A Jeweled Canopy of Human Solidarity (Times of India, Aug. 24, 2022)
The world is facing a multitude of stark challenges, including economic problems and climate change, alarmingly illustrated by increasing extreme weather events. In order to overcome these issues, what kind of vision do we need and how can we strengthen our solidarity?
I recall words shared with me by John Kenneth Galbraith. A leading economist and US Ambassador to India from 1961–63 he had direct experience of a number of global crises and was deeply affected by the persistent wounds he witnessed in people’s lives. This brought him to continually question not only the economic order, but the organization of society itself.
When I asked him how we should shape the world of the 21st century, he replied that we should aim to create “a century in which people can say, ‘I enjoy living in this world.’”
We also discussed the Buddhist worldview—expressed by the phrase from the Lotus Sutra, the quintessence of Mahayana Buddhism, “living beings enjoy themselves at ease”—that we are born into this life in order to savor joy.
What matters in this worldview is the understanding that people’s happiness and dignity do not bloom in isolation, but they can taste the true joy of life through connections of the heart with which they assist and support one another in times of adversity.
The Lotus Sutra vividly depicts with a keen sense of reality, the depth of such joy with these analogies: “like a fire to one who is cold . . . finding a ship in which to cross the water . . . someone in darkness finding a lamp.”
There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the diverse spectrum of problems people face. As such, the crucial question we must ask ourselves is how each of us can become that hand of support extended to those facing hardship, how we can strengthen the kind of relationships where we can share in each other’s joy at having overcome our respective ordeals.
In the Vimalakirti Sutra, there is an impressive scene illustrating the significance of actions individuals can take: Five hundred youths gathered around Shakyamuni, each holding their own jeweled parasol to align with his spirit of working for the happiness of all people. At that moment, the individual parasols held by each of the youths joined together, creating a jeweled canopy that covered the entire world. Joy welled up in the hearts of those who saw this magnificent canopy appear.
Their respective parasols no longer served just to protect each youth from wind and rain or the burning rays of the sun. Rather, each individual who had traveled their separate path in life rose above their differences in a single shared determination, and it was this that brought this vast protective canopy into being. I see this as a beautiful symbol of the limitless possibilities of human solidarity.
Today, youth taking action to overcome challenges involved in climate change and the pandemic are broadening their solidarity in India and other countries around the globe. I am convinced that the passion and strength of the young people will serve as the driving force for creating a century filled with peace and hope.