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The SGI's Peace Movement from Buddhist Peacework

[Published in Buddhist Peacework--Creating Cultures of Peace, Chappell, D. (ed.), Wisdom Publications, Boston, 1999]

It was just a quarter of a century ago, in 1974, that I paid my first visit to China. A little girl asked me: "Why have you come here?" I told her: "I came here to meet you."

Some three months later, during my first visit to the Soviet Union, Premier Aleksey N. Kosygin asked me what my basic ideology is. I replied: "We are committed to the values of peace and culture--the underlying basis of which is humanism."

Building a Culture of Peace

I have, in all, visited 54 countries. I have come to realize that, regardless of differences in outlook or ideology, so long as people share the common aim of working for the happiness and lasting peace of all humanity we can invariably reach an understanding of one another as human beings and open the door to solidarity based on friendship and trust.

At the time when I proposed the normalization of Japan's diplomatic relations with China in September of 1968, the Cultural Revolution was raging and Sino-Soviet conflict was escalating. Within Japan, meanwhile, there was growing fear of a "Chinese menace." All in all, it was not an atmosphere in which one could easily start talking about friendship with China. Even so, I made my call for friendship with China in the spirit of remorse for the historical fact that, even though Japan owes much of its culture to China, the Japanese militarists had invaded the Chinese mainland causing the Chinese people untold suffering. I was also moved by the conviction that it is impossible to build peace in Asia while ignoring the 700 million citizens of China.

Just as I had expected, I became the subject of intense criticism. People asked why a religious leader was "flirting with the communists." I became the subject of personal threats.

Three months after that visit to China, I went to the Soviet Union to confirm the Russian leadership's intentions toward China, and another three months later I returned to China to explain what I had learned. Once again, I was ridiculed for going to communist countries.

Despite criticism, my stance as a Buddhist is always to see things from the standpoint of respecting and trusting in other human beings. I believe that mutual understanding is always possible when we conduct dialogue from the common ground of our shared humanity. This has been the spirit behind my citizen's diplomacy, and it was this same spirit that motivated my visit to Cuba in June of 1996.

The practice of Buddhism is based on compassion. The word compassion in Japanese is written with two Chinese characters, ji and hi. Ji corresponds to metta in Pali and maitri in Sanskrit, and conveys the meaning of "true friendship," while hi represents karuna in both languages, and conveys the meaning of "empathy" or "shared feeling."

Thus, in Buddhism, compassion signifies the sublime endeavor to share the suffering of another from the stance of our common humanity and to create an expanding network of genuine friendship and trust.

I perceive in Shakyamuni's compassion--elaborated and extolled in the Mahayana tradition as the Bodhisattva Way--a profound and unshakable humanism. The SGI is a body committed to developing activities in the areas of peace, culture and education based on this Buddhist humanism.

Human Revolution

The bedrock of the Buddhist spirit of humanism is reverence for all life, which discerns an incomparably precious "Buddha nature" inherent not only in humankind but in all living beings.

In the Lotus Sutra, the Buddhist scripture most widely known, respected, and influential among the peoples of Asia, Shakyamuni elucidates "the one great reason" a Buddha appears in this world. In the Expedient Means (Hoben) chapter, he explains that his mission as a Buddha is to open the door of Buddha-wisdom to all beings and fulfill his pledge to raise all beings to his own enlightened life-state. Nichiren, who appeared in Japan in the thirteenth century and established an accessible, populist Buddhism, was seeking to realize this same commitment to enable all people to open for themselves the door of Buddha-wisdom.

Following the teachings of Nichiren, the members of the SGI recite the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo derived from the title (daimoku) of the Lotus Sutra to the Gohonzon (or mandala) inscribed by Nichiren. Through this practice SGI members strive to reveal their own Buddha nature and create a life-state of supreme happiness that will endure throughout eternity. We refer to this process as "human revolution."

Although the actual modes of SGI activities vary in each country according to cultural and other conditions, the description of activities that follows may be considered typical. The prime opportunity for SGI members to encourage and learn from each other is the discussion meeting, a regular (usually monthly) gathering of members, their friends, and neighbors. This is not a one-sided affair where the ordained sermonize to the laity, nor is it an anonymous mass meeting: it is an intimate occasion where each participant can take center stage. The basic function of the discussion meeting is to enable the participants to stimulate each other toward further growth and transformation.

Ever since the Soka Gakkai was founded in 1930, the discussion meeting has been the central activity. Discussion meetings are held by local groups which determine the content of their meeting. And while there may be presentations about the principles of Buddhism or upcoming activities, the meetings always revolve around the experiences in faith of the members. More formal, in-depth study of Buddhist principles is supported by separate meetings. But the essence of the discussion meeting is revealed in the name originally given to the gathering at the time of the founding president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Discussion meeting offering experimental proof of the validity of the life of major good.

The first key feature of the discussion meeting is that, with its basis in the members' experiences, it provides a link between the inner-motivated and the shared. A member relating his or her experience of faith is not describing knowledge imparted by others, but an actualized experience that comes from within, the outcome of an inner-motivated effort of self-transformation. Through a succession of experience testimonials, the members are able to both praise and encourage each other's efforts, developing a shared sense of confidence and empowerment. Through this experience, both speaker and listener can deepen their conviction of faith.

The second key feature of the discussion meeting is its egalitarian spirit. At a discussion meeting, concepts such as social standing, position, or personal advantage are irrelevant: the discussion meeting is an embodiment of cooperation between individual human beings on an equal basis. In that sense, it is a wellspring of democracy, an oasis for the heart where participants recharge their life force and quench their spiritual thirsts.

The powerful Buddha nature that emerges from the combination of chanting daimoku and the mutual inspiration achieved by attending the discussion meeting enables each individual to generate value in the forms of beauty, benefit, and goodness. Indeed, the word "soka" in Soka Gakkai means "the creation of value."

The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra (Hokke Gengi) states: "No affairs of life or work are in any way different from the ultimate reality." 1 Each aspect of an individual's life--the challenges of work, family, study, health, finances, relationships, etc.--provides a venue for the creation of value by manifesting one's Buddha nature and the chance to experience actual proof of practice in the form of material and spiritual improvement and growth. Experiences of actual proof provide the content of the members' testimonials at discussion meetings. The discussion meeting, founded on dialogue and equality, is thus an excellent opportunity to build a culture of peace.

Responsibility, Compassion, and Wisdom

In Abolishing War, Elise Boulding defines peace culture in the following terms: "A mosaic of identities, attitudes, values, beliefs, and patterns that lead people to live nurturantly with one another and the Earth itself without the aid of structured power differentials--to deal creatively with their differences and share their resources. 2

The Parable of the Medicinal Herbs (Yakusoyu) chapter of the Lotus Sutra contains a poetic depiction of a culture of peace. The parable describes a variety of plants watered by a cloud that envelops the Earth: "Though all these plants and trees grow in the same earth and are moistened by the same rain, each has its differences and particulars." 3 In terms of Buddhism, this image depicts how all people can benefit from the impartial Buddhist law and, like the three kinds of medicinal herbs and two kinds of trees, can attain a state of enlightenment that is expressive of their unique character and individuality. This image resonates with the view of peace culture defined by Elise Boulding.

Here the blessings of the sun and the rain depict equality under the heavens, while the earth that sustains the plants depicts equality on Earth. In Buddhism, this represents the true path of culture whereby we respect each other's differences and celebrate our diversity while equally sharing the life-sustaining gifts of Earth and the firmament.

The SGI aims to apply a philosophy of humanism, rooted in respect for the sanctity of life, in the fields of peace, culture, and education. In this way, we seek to foster a robust and universal culture of peace. These three fields correspond to the Buddhist concept of the "three virtues," those qualities inherent in humankind identified by Nichiren as most worthy of respect: a sense of responsibility, compassion, and wisdom.

The first of these three virtues, a sense of responsibility, refers to the responsibility to protect the right to life shared by humankind and all living things. It is a tenacious determination to work for the creation of peace. Nichiren spoke of his own determination to "block off the road that leads to the hell of incessant suffering." 4

In 1957, my mentor Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, issued a declaration for the abolition of nuclear weapons and entrusted the younger members with the task of implementing this desire. "Nuclear weapons," he stated, "are an enemy of humankind; their use, an act that would deny humanity its fundamental right to live, must be judged an absolute evil." 5

This declaration was made at the height of the Cold War and was a cry for peace founded in the Buddhist spirit of reverence for life. It sparked a wave of reaction throughout society. My mentor's peace proposal is the wellspring for the SGI's peace activities, which have developed into a series of movements to actualize peace among humankind and to protect the environment (thus realizing peaceful coexistence with the natural environment). I have also aimed to bring my mentor's principles to bear in the academic field by founding the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.

The SGI has consistently supported the United Nations as the "Parliament of Humankind," and has cooperated with the UN Department of Public Information in organizing the "Nuclear Weapons--Threat to Our World" exhibition, which seeks to publicize the dangers of nuclear weapons and has been shown in 18 cities in 15 countries around the world.

We have jointly organized with the UN Department of Disarmament Affairs the "War and Peace" exhibition, which also covers environmental problems and has likewise been shown around the world. The Soka Gakkai in Japan has organized "The Environment Exhibition--Ecoaid." Our efforts to support human rights education include the exhibition "Toward the Century of Humanity: An Overview of Human Rights in Today's World" and, in conjunction with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, "The Courage to Remember--Anne Frank and the Holocaust" exhibition.

In addition, SGI conducts fundraising drives for refugees and has a medical project in Nepal where Soka Gakkai medical volunteers work in a refugee camp. SGI in Brazil, meanwhile, is collaborating with environmental NGOs in research on reforestation of the Amazon rain forest and also promotes projects to prevent deforestation and desertification.

I myself have been making peace proposals to mark SGI Day (January 26) since 1978, aiming to promote the ideal of the United Nations and call for reform of UN systems to expand the role of NGOs. A consistent theme of these proposals, written from a Buddhist standpoint, is the call for the abolition of war.

Turning to the second virtue, compassion, this is the inspiration for the fostering of culture. By cultivating the inner feelings of human beings, we can nurture such positive qualities as empathy, trust, and friendship, bringing the uniquely fragrant blossoms of each culture to bloom. It is vital to the human future that we learn to respect each other's differences and peculiarities, feel empathy for, and learn from each other. I am confident that this will open the way for a new global culture for all humanity.

To provide opportunities for the peoples of the world to learn from each other's cultures, I have created such institutions as the Min-On Concert Association, the Fuji Art Museum, the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, and the Victor Hugo House of Literature. The SGI also sponsors cultural exchange delegations to countries around the world to enable people to learn from each others cultures. We hold cultural festivals in various countries, creating opportunities for the cultural expressions of different peoples to share the same stage.

In addition, I have also founded the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century and the Institute of Oriental Philosophy to promote intercivilizational dialogue and exchange and to conduct research into the world's religions, ideologies, and philosophies.

The third field is education and corresponds to the third virtue, wisdom. President Makiguchi wrote that the purpose of education is people's happiness. He advocated "value-creating education" that would allow all people to develop the infinite wisdom inherent within them.

In an effort to introduce Mr. Makiguchi's theory of value-creating pedagogy as widely as possible throughout the world, I have established a series of Soka schools: Soka junior and senior high schools, Soka University and Soka University of America, as well as Soka kindergartens in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. Mr. Makiguchi's theories are now attracting attention in a large number of countries, noticeably Brazil, India, and the United States, and are gradually bearing fruit. The Soka Gakkai Education Division has organized counseling sessions where experienced educators make themselves available to students and parents on a volunteer basis, as well as meetings where teachers can share and learn from each other's experiences. In cooperation with the United Nations, meanwhile, the SGI has organized the "World Children and UNICEF" exhibition and the "World Boys and Girls Art" exhibition, which have toured the world.

The activities in the fields of peace, culture, and education summarized above are examples of SGI's efforts to give concrete form to the virtues of responsibility, compassion and wisdom, which constitute the actual content of a humanism rooted in reverence for life.

Humanitarian Competition

Early in the twentieth century (1903), President Makiguchi published The Geography of Human Life (Jpn. Jinsei Chirigaku) that strongly advocated a shift to humanitarian competition at a time when imperialism and colonialism were still the prevailing modes of international relations. He analyzed competition among nations as consisting of the phases of: military competition, political competition, economic competition, and humanitarian competition. He stressed that humanity's aim should be humanitarian competition. In short, he said humanity needed to replace confrontational competition in the military, political, and economic spheres with the cooperative competition of humanism.

Cooperative competition, he wrote, was a process through which, working for the sake of others, one could benefit oneself even as others benefit. Cooperation between oneself and others, based on mutual respect, is the path of compassion.

I have regularly called for us to vie with one another in the fostering of world citizens as one form of humanitarian competition. By world citizens, I am referring to people who, while rooted in their own cultural tradition, dedicate the fruit of that culture to the cause of a lasting peace for humankind. In Buddhist terms, such people are referred to as bodhisattvas. My dream is to see all the world's religious and cultural traditions produce a continuous stream of such world citizens who will compete with one another to contribute to world peace.

The bodhisattva, as a world citizen, is someone who is constantly challenging egotism and is engaged in the race to transform what Buddhism refers to as deluded impulses (represented by the three poisons of greed, anger, and stupidity) into enlightenment. Bodhisattvas, refusing to be engulfed in the consumerism and materialism of contemporary society, embrace a noble spirit of serving others, and pledge to make this their mission in life. This process sets in motion a fundamental change in life orientation--from egotism to the desire to create happiness for oneself and others.

I believe that every religion should be promoting, according to its own methods, this kind of fundamental change in life from our contemporary materialism to a highly spiritual and humanistic culture. I would like to suggest that the SGI's discussion meetings, in providing an opportunity for mutual enlightenment, serve as one example of this.

Finally, I strongly hope that the world's religions will use dialogue and exchange to resolve the multitude of problems that threaten the survival of humanity, and stress harmony and cooperation with the aim of creating a culture of peace. Of course each culture and religious tradition has its own characteristics and practices. This makes it natural that each tradition should respect the differences of others, but it is also essential to search for our common ground as human beings, to search for universality. It is vital that we together clarify core human ethics, elements of which would include love for humanity, reverence for all life, nonviolence, and compassion, as well as mutually beneficial modes of coexistence with nonhuman nature.

It is my greatest hope that each religion can base its actions on our common humanity and stress, above all, creative cooperation in our quest to resolve the grave problems facing our world. In this way, with mutual respect and learning from each other, we can work for the survival of the human race.



NOTES

SUGGESTED FURTHER READINGS

Causton, Richard, The Buddha in Daily Life (London: Rider Books, 1995).

Ikeda, Daisaku, A New Humanism: The University Addresses of Daisaku Ikeda (New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1996).

Toward a Culture of Peace: A Cosmic View (1999 Peace Proposal) available online here.

Metraux, Daniel A., "The Soka Gakkai: Buddhism and the Creation of a Harmonious and Peaceful Society," in Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King, eds., Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996).

The SGI Quarterly (online: http://sgiquarterly.org/

Toynbee, Arnold, and Daisaku Ikeda, Choose Life: A Dialogue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976).