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The Cure to ‘Peacelessness’

Now is the time to strengthen the SGI’s peace movement and foster successors.

Illustration by Dusan Stankovic / Getty Images

The many escalating conflicts around the world have caused unthinkable suffering to ordinary people, including innocent children. In 2019, several years before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, United Nations General Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that “the tensions of the Cold War have returned to a world that has grown more complex.”[1]

By October of this year, tens of thousands had died or been displaced in the war in Ukraine, while Mr. Guterres was prompted to call for a ceasefire in a different conflict unfolding in a completely different part of the world—the “godawful nightmare” in Gaza.[2]

Why does history seem to be repeating itself in this way in the 21st century? Why have we been thus far unsuccessful, as a species, in overcoming the core challenge of repeated military struggle for dominance and power? Is there a lasting cure to chronic “peacelessness”?

The Cure to ‘Peacelessness’

“Peacelessness is an illness of the soul,”[3] remarked German physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker. While aware of the historic import of events marking the end of the Cold War—the fall of the Berlin Wall, for instance, and the decommissioning of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads—Mr. Weizsacker nonetheless concluded that nothing of lasting significance had changed. “There is no telling when such weapons might be used to start another war.”[4] He concluded that a radical transformation of consciousness was the key to overcoming the institution of war. Ikeda Sensei elaborates on Mr. Weizsacker’s statement, writing:

He explained that neither instruction nor condemnation will succeed in overcoming the pathology of peacelessness: “It requires a different kind of approach which one should call healing.” How can we begin to administer the cure unless we recognize this illness within ourselves and learn to accept both ourselves and others as ill? …

If we are to truly put an end to the era of nuclear weapons we must struggle against the real enemy, which is neither nuclear weapons per se nor the states that possess or develop them, but rather the ways of thinking that permit the existence of such weapons—the readiness to annihilate others when they are perceived to be a threat or a hindrance to the realization of our objectives.[5]

The SGI’s peace movement, in short, is a revolution in the consciousness of increasing numbers of individuals who are grounded in respect for life. By extension, this awareness leads to a refutation of war and the existence of nuclear weapons, which have in the past pushed the peoples of the world to the brink of annihilation.

This revolution in consciousness is where our religious practice of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo comes in. Through chanting, we awaken to the limitless value of our own life and that of all people, even those—especially those—with whom we disagree. For when we deny the value of others, we deny our own. Sensei writes:

Buddhism stresses the interconnectedness of all life. It is only the limited capacity of our senses that causes us to place so much stock in the separation between “them” and “us.” Because of this interconnectedness, by using violence, you not only injure or destroy the other person but also yourself. Those who use violence and devalue others’ lives actually devalue themselves and ruin their own lives.[6]

Thus, we have much to lose and everything to gain from engaging those with whom we disagree in dialogue. As German philosopher Karl Jaspers observed: “We want to accept the other, to try to see things from the other’s point of view. … To get at the truth, an opponent is more important than one who agrees with us.”[7] A continuous process of dialogue—with oneself and with others—is the fuel that powers our human revolution.

Dialogue—‘the Birth-pulse of a Global Civilization’

Overcoming war as an institution can strike us as a distant, even impossible task. Remarking on the size of the task at hand in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sensei writes:

Altering the course of human history—throughout which “peace” has been but an interlude between wars—will require of each individual a profound inner resolution, a truly existential determination to seek their fundamental, inherent humanity and to transform their entire being.[8]

To maintain such a strong inner resolution in our engagements with others, dialogue is key. Sensei explains:

An inner, spiritual dialogue is a necessary prerequisite for any attempt at external dialogue. Unless such attempts are preceded and supported by inner dialogue, we may find ourselves reverting to mere monologue and onesided assertions.[9]

As Nichiren Buddhists, we engage in this kind of deep, soul-searching, self-reflective dialogue morning and evening by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a practice by which we awaken to the inherent dignity of our own and others’ lives. Based on an awakened sense of communion with ourselves and all life in the universe, we engage others with that deep feeling, expressed by the African Roman playwright Terence, “I am human, nothing human is foreign to me.”

Sensei says, “The mutually stimulating and catalyzing effects of dialogue give rise to a world where differences are celebrated. Through vibrant dialogue among civilizations a richly fertile humanism arises in which the birth-pulse of a global civilization may be felt.”[10]

Citizens of the World

At the conference where the Soka Gakkai International was founded on January 26, 1975, each attendee signed a guestbook, including their name and country. When it was Sensei’s turn, he wrote as his nationality “The World.” He recalls this moment in his 30-volume novel The New Human Revolution, where he appears as Shin’ichi Yamamoto:

As he signed the book, he fondly recalled the commitment of his mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, to the ideal of global citizenship. In his heart, Shin’ichi [Yamamoto] declared, “Mr. Toda, I will dedicate my entire life to worldwide kosen-rufu in order to bring about happiness and peace for all humanity.”

Shin’ichi had long ago rid his heart of any borders. To him, his true country was not the small island nation of Japan in eastern Asia but the world itself. In the column for nationality he wrote “The World,” because that represented his most genuine innermost feeling.

As the American Revolution pamphleteer Thomas Paine affirmed, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Shin’ichi signed the guestbook with the resolve to serve all of humanity as a citizen of the world.[11]

The year prior, Sensei had traveled to the Soviet Union to meet with Premier Aleksey Kosygin and other Soviet officials. He embarked on this trip amid a storm of criticism from Japanese political figures and media, questioning why a Buddhist leader was visiting a country whose defining ideology rejected religion and discouraged religious belief. In the midst of the Cold War, visceral hostility toward the Soviet Union permeated Japanese society. Tensions between the Soviet Union and China had also been escalating, with the threat of military confrontation looming.

Sensei’s response to his critics was simple and reflective of his fundamental approach to diplomacy: “I am going to the Soviet Union because there are people there.”[12]

The year prior, Sensei had a personal sense of urgency motivated him. “I was deeply concerned about the effect on the ordinary people of the world of the tense relations. … Nothing could be more regrettable, I believed, than for future generations to be forced to live in mutual suspicion and constant fear of a Third World War.”[13]

Four months prior to his trip to the Soviet Union, Sensei had paid his first visit to China. He recalls the sight of children helping construct underground bomb shelters at their schools in case of an attack. “The threat of war had even cast its ominous shadow over these children,” he writes. “It was a painful sight.”[14]

Sensei was also struck by the yearning for peace he sensed among the ordinary citizens of the Soviet Union, a country ravaged by destruction and the loss of millions of lives in World War II. For Sensei, this was confirmation of universal human sentiments—the desire for happiness and peace—transcending national and ideological differences.

Reportedly, Premier Kosygin was initially doubtful about meeting with Sensei, a Buddhist leader. Sensei began, however, by describing his poignant impressions from his recent visit to Leningrad. The city, now St. Petersburg, had suffered an appalling toll in human lives in the infamously brutal Siege of Leningrad during World War II. Moscow University’s Leon Strijak, the interpreter for their meeting, recalls: “Listening to him, Kosygin’s wary expression began to soften, and he replied, ‘I, too, was at Leningrad at that time.’ That broke the ice, and they seemed to open their hearts following that point.”[15]

During the dialogue Sensei asked forthrightly whether the Soviet Union had any intention of attacking China. Premier Kosygin assured him that it did not and agreed that Sensei could convey this to the Chinese leadership.

Building a Peace Movement That Endures

Despite the many positive revolutions and movements for peace and justice that have emerged throughout history, war, violence, discrimination and countless injustices persist. While evil forces will never completely disappear, we must continue striving to severely curtail such influences. The ongoing challenge of organized movements for peace and justice has been nurturing successors who can continue the fight with the same heart as their founders.

Sensei met with Nelson Mandela in October 1990, after his release from prison and building a movement that was poised to take down the apartheid regime, and in July 1995 after becoming president of South Africa. In the midst of their discussions, Sensei noted the importance of successors, saying to Mr. Mandela:

Even though your country has in you an unprecedented and great leader, unless there are many excellent people behind you, your job will never be accomplished. …

One tall tree does not make a forest. Unless other trees grow to the same height, you cannot have a large grove.[16]

Both agreed that even if South Africa implemented the most humanistic policies, the potential to revert to hate and discrimination would continue to exist, which is why successors to Mr. Mandela’s movement are key to continuing the movement.

Even if a state of world peace is achieved, human beings will always have the potential to fall into the six lower paths, which inevitably lead to suffering and conflict. This is why we must continue to teach successive generations the means to advance one’s human revolution and help others do the same.

Nichiren Daishonin explained a term ryobo-kuju meaning to “make certain the Law will long endure.”[17] Sensei explains:

Kosen-rufu extends horizontally through a network of friends. It extends vertically from parent to child, the inheritance of faith from generation to generation. The future belongs to the young.[18]

For this reason, in the SGI, while continuing to encourage longtime practitioners, we are always thinking about the next generation and inspiring young people to firmly establish their Buddhist practice to inherit the spirit of Nichiren and our three Soka mentors, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda.

Now and in the coming years, the people of our communities, country and the world, will increasingly be in need of SGI’s peace movement, rooted in dignity and respect for each individual. Sensei explains:

“In order to realize lasting peace for all humanity, we need to instill in people’s hearts a spirit of compassion for all living beings in accord with the Buddhist principle of the sanctity of life, which itself is based on the recognition that all life inherently possesses the supremely noble and unsurpassed life state of Buddhahood. This process is what we call kosen-rufu.”[19]

The future path to peace lies in the efforts we make today to embrace and encourage the people around us and to foster young people who will continue our movement to cherish the dignity of life into the distant future.

—Prepared by the Living Buddhism staff

From the December 2023 Living Buddhism


  1. <accessed on October 23>. ↩︎
  2. <accessed on October 23>. ↩︎
  3. <accessed on October 23>. ↩︎
  4. Ibid. ↩︎
  5. Ibid. ↩︎
  6. The Victorious Teen, pp. 134–35. ↩︎
  7. <accessed on October 23, 2023>. ↩︎
  8. Ibid. ↩︎
  9. Ibid. ↩︎
  10. Ibid. ↩︎
  11. The New Human Revolution, vol. 21, p. 4. ↩︎
  12. <accessed on October 24, 2023>. ↩︎
  13. Ibid. ↩︎
  14. Ibid. ↩︎
  15. Ibid. ↩︎
  16. November 2022 Living Buddhism, p. 13. ↩︎
  17. “On the Protection of the Nation,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol 2, p. 115. ↩︎
  18. October 13, 2023, World Tribune, p. 3. ↩︎
  19. NHR-21, p. 2. ↩︎

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