A Universal Humanity
"Different civilizations have cultivated diverse kinds of wisdom. It is now time to pool those wisdoms for the sake of solving problems confronting the whole world. The only way to do this is to create broad solidarity transcending ethnic, religious and ideological differences. Buddhism sets forth a way of life that surmounts obsessions with differences and aims to promote peace and happiness for society as a whole." 1--Daisaku Ikeda
At no time in history has humanity been confronted as it is now by the fact of its diversity and by the pressing need to discover ways of appreciating and surmounting differences. As economic integration and the continual progress of technology draw us closer together as part of the same "global village," differences in cultural values and outlook increasingly become a source of conflict and division. The need to establish a sense of common humanity has thus never been more urgent, or more difficult. These facts can be seen as the essential issue of Ikeda's philosophy.
In this sense, Ikeda's philosophy could be characterized as a search to clarify or elucidate universal values--those values that support and encourage the full expression of our humanity. These are values that are appreciated by people everywhere and that enable us to recognize each other as part of the same human family, despite our differences--values as basic as love for one's children, the commendableness of effort, the worthiness of altruistic actions, the nobility of solidarity. Such values stem, ultimately, from the core value of respect for the dignity of human life. Ikeda's philosophy is not, however, the sort of universal spirituality that papers over differences between people and cultures and seeks to reduce everything to a bland "oneness." His approach is one that respects and encourages the particularity and uniqueness of each culture and each individual. Ikeda's philosophy rests upon and is put into action through dialogue.
Ikeda defines "good" as that which brings people together in mutual respect for their shared humanity; "evil" is that which destroys and undermines our sense of connection and unity. Thus for Ikeda, dialogue is far more than the superficial sharing of ideas and perspectives. It is a spiritual struggle to confront the fundamental evil, or divisiveness, that threatens our world, to create an expanding solidarity of good. Ikeda believes that such dialogue is essential to fostering the emergence of a new global civilization in which diverse cultural and spiritual traditions engage and interact creatively for the benefit of all humankind.
Perhaps the most immediate examples of the universalist orientation of Ikeda's thinking can be found in the nature of any of his numerous talks and addresses. In a single address his exploration of ideas and principles might typically draw from Classical Chinese and European literature and philosophy--exploring the ideas of individuals such as Hsün-tzu, Chou Tun-i, Victor Hugo and Goethe--and American Renaissance thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, social revolutionaries as well as Buddhist texts. From these he draws together common elements to propose values and perspectives that are at the basis of individual happiness, success and social justice.
One could also look to the startling range of concerns that he tackles in his writings (from nuclear nonproliferation, to principles of good leadership, health and disease, to environmentalism), and also the many different forms that such writings take: dialogues, poetry, peace proposals, educational proposals, children's literature, opinion editorials, as well as studies of Buddhist texts and principles.
A Contemporary Response to Suffering
Ikeda's approach is all the more significant in light of the fact that Buddhism is today popularly thought of simply as an "ancient teaching"--a somewhat exotic practice whose main benefit is to offer individuals simplicity and focus, as a welcome antidote to the complexities of modern society. This popular view, however, fails to properly understand Buddhism's essential spirit. In fact, Buddhism developed as a response to human suffering, and such suffering cannot be effectively addressed without vigorously engaging with social realities.
Perhaps more than anyone, Ikeda has clarified Buddhism's relevance to the urgent need, felt by people all around the world, for the transformation of society and the empowerment of the individual. In demonstrating how Buddhism answers these needs, Ikeda is helping to break Buddhism's association with oriental culture, and reveal its inherent universalism and its dynamism.