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Global Perspective

Human Values in a Changing World

Bryan Wilson 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 Human Values in a Changing World, pp. 269–70.

Fulfillment in Life and Death 

Daisaku Ikeda: The person who has lived a life of fulfilment in faith is able to die in the same way. In my opinion, it is religion that enables human beings to do both. Furthermore, it is the duty of religions to satisfy this need. Do you agree with me?

Bryan Wilson: The fact of death is something which practically all religions seek to interpret for their adherents. One or two unusual Christian sects, particularly in the United States, have taken a radical view and declared that the really true believer will not die and, in consequence, have regarded death as shameful for surviving kinsfolk. Rather more generally, the mention of death has been seen as indelicate, and dead people are referred to euphemistically as having “passed on,” “passed over,” “fallen asleep” or as being “on the other side.” Such has been the modern fear of death.

Traditionally, death has been seen as a stark reality requiring religion to supply reassurance and courage for those who face it and resourcefulness and assuagement of grief for those who become bereaved. Obviously, to fortify [people] in the face of death entails the building of attitudes of self-discipline, seriousness of mind and purpose, and a sense of responsibility for one’s life—and the cultivation of such dispositions is itself a life-time’s work.

I think that some sincere and conscientious unbelievers have attained and maintained a high degree of integrity in their lives and have carried this nobility of spirit through to the end, facing death with composure and quiet resolution. Nineteenth-century Christians used to like to tell stories of opponents of the Church or agnostics who had defied the Christian religion all their lives but who, on their deathbeds, in facing the stark reality of extinction or damnation, had died either in terror or had become last-minute converts to Christianity. It is likely that most of these stories were told merely by way of religious propaganda and were all the more dramatic because of the Christian belief in hell-fire for those who died as unrepentant sinners or deniers of Christ. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt that religious faith, Christian or otherwise, has been a great aid and comfort to many men facing death. In the Christian case, fears of an after-life of prolonged torment in hell and hopes for eternal bliss in heaven have sharpened the claims of religion to be of use to the dying, but all the great faiths see death as a time of reckoning, when men need to be able to come to terms with themselves. …

From a more strictly psychological perspective, steady commitment and years of religious discipline are likely to allow men to encounter death with greater composure and equanimity than might be obtained from a sudden and dramatic change of heart in extremity.

Ikeda: I think so too. Interestingly enough, the Buddhist view is that to die a good death, one must have led a good life. Buddhist discipline and training are designed to help each believer to overcome suffering, develop the psychological strength to face crises like death, and steadily manifest from [their] own innermost depths [their] own Buddha nature. The knowledge that death represents the return of the individual life to the great universal life prior to another phenomenal manifestation is a source of splendid strength, rich with compassion and wisdom. As [they strive] to perfect [themselves] by doing good for others, the Buddhist is constantly aware that death is a fulfilling and enriching part of life. For people who believe this, death is not defeat, but a wonderful stimulus to live more vigorously and more meaningfully.

Bryan Wilson


Of Note

Renowned sociologist of religion

Specialized in sectarian religion and secularization

Doctoral thesis on three Christian groups was developed into a book, Sects and Society, praised for its innovative approach

Emeritus Reader in Sociology at the University of Oxford

Fellow of All Souls College at the University of Oxford for 30 years

Served as visiting faculty in Thailand, Belgium, Japan, the United States and Canada

As president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, guided its transformation into a nondenominational international scholarly association

Co-authored A Time to Chant, researching the Soka Gakkai in the United Kingdom

From the November 2023 Living Buddhism

The Conditions for Victory

Nichiren Daishonin—His Lifelong Vow and Great Compassion