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Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship (Teachers College, Columbia University, USA, 1996)

(Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, USA, June 13, 1996)

Just as the currents of the Hudson River flow ceaselessly, with power and grandeur, Teachers College is producing an unbroken stream of youthful leaders who will create a magnificent new era in the coming century. It is an unparalleled honor to be able to speak here today at the premier institute for graduate study in education in the United States, a monarch in the world of education, whose crown sends forth brilliant beams that light the future.

I would like to offer my heartfelt gratitude to President Arthur E. Levine and all those whose support has made this event a reality. I would also like to thank in advance our distinguished commentators who will later be sharing with us their enlightening views.

In 1975, it was my privilege to visit Columbia University. Four years earlier, in 1971, we had established Soka University in Tokyo. The warm encouragement and invaluable advice for a university still in its infancy, which we received at that time, is something that I will never forget. Thank you very much.

It is with profound emotion that I speak today at the college where the world-renowned philosopher John Dewey taught. The first president of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, whose ideas are the source and inspiration for Soka University’s founding, referenced with great respect the writings and ideas of Dewey in his 1930 work, Soka kyoikugaku taikei (The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy).

My own interest in and commitment to education stem from my experiences during World War II. My four elder brothers were drafted and sent to the front; the eldest was killed in action in Burma (present-day Myanmar). In the years immediately following the end of the war, my three surviving brothers returned one after another from the Chinese mainland. In their tattered uniforms, they were a truly pathetic sight. My parents were already aged; my father’s pain, my mother’s sadness were searing.

To the end of my days, I will never forget the disgust and anger with which my eldest brother, on leave from China, had described the inhuman atrocities committed there by the Japanese army. I developed a deep hatred for war, its cruelty, stupidity, and waste.

In 1947, I encountered a superb educator, Josei Toda. Toda, together with his mentor, Makiguchi, had been imprisoned for opposing Japan’s wars of invasion. Makiguchi died in jail; Toda survived the two-year ordeal of imprisonment. When, aged nineteen, I learned of this, I instinctively knew that here was someone whose actions merited my trust. I determined to follow Toda as my mentor in life.

It was Toda’s constant and impassioned plea that it was only by fostering new generations of people imbued with a profound respect for the sanctity of life that humanity could be liberated from horrific cycles of war. He therefore gave the highest possible priority to the work of education.

Education is a uniquely human privilege. It is the source of inspiration that enables us to become fully and truly human, to fulfill a constructive mission in life with composure and confidence.

When the development of knowledge is isolated from human concerns, it ultimately leads to the creation of weapons of mass destruction. But, at the same time, it is knowledge that has made society comfortable and convenient, bringing industry and wealth. The fundamental task of education must be to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace: it must be the propelling force for an eternally unfolding humanitarian quest.

It is for this reason that I consider education the final and most crucially important undertaking of my life. This is also the reason I deeply concur with the view expressed by President Levine that while education is perhaps the slowest means to social change, it is the only means.

Global society today faces myriad interlocking crises. These include war, environmental degradation, the North-South development gap, divisions among people based on differences of ethnicity, religion, or language. The list is long and familiar, and the road to solutions may seem all too distant and daunting.

In my opinion, the root of all these problems is our collective failure to make the human being, human happiness, the consistent focus and goal in all fields of endeavor. The human being is the point to which we must return and from which we must depart anew. What is required is a human transformation—a human revolution.

There are many areas of commonality in the thinking of Makiguchi and Dewey, and this is one of them. They shared an immovable conviction in the need for new modes of people-centered education. As Dewey put it, “Everything which is distinctively human is learned.”[1]

Dewey and Makiguchi were contemporaries. On opposite ends of the Earth, amid the problems and dislocations of their newly industrializing societies, both wrestled with the task of laying a path toward a hope-filled future. Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation. Put simply, value creation is the capacity to find meaning, to enhance one’s own existence and contribute to the well-being of others, under any circumstance. Makiguchi developed his unique educational philosophy while exploring the deep insights Buddhism offers into the inner workings of life.

Both Dewey and Makiguchi looked beyond the limits of the nation-state to new horizons of human community. Both, it could be said, had a vision of global citizenship, of people capable of value creation on a global scale.

What, then, are the conditions for global citizenship?

Over the past several decades, I have been privileged to meet and converse with many people from all walks of life, and I have given the matter some thought. Certainly, global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks, or the number of countries to which one has traveled. I have many friends who could be considered quite ordinary citizens but who possess an inner nobility; who have never traveled beyond their native place yet who are genuinely concerned for the peace and prosperity of the world.

I think I can state with confidence that the following are essential elements of global citizenship:

  • The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life.
  • The courage not to fear or deny difference but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures and to grow from encounters with them.
  • The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

The all-encompassing interrelatedness that forms the core of the Buddhist worldview can provide a basis, I feel, for the concrete realization of these qualities of wisdom, courage, and compassion.

The following parable from the Buddhist canon (The Flower Garland Sutra) provides a beautiful visual metaphor for the interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena. Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality.

When we learn to recognize what Henry David Thoreau, the towering figure of the American Renaissance, referred to as “the infinite extent of our relations,”[2] we can trace the strands of mutually supportive life and discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors. Buddhism seeks to cultivate wisdom grounded in this kind of empathetic resonance with all forms of life. In the Buddhist view, wisdom and compassion are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing. Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is to realize that even those we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives and can afford us opportunity to grow in our own humanity. Further, it is the compassionate desire to find ways of contributing to the well-being of others that gives rise to limitless wisdom.

Buddhism teaches that both good and evil are potentialities that exist in all people. Compassion consists in the sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in any person, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others. Engagement, however, requires courage. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment. Buddhism calls a person who embodies these qualities of wisdom, courage, and compassion—who strives without cease for the happiness of others—a bodhisattva. In this sense, it could be said that the bodhisattva provides an ancient precedent and modern exemplar of the global citizen.

The Buddhist canon also includes the story of a contemporary of Shakyamuni, a woman by the name of Shrimala, who dedicated herself to a form of humanistic education—teaching others that the practice of the bodhisattva consists in encouraging, with maternal care, the ultimate potential for good within all people. Her vow is recorded thus: If I see lonely people, people who have been jailed unjustly and have lost their freedom, people who are suffering from illness, disaster, or poverty, I will not abandon them. I will bring them spiritual and material comfort.[3]

In concrete terms, her practice consisted in the following:

  • Encouraging others by addressing them with kindness and concern, through dialogue (Skt. priyavacana).
  • Giving alms, or providing people with the things they require (Skt. dana).
  • Taking action on behalf of others (Skt. artha-carya).
  • Joining with others, and working together with them (Skt. samanartha).

Through these efforts, Shrimala sought to realize her goal of bringing forth the positive aspects of those she encountered.

The practice of the bodhisattva is supported by a profound faith in the inherent goodness of people. Knowledge must be directed to the task of unleashing this creative, positive potential. This purposefulness can be likened to the skill that enables one to make use of the precision instruments of an airplane to reach a destination safely and without incident. For this reason, the insight to perceive the evil that causes destruction and divisiveness—and that is equally part of human nature—is also necessary. The bodhisattva’s practice is an unshrinking confrontation with what Buddhism calls the fundamental darkness of life.

“Goodness” can be defined as that which moves us in the direction of creative coexistence, empathy, and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide—people from people, humanity from the rest of nature. The pathology of divisiveness drives people to an unreasoning attachment to difference and blinds them to human commonalities. This is not limited to individuals but constitutes the deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism. The struggle to rise above such egoism and live in larger and more contributive realms of selfhood constitutes the core of the bodhisattva’s practice. Education is, or should be, based on the same altruistic spirit as the bodhisattva.

The proud mission of those who have been able to receive education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity. Although at times education may become a matter of titles and degrees and the status and authority these confer, I am convinced that it should be a vehicle to develop in one’s character the noble spirit to embrace and augment the lives of others. In this way, education should provide the momentum to triumph over one’s own weaknesses, to thrive in the midst of society’s sometimes stringent realities, and to generate new victories for the human future.

The work of fostering global citizens, laying the conceptual and ethical foundations of global citizenship, concerns us all. It is a vital project in which we all are participants and for which we all share responsibility. To be meaningful, education for global citizenship should be undertaken as an integral part of daily life in our local communities.

Like Dewey, Makiguchi focused on the local community as the place where global citizens are fostered. In his 1903 work Jinsei chirigaku (The Geography of Human Life), which is considered a pioneering work in social ecology, Makiguchi stressed the importance of the community as the site of learning. Elsewhere, he wrote: “The community, in short, is the world in miniature. If we encourage children to observe directly the complex relations between people and the land, between nature and society, they will grasp the realities of their homes, their school, the town, village, or city, and will be able to understand the wider world.”[4]

This is consonant with Dewey’s observation that those who have not had the kinds of experience that deepen understanding of neighborhood and neighbors will be unable to maintain regard for people of distant lands.[5]

Our daily lives are filled with opportunities to develop ourselves together with those around us. Each of our interactions with others—dialogue, exchange, and participation—is a precious chance to create value. We learn from people, and it is for this reason that the humanity of the teacher represents the core of the educational experience.

Makiguchi argued that human education, education that guides the process of character formation, is a transcendent skill that might best be termed an art. His initial experience was as a teacher in Hokkaido, at the time a frontier region of Japan, where he taught classes comprising students from multiple grades. The children were poor, the manners they brought from their impoverished homes rough.[6]

Makiguchi, however, was insistent: “They are all equally students. From the viewpoint of education, what difference could there be between them and other students? Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this? The teacher is all that stands between them and the cruel discrimination of society.”

The teacher is the most important element of the educational environment. This creed of Makiguchi’s is the unchanging spirit of value-creating education. Elsewhere, he wrote: “Teachers should come down from the throne where they are ensconced as the object of veneration, to become public servants who offer guidance to those who seek to ascend to the throne of learning. They should not be masters who offer themselves as paragons, but partners in the discovery of new models.”[7]

It is my abiding conviction that it is the teacher dedicated to serving students, and not the inanimate facility, that makes a school. I recently heard an educator assert that students’ lives are not changed by lectures but by people and, for this reason, interactions between students and teachers are of the greatest importance.

In my own case, most of my education was under the tutelage of my mentor in life, Josei Toda. For some ten years, every day before work, he would teach me a curriculum that included history, literature, philosophy, economics, science, and organization theory. On Sundays, our one-on-one sessions started in the morning and continued all day. He was constantly questioning me—interrogating might be a better word—about my reading. Most of all, however, I learned from his example. The burning commitment to peace that remained unshaken throughout his imprisonment was something he carried with him his entire life. It was from this, and from the profound compassion that characterized each of his interactions, that I most learned. Ninety-eight percent of what I am today I learned from him.

The integrated Soka education system, which promotes value creation, was founded out of a desire that future generations should have the opportunity to experience this same kind of human education. It is my greatest hope that the graduates of the Soka schools will become global citizens who can author a new history for humankind.

The actions of such citizens will not be effective unless coordinated, and in this regard we cannot ignore the important potential of the United Nations system.

We have reached the stage where the UN can serve as a center, not only for “harmonizing the actions of nations,”[8] but also for the creation of value through education of global citizens who can create a world of peace. While debate at the world organization has been dominated by states and their national interests, the energy of “We the peoples . . .” has increasingly been making itself felt, particularly through the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In recent years, global discourse on such critical issues as the environment, human rights, indigenous peoples, women, and population has been held under UN auspices. With the participation of both governmental and nongovernmental representatives, conferences on world issues have furthered the process of shaping the kind of global ethic that must undergird global citizenship. In coordination with ongoing efforts of the UN in this direction, I would hope to see these issues incorporated as integral elements of education at all levels. For example:

  • Peace education, in which young people learn the cruelty and folly of war—to root the practice of nonviolence in human society.
  • Environmental education—to study current ecological realities and means of protecting the environment.
  • Developmental education—to focus attention on issues of poverty and global justice.
  • Human rights education—to awaken an awareness of human equality and dignity.

It has long been my belief that education must never be subservient to political interests. To this end, I feel that it should be accorded a status within public affairs equivalent even to that of the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of government. This proposal grows out of the experiences of my predecessors, Presidents Makiguchi and Toda, who fought consistently against political control of education. In the coming years, I hope that a world summit will be held, not of politicians, but of educators. This is because nothing is of greater importance to the human future than the transnational solidarity of educators. Toward that end, we are determined to continue our efforts to promote educational exchange among young people, following the example of Teachers College, which I understand at present has a student body drawn from some eighty countries.

As Makiguchi stated: “Educational efforts built on a clear understanding and with a defined sense of purpose have the power to overcome the contradictions and doubts that plague humankind and to bring about an eternal victory for humanity.”[9]

I would like to pledge my fullest efforts to working, together with my distinguished friends and colleagues gathered here today, toward fostering the kind of global citizens who alone can produce this eternal victory of humanity.

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