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Global Perspective

A Passage to Peace

Nur Yalman and Daisaku Ikeda

Illustration by Rickyhadi / Fiverr

Ikeda Sensei has had dialogues with leading figures throughout the world to advance peace. More than 80 of his dialogues have been published as books. This series highlights these dialogues. The following are excerpts from A Passage to Peace (pp. 43–46).

A New Humanism Rooted in Empathy and Kindness

Daisaku Ikeda: Heavy war indemnities came as a crushing blow to the German people and were a decisive factor in the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis. Turkey, on the other hand, continued to fight and finally won. Thus the Turkish people were unconstrained by the outside pressures imposed on the old empire. Though still enduring poverty and suffering, under the leadership of President [Mustafa Kemal] Atatürk they found hope to move forward to the building of a new country. This major difference between Turkish and German history is highly instructive.

Nur Yalman: Turkey was very fortunate not to be involved in the Second World War because this made it possible, after Atatürk’s death, gradually to evolve a multi-party democracy. With this system came many new creative ideas and step-by-step modernization. Turkey escaped the tragic and devastating destruction unleashed by the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or the terrible experiences of Cambodia and Vietnam. It has been protected from them by its sense of identity and discipline and by having avoided the great upheavals of 20th-century Europe and Asia.

Ikeda: One of Atatürk’s speeches contains another highly instructive philosophical lesson. He said that to protect individuals, ethnic groups and nations from selfish exploitation, we must empathize with suffering everywhere as if it were our own. In saying this he was proposing a kind of global partnership that I see as the key to human peace and harmony in the 21st century. Do you agree?

Yalman: Entirely. Creating such a partnership requires that we all be mutually connected by humanism. The sense of universal humanism has been expressed through the ages by great thinkers and writers and was beautifully re-expressed by my dear teacher Claude Lévi-Strauss, who wrote that we must allow for and respect diversity in such a fashion as to prevent the ideas and activities of one from interfering with the ideas and activities of others. Such humanism is a sense of respect for human beings, a respect for differences; it is acceptance without aggression. Respect must allow diversities to exist, and the diversities must not interfere with each other. This modern sense of humanism attempts to allow individuals and communities to develop in a liberal, open, mutually non-constraining way.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau aptly expresses another important idea when he says that empathy for others is at the root of anthropology. Others must have their own space in which to exist. Empathy and gentle kindness toward other people must be at the root of the new humanism, which will allow Buddhists to be Buddhists, Hindus to be Hindus, Jews to be Jews, Muslims to be Muslims, Christians to be whatever kind of Christian they want to be, Daoists to be Daoists and Confucians to be Confucians without getting in each other’s way.

Ikeda: Persevering, constructive dialogue is essential if we are to prevent cultural differences from becoming hotbeds of aggression and exclusivism. The Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (now Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue) provide forums where people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds can come together for debate and dialogue, leading to mutual understanding.

Yalman: That is a very important undertaking. In the years to come, the peoples of the world must overcome differences in thought, culture and customs; open their minds wide and expand the network of humanism that is the shared wisdom of the human race. That indeed will be a modern renaissance. Throughout history, the philosophies and cultures of the world have evolved their own fundamental humanisms. In the modern renaissance, these humanisms should become a global symbiosis in which all coexist in mutual respect. In your efforts to expand human togetherness through cross-cultural exchanges of ideas with people from all over the globe, you have become a valuable model of the modern renaissance.

Ikeda: In 1937, the year before he died, President Atatürk said that humanity required a new standard for the sake of solving international conflicts and realizing peace. He went on to say that only actions and interests that served to bring people together, encouraged them to love each other and satisfied their material and spiritual needs could make human beings truly happy. As he perceptively observed, the only way to bring the world happiness and peace is to swell the ranks of people championing this noble idea.

Nur Yalman


Of Note

• Lauded social anthropologist

• Works across the fields of religion and politics in South Asian, Central Asian, Middle Eastern and other societies

• Professor Emeritus of Social Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University

• Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

• Authored the classic anthropological text Under the Bo Tree: Studies in Caste, Kinship and Marriage in the Interior of Ceylon

• In 1993, joined John Kenneth Galbraith and Harvey Cox in inviting Daisaku Ikeda to deliver his lecture “Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization” at Harvard University

From the August 2023 Living Buddhism

The Heart of Propagating Buddhism

Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion