“Never before have sincere intercultural and interreligious dialogues been as necessary as they are now,” states Daisaku Ikeda, SGI President, in the introduction to The Humanist Principle: On Compassion and Tolerance. This powerful conviction and sense of urgency is the undercurrent that runs through his dialogue with Felix Unger, Austrian heart surgeon and president of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Vienna.
Bringing together wisdom from the medical sciences and Buddhist ethics, Ikeda and Unger, who have met three times—in 1997, 2000 and 2001—and have since continued an exchange of opinions through letters and other correspondence, highlight the values of religion and tolerance in building internal strength and wisdom; similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity including the contrasting ideas of Buddhist compassion and the Christian concept of love; modern maladies that breed a culture of violence; the kind of qualities that will steer humanity toward a culture of peace; environmental education and our relationship with Earth and the cosmos; and questions related to health and bioethics.
On his interpretation of tolerance, Unger states:
Tolerance is very active and very personal. It arises from discussions with others and presupposes a civilized viewpoint. It is the process in which I go out of myself to speak with others. It is an example of human arithmetic in which one and one make, not two, but three. When one opinion comes into real exchange with another, a third new opinion emerges, providing a starting point for further discussions.
Discussing the dangers as well as the healing potential of both religion and science, Unger suggests:
To rectify the distortions arising everywhere today, we must reorganize everything to work to the advantage of humanity. When science loses sight of the fundamental need to serve those advantages, it can become domineering. The same is true of religion. When used as tools to promote the good of humanity and life, however, science and knowledge become an art.
And placing his trust in future generations, Ikeda offers this vision:
For the coming era, we must rework the famous admonition from ‘think globally, act locally’ to ‘think cosmically, act globally’. The human race must realize that we children of Earth are all fated to live together on our planet. Our times require humanistic education that teaches us to adopt a universal approach and to act as citizens of the cosmos in our attempts to deal with the global issues confronting us.
Readers will take delight in the far-reaching dimensions of this unique dialogue between two humanists that connects the sciences and religion and grasps at the core of our humanity, illuminating what pitfalls to be wary of while also extending a hopeful path forward.