in the past. The other held that all things are a matter of chance and that nothing in our lives is the outcome of any particular cause or condition.

The fatalistic view engendered the resignation that no effort on our part can alter our destiny and our only choice is to accept our fate. This worked to rob people’s hearts of hope. The other view, by disassociating any action from its outcome, uprooted people’s sense of self-control, making them indifferent to the harm they inflicted on others.
Shakyamuni sought to free people from the constraints and harmful influence of these two views when he taught:

Judge not by birth, but life.
As any chips feed fire,
mean birth may breed a sage
noble and staunch and true.[10]

Everything in our lives, far from being immovably determined, can be transformed for the better through our actions in this moment. In this way, Buddhism teaches that a change in our inner determination in this moment can change the present reality of our lives (Jpn: in; cause) that produces future outcomes (Jpn: ka; effect). At the same time, it emphasizes the critical importance of conditioning context (Jpn: en; relation) that can powerfully shape the interplay between cause and effect. In other words, depending on the context of the relations that are formed, the same cause can give rise to widely varying effects.

From the April 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. “The Gift of Rice,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1125. ↩︎
  2. <accessed on February 14, 2023>. ↩︎
  3. September 28, 2007, World Tribune, p. 2. ↩︎
  4. A Quest for Global Peace, pp. x–xi. ↩︎
  5. Goethe’s Letters to Zelter, p. 246. ↩︎
  6. Translated from “Alles veloziferisch” oder Goethes Entdeckung, p. 31. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Die grossen Philosophen, p. 142. ↩︎
  8. The Sutta-nipata, 1:11:1. ↩︎
  9. Translated from Genshi butten o yomu, p. 273. ↩︎
  10. Buddha’s Teachings, p. 109. ↩︎

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