A Shared Pledge for a More Humane Future: To Eliminate Misery from the Earth
(2015 Peace Proposal)
President, Soka Gakkai International
January 26, 2015
Proposal subsections (click to jump):
On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the establishment of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), I would like to offer some thoughts on ways to generate greater solidarity among the people of the world for peace and humane values and for the elimination of needless suffering from the Earth.
The future is determined by the depth and intensity of the vow or pledge embraced by people living in the present moment. As human beings, we possess the capacity to take steps to ensure that no one else, including future generations, must endure the sufferings that afflict us today.
In the seventy years since its founding, the United Nations has expanded the horizon of its activities to confront a range of global issues. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000 with a target date of 2015, were designed to improve the conditions of people suffering from hunger and poverty. Last July, the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)--new goals which will continue the efforts initiated under the MDGs toward a 2030 target date-- released a proposal that contains much of interest. In particular, such phrases as "End poverty in all its forms everywhere" and "Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages"  express the commitment to protect the dignity of all people without exception.
The world's efforts to achieve the MDGs produced important successes such as reducing the number of people living in conditions of extreme poverty by 700 million and achieving a major reduction in the disparity between boys and girls receiving primary education. However, many regions and populations have yet to experience concrete improvements. Aware of these issues, the Open Working Group sought to establish certain universal minimums. Having urged in past proposals and elsewhere that the new international goals for the post-2015 development agenda leave no one behind, I welcome this stance.
I recall that my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda (1900-58), moved by the suffering of the people of Hungary in the wake of the unsuccessful 1956 uprising, stated: "I wish to see the word 'misery' no longer used to describe the world, any country, any individual." 
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68) famously declared: "Justice is indivisible."  This was also Toda's conviction, derived from his experience of being jailed along with first Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) for resisting the thoughtcontrol policies of the Japanese militarists during World War II. He understood that peace and security, prosperity and happiness, are things that cannot be enjoyed by one group of people while others suffer from their lack. When the Korean War was escalating, he expressed a deeply personal concern: "because of this heinous war, so many have lost husbands and wives, and so many must now search for their missing children or parents." 
The basis for his actions was the spirit of empathy with the suffering of ordinary people. He expressed this in his vision of "global nationalism"--that human beings have the right to live in peace and happiness, regardless of where they live or what their nationality. At the core of this vision was an intense desire to rid the world of misery, and this continues to animate the SGI's activities in the fields of peace, culture and education and in support of the United Nations.
The effort to achieve the inclusiveness of "all people everywhere" that runs through the proposal by the Open Working Group and to enlist further cooperation to this end will be fraught with difficulty. It is therefore vital that we return to the spirit of the UN Charter, which admits no exception in its pledge--inscribed in the Preamble--to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," to "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person" and to promote "the economic and social advancement of all peoples."
I would now like to discuss three priority themes for promoting the achievement of the UN's new international development goals and accelerating efforts to eliminate misery from the face of the planet.
The rehumanization of politics and economics
The first priority theme is the "rehumanization of politics and economics" as a means of removing the causes of human suffering.
In August of last year, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, which I founded to honor my mentor's legacy, held a conference of senior research fellows in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference analyzed such areas of concern as the Syrian civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situations in Iraq and Ukraine and heightening tensions in East Asia. At the same time, the conference placed emphasis on emerging positive trends and exchanged views on how to support and reinforce them. In addition to such critical issues as the strengthening of the UN and other international agencies and developing the powers of empathy, imagination and creativity among members of the younger generation, there was an important focus on the rehumanization of politics making its prime motivation the alleviation of the suffering of individuals.
The UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) have made clear the role of states in protecting basic human rights, and yet states are often the main source of threats to people's lives and dignity. This is a concern about which I have exchanged views with Toda Institute Secretary-General Dr. Kevin Clements, the organizer of the conference.
The most grievous example of this is war. In the years since the end of World War II only a handful of countries have been entirely able to avoid involvement in armed conflict. Further, in all too many cases, human rights and civil liberties have been constrained in the name of national security, and the prioritization of enhancing national strength has often come at the expense of the more vulnerable members of society. In recent years, various crises such as natural disasters and extreme weather events have exposed people to conditions of sudden deprivation. Responding to such suffering is one of the core responsibilities of any political system. The same applies to the realm of economics.
Two years ago, Pope Francis issued a widely cited challenge to our current economic system: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"  Indeed, the fixation on such macro indices as rates of economic growth often ends up marginalizing concern for the life, dignity and livelihood of individuals, such that the increased pace of economic activity fails to alleviate the struggles people are facing on a daily basis.
The English word "politics" is derived from the Greek term politeia, which among its meanings indicates the role of citizens within the state. The term for "economics" in Japanese is an abbreviation of a four-character Chinese expression meaning "to bring order to society and ease the suffering of the people." Today, the original senses of these words have been obscured, and the driving principles of political and economic action seem only to create even greater suffering for those in already difficult circumstances.
This brings to mind the concept of dharma, which, according to early Buddhist teachings, was stressed by Shakyamuni as the fundamental path by which people should live. Dharma, which is derived from the root dhṛ, is a Sanskrit term meaning "that which supports or upholds." In Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures, this was rendered into terms meaning "the law" or "the way." In other words, it expresses the idea that as individuals we require something which supports or upholds us; that, as explained by the Buddhist scholar Hajime Nakamura (1912-99), there are paths and principles that we as human beings must observe and maintain. 
While it is only natural that specific aspects of economic and political practice should change in accordance with the times, there are principles that must be adhered to and standards of behavior that cannot be ignored. In his teachings during the final stages of his life, Shakyamuni encouraged his followers to live their lives at all times in accord with this underlying dharma. He compared dharma to an island, by which he sought to express the idea that it functions in the midst of the realities of society as an island does during a flood, protecting people's lives and providing a place of refuge. Extrapolating from this, we could say that it is the role of politics and economics to offer in times of crisis a space of security, especially for the vulnerable, a basis from which people can regain the hope needed to live.
If we reconsider the origins of politics from the viewpoint of ordinary people, we find the almost prayerful hope that through their one vote or participation they can make society a better place. Likewise, the origins of economics are to be found in the strong desire of ordinary people to play a useful role in society through their work or occupation. When politics functions on a grand scale, however, we encounter what has been described as a "democratic deficit," in which the popular will is not reflected in policy. The corresponding phenomenon in the realm of economics would be the kind of excesses of the financial sector in which uncontrolled speculation wreaks destruction on the real economy.
What, then, are the principles we must embrace if we are to restrain these trends and effect the necessary course adjustment to our present political and economic systems?
I think the following words Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) wrote to a friend are relevant here: "Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him."  What Gandhi is urging us to keep in mind when making crucial decisions is the suffering of the real people with whom we share this world, rather than a particular political dynamic or economic theory.
I feel that this is deeply congruent with the idea of the Middle Way taught in Buddhism. The Middle Way does not mean simply avoiding extremes of thought or action. Rather, it refers to the process of attaining the way; that is, of living and making one's mark on society while constantly interrogating one's own actions to ensure that they accord with the path of humanity. In encouraging people to rely on the dharma as an island, Shakyamuni also urged them to rely on themselves. In doing so he was pointing to the true significance of the Middle Way: not to unthinkingly follow one's every whim but, rather, as Hajime Nakamura has stated, "to rely on one's authentic self, the self that we can believe in and be proud of at all times." 
When each of us considers all those who will be affected by our actions and reflects on the weight of our responsibility, this provides an opening for the revelation of our authentic self and for polishing our humanity. By sustaining this effort, we can ever more deeply explore the meaning and role of political and economic systems and create the conditions within society for their rehumanization. Such is the essential dynamism of the Middle Way.
Decisions made on this basis may be met with criticism or dismissed as running counter to the mood of society or the current of the times. But failure to remain true to one's convictions is not simply a passive failure to do good; far worse, it can invite the kind of evil that will bring suffering to large numbers of people. This was the fervent assertion of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, the founding president of the Soka Gakkai.
Makiguchi directly challenged through his words and actions the militarist fascism of wartime Japan and its thought-control policies. Starting around 1940, the meetings of the forerunner of the Soka Gakkai, the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society), were subjected to surveillance by the Special Higher Police. The organization's periodical, Kachi sozo, was forced to cease publication in May 1942 and, from July 1943, Makiguchi was detained and interrogated.
He is recorded as having given the following response to one of the interrogators' questions:
Sometimes people, overly concerned about the opinion of society, satisfy themselves with a way of life in which they do no real good or bad, or in which what good they do is very limited. In extreme cases, this leads to the view that it is acceptable to do anything so long as it is not prohibited by law. I consider all such ways of life a form of slander against the Buddhist dharma. 
By slander, Makiguchi is referring to actions that run counter to the teachings of Buddhism; but in a more expansive sense, he is encouraging us to reflect on all actions that are not in harmony with the path of humanity. Underlying the many instances in which political and economic activity results in real misery, we find an indifference to the pain of others and an eagerness for self-justification, such as Makiguchi condemned. So long as this way of thinking prevails, even apparent success at achieving prosperity will not prove sustainable but will instead yield to the misery provoked by an egocentric après-moi-le-déluge attitude.
The prevalence of such attitudes makes the challenge of refocusing political and economic activities on the alleviation of human suffering--its rehumanization--all the more important.
Some movement in this direction can be seen. For example, 110 countries have now established national human rights institutions along the lines called for by the United Nations Human Rights Council and others. These institutions encourage the establishment of legal frameworks for the protection of human rights and for human rights education. In my 1998 peace proposal, I urged that NGOs be included in constructive partnerships to find the optimal modalities for such institutions. 
In the field of economics, in May of last year, eleven members of the European Union agreed on the joint implementation of a financial transaction tax. Reflecting the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis and the grave blow it dealt to the world economy, this would establish a rate for the taxation of financial transactions as a means of discouraging excessive speculation and generating revenue for redistributive programs. It could be implemented as soon as 2016. In my proposal six years ago, I called for the wider implementation of such international solidarity levies to support the achievement of the MDGs. I suggested that ideas such as a financial transaction tax could be elements within a positive competition by which states vie with each other to develop new ideas and visions for the future.  Realization of the SDGs demands even more creative thinking of this kind.
The most important driving force for the rehumanization of politics and economics is the solidarity of ordinary citizens who have raised their voices based on an unyielding commitment to our collective future. In an early work, Makiguchi stressed that the animating spirit of a society does not exist apart from each individual and that a new social consciousness arises from the communication and spread of a change of awareness in individuals. 
When I exchanged opinions with the peace scholar Elise Boulding (1920-2010) regarding the methodologies of social transformation, she declared: "I have long believed that a wholesome, peaceful world is possible if we devote all-out effort to the development of each member of the community."  She also maintained that the future direction of society is in fact determined by the 5 percent who are active and committed. This 5 percent ultimately transforms the culture in its entirety. I draw great hope from her confidence.
In this sense, it is not mere numbers but the strength and depth of our solidarity that will put us on a path toward the rehumanization of politics and economics. Generating solidarity, domestically and internationally, among ordinary citizens who desire to see that no one suffers in misery is the key to transforming the direction of history.
A chain reaction of empowerment
The second priority theme I'd like to explore is what I call "a chain reaction of empowerment," by which people develop the capacity to transcend and transform suffering.
In recent decades, natural disasters and extreme weather events have inflicted severe damage and given rise to humanitarian crises the world over. Among these are the Kobe earthquake (1995), the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004), the Haiti earthquake (2010), the East Japan earthquake and tsunami (2011) and Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013. According to UN statistics, 22 million people were displaced by natural disasters during 2013, a number some three times greater than those driven from their homes by armed conflict. 
The deep sadness of losing one's home is something I also have experienced. During World War II, my father's ill health and the conscription of my four older brothers undermined the family's finances, forcing us to sell my childhood home. The house we lived in after that was torn down to create a firebreak, and immediately after we moved into our new home it was struck by an incendiary bomb and burned to the ground.
Because of these experiences, I can easily imagine the sadness and despair afflicting those who have lost loved ones and been forced to leave their long-accustomed homes. This is the pain of losing the world in which one has lived. The true challenge of restoration and recovery must be to restore hope and the will to live of all the victims. To this end the seamless support of society as a whole is essential.
This experience of losing one's place--the sense of belonging and community--is, in fact, prevalent everywhere, although often in less dramatic form. Again taking the example of Japan, it is estimated that one in five people over the age of sixty-five lives in poverty and one in six children experiences deprivation, including food insecurity.  For many, the pain of this economic deprivation is compounded by a sense of social isolation.
In the search for solutions to this problem, I think we can gain insight from the views of the American political philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum. Nussbaum has noted that traditional conceptions of the social contract were formulated without including women, the elderly, children and persons with disabilities. She also cites the influence of utilitarianism as a reason why the suffering of certain people is overlooked. She states:
Thus one person's great pain and misery can be compensated for by a plurality of people's exceeding good fortune. Here a moral fact of paramount importance--that each person has only one life to live--has been effaced. 
Nussbaum urges us to move beyond the idea of mutual advantage as the sole organizing principle for society and calls for a reconfiguration on the basis of a concept of human dignity that excludes no one. She asserts that every one of us, for reasons of ill health, age or accident, may at some point require the assistance of others to live. She urges that we all consider the question of a new direction for society as a matter of profound personal concern.
Nussbaum's thesis has a great deal in common with Buddhism, which takes as its core concern the question of how we face the suffering that inevitably accompanies the life stages of birth, aging, sickness and death. As the famous story of the four encounters symbolizes, prior to entering the religious life Shakyamuni was grieved--even more intensely than by the reality of aging and illness--by the fact that people were forced to confront these sufferings in isolation, dying alone on a roadside or lying stricken with illness without attention or care. He appears to have been particularly moved by the rupturing of contact with others and the isolating nature of the experience of suffering.
In point of fact, alongside his activities as a teacher, Shakyamuni regularly nursed and cared for such people, and he harshly admonished his disciples if they turned a blind eye to such conditions. There is a teaching to the effect that "When need arises, pleasant [it is to have] friends."  Neither illness nor aging in any way diminishes the essential value of our lives. Despite this, people become increasingly desperate when they are alienated from others and unable to experience a sense of connection and being accepted as they are. This was something Shakyamuni could not ignore.
One of the key teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is the idea of dependent origination, that the world is woven of the relatedness of life to life. This understanding of interconnection can enable us to make even the painful experiences of illness and aging into opportunities to elevate and ennoble our lives and the lives of others. But mere intellectual awareness of interconnection is not enough to effect this positive transformation.
"When we bow to a mirror, the figure in the mirror bows back to us in reverence."  As this quote illustrates, it is only when we sense and treasure in others a dignity as valued and irreplaceable as that in our own lives that our interconnection becomes palpable. It is then that the tears and smiles we exchange spark in each of us a courageous will to live.
The psychologist Erik H. Erikson (1902-94), famous for his work on the conceptualization of identity, has offered a vision that closely resembles the dynamism of dependent origination:
Here, living together means more than incidental proximity. It means that the individual's life-stages are "interliving," cogwheeling with the stages of others which move him along as he moves them. 
Here, I would like to reference Erikson's ideas as I explore the infinite possibilities that arise from the teaching of dependent origination, namely, the capacity for self-empowerment which can enable people burdened by suffering to illuminate their community and society as a whole with the light of their inner dignity.
The first of Erikson's ideas I would like to reference is that the mature person needs to be needed.  I understand this to mean that whatever our condition, so long as we are made to feel necessary to others, we will be moved by the desire to respond. This desire awakens the inner capacities of life, keeping alive the flame of human dignity.
This brings to mind the example of Elise Boulding, whom I quoted earlier, and the way she lived her final years. Some years before her passing, Dr. Boulding was visited by several SGI members. Already past eighty, she explained that while she no longer had the energy to undertake book-length works, she was able to contribute forewords to books written by friends and students, and happily responded to such requests.
After entering a care facility as her condition worsened, she spent each day motivated by the thought that there must be something she could do, despite the limitations she faced. Her student Dr. Kevin Clements recalls that she told him that she felt she could bring good to those around her by smiling and being complimentary to others and thanking the medical staff for their kindness. She continued, until just prior to her passing, to welcome visitors with a beautiful spirit of hospitality, just as she had always shown visitors to her home.
As Dr. Boulding demonstrated, we are always capable of maintaining a sense of connection with others, and through this can offer moments of authentic happiness to those around us, bringing our humanity to an ever-greater luster. These moments become the living record of our being, held in our own hearts and the hearts of others. This noble inner brilliance of life is the manifestation of an empowerment that persists under any circumstance.
Another element of Erikson's thought is the idea that the effort to reconfigure meaning has the power to prevent suffering from spreading and generating destructive cycles. We cannot redo our lives. But by recounting to others the steps that have led us to the present moment, we can reformulate the meaning of past events. Erikson considered this a source of hope.
This can be seen in the practice of the SGI's faith activities, in particular the sharing of personal experiences, through which practitioners together develop deepened confidence. This tradition of holding small group discussion meetings dates back to the time of the Soka Gakkai's founding president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi.
Here people speak of what brings them happiness and how they find meaning in life, as well as such trials as the deaths of family members, illness, financial struggles, difficult work and family situations, the experience of discrimination or prejudice. It is a place of collective recognition of the weight and irreplaceable nature of each individual's life journey, a place where tears of joy and sadness are freely shared and people are encouraged in the struggle to transform suffering.
Through such sharing, the speaker develops a clear awareness that any and all experiences were in fact milestones in the formation of their present self, enabling them to use those experiences as fuel for their future progress. For listeners, the shared experience can help bring forth the courage needed to confront their own challenges. This chain reaction of empowerment, based on empathy, is at the heart of our practice of faith.
What I would also like to stress is the far-reaching impact of the life story of a single individual who has succeeded in discovering a sense of purpose from within the depths of personal suffering. These life stories transcend national boundaries, connect generations and offer courage and hope to many.
Erikson saw such a life in Gandhi and considered him an exemplar of his philosophy, even going so far as to write a biographical portrait. Erikson describes the young people who gathered around Gandhi as follows:
These young people, then, highly gifted in a variety of ways, seem to have been united in one personality "trait," namely, an early and anxious concern for the abandoned and persecuted, at first within their families, and later in a widening circle of intensified concern. 
This process no doubt mirrored Gandhi's own motivations. His experience of being discriminated against in his youth led to his struggle for human rights in South Africa and, eventually, his dedication to the nonviolent movement for Indian independence. His greatest desire was for all of humanity, without a single exception, to be liberated from oppression. It was this intense passion that moved the young people who worked with Gandhi.
After Gandhi's death, his example served as a guiding star for those struggling for the cause of human dignity, among them Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). When I met President Mandela in July 1995, we discussed an article about Gandhi's experience of being incarcerated that Mandela had contributed to an academic journal commemorating the 125th anniversary of Gandhi's birth, to which I had also contributed an essay. He stated:
So endured Gandhi the prisoner at the beginning of our century. Though separated in time, there remains a bond between us, in our shared prison experiences, our defiance of unjust laws and in the fact that violence threatens our aspirations for peace and reconciliation. 
That Gandhi had already trodden this path of trials was no doubt an important source of strength for Mandela as he remained unbowed through an imprisonment that lasted more than twenty-seven years.
Fifty years ago, I began writing the multivolume novelization of the history of the Soka Gakkai, The Human Revolution, whose core theme is that a great revolution in just a single individual can help achieve a change in the destiny of an entire society and make possible a change in the destiny of all humankind. This encapsulates the idea of a chain reaction of empowerment whose limitless possibilities expand in space to cross national borders and in time to link different generations.
The expansion of friendship as the basis for ending war
The third priority theme I would like to discuss is the expansion of friendship across differences in order to build a world of coexistence.
In recent years, there have been important changes in the nature of conflicts that have raised new concerns. There has been an increasing incidence of the internationalization of internal conflicts as other countries and groups become active participants. Such developments have, for example, greatly complicated any prospect for a truce or peace in the Syrian civil war.
Further, the objective of military action has gradually shifted. The purpose of war as defined by the German military thinker Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) is to compel the opponent to accept one's will. Now, however, there is more emphasis on the elimination of any group considered to be the enemy. In conflict areas it has become all too common for remotely controlled military strikes to harm or kill civilians, including children. One can only speculate as to the final outcome of military action undertaken so unhesitatingly, with no thought of the humanity of the enemy or of the possibility that they also have a right to exist.
The horrors that result from dramatic advances in weapons technology combined with an eliminationist ideology not only run counter to the letter of International Humanitarian Law but, more fundamentally, are impermissible in light of the path of humanity.
Last year, the UN initiated debate on the threat posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS), or "killer robots." We need to take full cognizance of the fact that we stand at the threshold of the full-scale automation of war.
At the same time, we should recognize that eliminationist ideologies are not limited to conflict areas but have taken root in various places around the world. In December 2013, the UN launched the Human Rights Up Front initiative, which aims to heed the warning implicit in individual human rights violations and respond to these before they escalate into mass atrocities or war crimes.
Hate speech, for example, is becoming a serious social problem in many countries. Even when it does not lead to the direct violence of hate crimes, it arises from the same malevolent urge to harm others. As such, it is a human rights violation that cannot be ignored. There is no one who would find violence or oppression based on prejudice directed at them or their families acceptable. But when it is directed at other ethnicities or populations, it is not unusual for people to consider it justified by some fault or failing on the part of the victims.
To prevent such situations from escalating, the first step is to develop the means of bringing oneself face to face with the other, free from this kind of collective psychology. To this end, an episode from the Vimalakīrti Sutra describing the interactions between Shakyamuni's disciple Shariputra and a female deity is instructive.
Shakyamuni urged his disciple Manjushrī to visit the home of the lay believer Vimalakīrti, who was suffering from illness. Another of his leading disciples, Shariputra, decided to accompany him. The visit occasioned a far-reaching discussion between Manjushrī and Vimalakīrti on the Buddha's teachings.
When this discussion reached its climax, a goddess who was among the listeners adorned everyone with flowers as an expression of joy. Shariputra, saying that such flower petals were not appropriate to a practitioner of the way, attempted to brush them off, but they stuck to him. Seeing this, the goddess said, "Flowers do not have a discriminatory consciousness; yet you discriminate among people," thus pointing out the attachments that held Shariputra in their grasp.
Shariputra recognized the truth of what she said, but as he continued to question her, the goddess used her magical powers to change Shariputra into her form and herself into his. She continued to point out to the baffled Shariputra the depths of his discriminatory consciousness, and then returned them both to their original forms. Through this astonishing sequence of events, Shariputra realized that we must not allow our hearts to become caught up in external appearances and that all things are without fixed form or characteristics.
What I think is significant here is how this experience of exchanging forms made it possible for Shariputra to become vividly conscious of the discriminatory gaze he had been directing against this female deity, and that as a result he was able to become deeply aware of his error.
With the advance of globalization, there is more and more movement across borders, and many people, through the experience of visiting or living in another country, have been forced to recognize the kind of discriminatory gaze that they had unconsciously cast on other groups when they were living in their country of origin. This makes it all the more important that people exert themselves to understand the other and see things through their eyes.
Without such efforts, particularly in times of heightened tensions, it is all too easy for our own ideas of what constitutes peace or justice to become a threat to the lives and dignity of others. This is why the reversal of perspectives experienced by Shariputra is so important. It opens us up to seeing the threat implicit in the gaze we direct at others. It encourages us to actively imagine the threats felt by others to themselves and their families and subverts our assumptions and assertions.
When Shariputra was first encouraged by Shakyamuni to visit the ailing Vimalakīrti, his initial response was one of hesitation, and when he arrived with Manjushrī, he was first concerned about the fact that there was no place for him to sit. For his part, Vimalakīrti, when asked the cause of his illness by Manjushrī, responded, "Because all the living beings are ill, I am ill also." He went on to say that his visitors, if they were truly concerned for his well-being, would best express that by caring for and encouraging others suffering from illness. Thus while Shariputra was occupied with an obsessive concern for himself, Vimalakīrti was focused on the reality of suffering experienced by all people, regardless of circumstance and the distinction between self and other.
When we look at current conditions in the world through the lens of the contrast portrayed in this sutra, we can extract the following lesson: While peace and justice should be experienced as a common good, when they are rendered divisible by an excessive concern with the self they can serve to justify violence and oppression against other groups with whom we find ourselves in conflict.
This is why expanding human solidarity based on a shared concern for the threats faced by all of us--such as the increasing incidence of extreme weather events accompanying climate change or the catastrophic damage wrought by the use of nuclear weapons--holds the key to the alleviation of human suffering.
The one thing any of us can do at any time to contribute to building that solidarity is to generate a broader network of friendship through dialogue. In my exchanges about Islam and Buddhism with the late Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid (1940- 2009), he stressed that dialogue gives a human face to those who may be from a different ethnic, cultural or historical background. Through encounters and repeated interaction, we become attuned to the narratives of each other's lives. Even as we recognize and appreciate the great importance of such attributes as religion or ethnicity, we do not allow that to become the sole focus of our encounter. The shared feeling and trust fostered through these encounters give rise to unique melodies that can only be woven by these two lives. This, I believe, is the true value and meaning of friendship. Or, as the historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) put it, "Such glimpses of the real world are gleanings of priceless value." 
Friendship evolves freely when we refuse to be overly concerned with our respective attributes and instead see the other in the brilliant light of their humanity. Starting with my dialogue with Dr. Toynbee forty-three years ago, I have since had the privilege of engaging in exchanges with leading figures from many different cultural, ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. The linking thread has always been a shared concern for the human future, and through our exchanges we have developed richly rewarding friendships.
The members of the SGI have, through friendship and one-to-one exchanges, worked to realize the transition from a culture of war dominated by ideologies of exclusion to a culture of peace in which differences are celebrated as the source of human diversity and there is a shared vow to defend one another's dignity.
By promoting cultural and educational exchanges, we have created opportunities for people of different countries and regions to meet face to face, to build trust and extend friendship. It has been our hope that such bonds of friendship will counteract any tendency toward xenophobic ideologies that could arise, particularly in times of heightened tensions between states. In this way we have sought to build robust societies resistant to the negative forces of collective psychology. Even when political or economic relations have chilled, we have worked to keep the pathways of dialogue and communication open, an effort that has spanned generations.
Last year, the Min-On Concert Association, which I founded in 1963, established the Min-On Music Research Institute. Based on Min-On's five decades of experience promoting musical and cultural exchange with troupes and institutions in 105 countries and territories, this new research institute will explore the role and potential of music and the arts--the power of culture--in creating peace.
Further, through interfaith and cross-civilizational dialogue events organized by different SGI national organizations, we have sought to share lessons about means of disrupting entrenched cycles of hatred and violence. Taking the determination to alleviate human suffering as our point of departure, we have engaged in discussions of shared concerns in order to bring forth the wisdom fostered within each cultural and religious tradition and clarify the ethics and behavioral norms that can break through impasses.
The following words of former Czech president Václav Havel (1936-2011) in 1996 are germane here: "The only meaningful task for the Europe of the next century is to be the best it can be, that is, to resurrect and imbue its life with its best spiritual traditions and thus help to shape creatively a new pattern of global coexistence."  Here, if in place of "Europe" we read our respective civilization or religion, Havel's appeal describes a model for the type of dialogue we seek. Through dialogue, we share the vital energy of the best in our respective spiritual traditions; we hone the vision that enables us to experience the fullness of our humanity; we learn to initiate shared action based on our best selves. This is the true significance of interfaith and cross-civilizational dialogue.
Through all these activities, we have sought to help people refuse complicity in violence and oppression, to enhance the magnetism of an ethos of coexistence and build bulwarks against war. We have worked to forge human solidarity based on the shared determination to prevent the misery we would never wish for ourselves from being visited on anyone else.
In the Vimalakīrti Sutra, there is a scene describing the appearance of a jeweled canopy that covers the entire world. Five hundred youths had gathered around Shakyamuni, each holding their own jeweled parasol. This magnificent canopy came into being when the individual parasols held by each of the youths joined together in an instant, symbolizing their desire to create a society of peaceful coexistence. Their respective parasols no longer served just to protect each of them from wind and rain or the burning rays of the sun. Rather, these youths who had each 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.
I believe that such solidarity is also expressed in the new international development goals to be adopted by the United Nations toward the year 2030--the determination to protect the lives and dignity of all people on Earth from every form of threat and misery--and it is through such solidarity that these goals will be realized.
The creative evolution of the UN
Next, I would like to offer specific proposals on issues that urgently require a creative approach that goes beyond the scope of conventional thinking if we are to eliminate misery from the face of the Earth.
As I recall the seven-decade history of the United Nations, I am reminded of the words of the second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld (1905-61) in his annual report of 1960:
The United Nations is an organic creation of the political situation facing our generation. At the same time, however, the international community has, so to say, come to political self-consciousness in the Organization and, therefore, can use it in a meaningful way in order to influence those very circumstances of which the Organization is a creation. 
Despite the structural constraints and limitations it faces as an organization composed of sovereign states, the UN has over the years fostered and nourished the self-consciousness of the international community, and it is this that can provide it with the impetus to fulfill its original mission.
In fact, through its efforts to realize the spirit of the Charter, the UN has influenced the policies of governments by clearly laying out a set of principles that no nation should undermine. One example is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), the French philosopher who was deeply involved in the drafting process of the UDHR, stressed that people mutually opposed in their theoretical conceptions can come to a practical agreement regarding a list of human rights.  The drafters of the UDHR could not have come to consensus across the differences of their ideological and cultural assumptions were it not for the power of the common platform provided by the UN.
Over the years, the UN has drawn public attention to urgent issues by formulating such concepts as sustainable development and human security and by designating International Years and UN Decades. It has also organized international measures to tackle violence against women and child labor, serious problems that might otherwise not be given adequate attention in domestic contexts.
The scope of protections guaranteeing people's lives and dignity has been steadily expanded, making international law applicable to not only states but also individuals through building "overlapping consensus" about such issues and focusing attention on the problems confronting the oppressed. I believe that only the UN can play such an indispensable role.
In adopting a new set of development goals to address the challenges facing us with a more ambitious remit than that of the MDGs, we should work together toward the creative evolution of the UN, in the spirit of tackling our problems "without the armour of inherited convictions or set formulas"  in Hammarskjöld's words.
In what could be a harbinger of such efforts, the inaugural UN Environment Assembly was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in June 2014 with the participation of all member states as part of the structural reform of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It was attended by a large number of stakeholders including representatives of civil society organizations engaged with environmental issues as well as representatives of the business community.
I have consistently emphasized two prerequisites for the resolution of global problems: the participation of all states and collaboration between the UN and civil society. It is necessary to develop shared action underpinned by these two pillars to confront not only environmental challenges but also the full range of threats to people's lives and dignity. This, I believe, should be at the heart of the creative evolution of the United Nations as it marks its seventieth anniversary this year.
In view of the UN's mission, I would like to make specific proposals in the following three fields in which I think there is urgent need for shared action to eliminate the word misery from the human lexicon:
- The protection of the human rights of displaced persons and international migrants;
- The prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons; and
- The achievement of a sustainable global society.
Protecting the human rights of displaced persons
The first field for shared action is to protect the human rights of refugees, displaced persons and international migrants. I would like to propose the inclusion of specific protections for the rights and dignity of all such people in the SDGs slated for adoption by the General Assembly this fall.
As I mentioned above, what my mentor Josei Toda had in mind when he expressed his desire to rid the world of misery was the large numbers of refugees and their unspeakable suffering following the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
It was the political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-75) who called the twentieth century a century of refugees. She wrote:
Something much more fundamental than freedom and justice, which are rights of citizens, is at stake when belonging to the community into which one is born is no longer a matter of course and not belonging no longer a matter of choice. 
The foundation of human dignity is the existence of a world in which we can fully experience and express our identity; to be cut off from this world and all the human rights associated with it is the source of the suffering of displaced persons.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was originally established in 1950 as a temporary agency with the mandate to protect refugees in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. In addition to the flood of refugees sparked by the Hungarian uprising, further refugee crises arose in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world, requiring the repeated extension of the UNHCR mandate. In 2003, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that removed "the temporal limitation on the continuation of the Office . . . until the refugee problem is solved." 
UNHCR has made major contributions in assisting refugees, and the SGI has worked to support these activities in various ways. But the refugee problem stubbornly defies solution in today's increasingly chaotic world--a total of 51.2 million people are currently refugees, internally displaced persons or asylum-seekers, and half of these are under eighteen years of age. 
Of particular concern are protracted refugee situations, where people have been forcibly displaced from their country of origin for five years or longer. Such people account for more than half of the refugees covered by UNHCR's mandate, with an average displacement period of some twenty years.  This means that not only these individuals but also their children and grandchildren may be forced to live in extremely unstable political, economic and social circumstances.
Equally alarming is the problem of statelessness, which is estimated to affect more than 10 million people around the world.  Being stateless means being denied such services as health care and education, or in some cases being forced to conceal one's status and live in the shadows in order to protect one's family. More and more children whose parents have fled violence and human rights oppression are born stateless, with no access to legal documentation. In November 2014, UNHCR launched a global campaign to eradicate statelessness within the next ten years.
In his 1903 work The Geography of Human Life, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi argued that people's identity can be developed on three levels: as a citizen of a local community in which their life is rooted, as a citizen of a national community within whose borders their social life takes place and as a citizen of a global community with an awareness of their connections with the world. He stressed that the unique potential of the individual could be most richly expressed when we fully develop this kind of multilayered identity.
In this sense, protracted refugee situations and statelessness not only deny individuals the opportunity to participate in the social life of the nation: They are also prevented from building bonds with their neighbors in their local community and from taking shared action with people of other countries toward the creation of the kind of world in which they want to live. In other words, they are denied the chance to fully be themselves.
Positioning the alleviation of the suffering of such people as a key objective of the creative evolution of the United Nations is necessary if the inclusiveness of "all people everywhere"--sought for in the new SDGs--is to be realized. And this fully accords with the ideal of universal human rights to which the UDHR so powerfully aspires.
Likewise, the human rights situation of the world's 232 million international migrants demands urgent attention.
In countries undergoing prolonged economic recession and heightened social unrest, there is a growing tendency to view migrant workers in a negative light and subject them and their families to discrimination and hostility. As a result, their opportunities for regular employment and their rights to education and medical treatment may be severely limited, and all too often society turns a blind eye to the unjust treatment they face in daily life.
As migrant workers and their families are becoming increasingly marginalized and isolated, the UN has initiated efforts to counter misunderstanding and prejudice. At a High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development held in October 2013, governments agreed that the important relationship of migration to development should be reflected in the new SDGs.
Here, I would like to propose that this issue be considered not only within the context of development; that the goal of protecting the dignity and basic human rights of migrant workers and their families be explicitly included in the SDGs with a stress on alleviating the suffering they face.
Policies designed to protect international migrants need to be strengthened. This should include but not be limited to existing frameworks: the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (which was adopted in December 1990 but only ratified by a limited number of countries) and the Decent Work Agenda developed by the International Labour Organization.
I would further like to propose the development of mechanisms by which neighboring countries can work together for the empowerment of displaced persons, particularly in regions that have accepted large numbers of refugees.
In addition to armed conflicts, in recent years natural disasters and extreme weather events have forced many people to flee their homes and seek refuge. In this context, I would like to draw attention to the regional consultations in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2016. The summit aims to explore ways in which the global community can best come together to address humanitarian crises caused by conflict, poverty, natural disasters and extreme weather events.
The regional consultation held in July 2014 in Tokyo had a particular emphasis on response to disasters. The importance of ensuring that those afflicted by disaster are given a central role in the humanitarian process was consistently emphasized, as was the need to bolster efforts toward their empowerment in order that they might live in dignity.
This has also been the approach taken by the SGI in the course of assisting the recovery of communities affected by natural disaster. People who have experienced deep suffering themselves can better understand and share the pains of the afflicted. Such networks of empathy can provide invaluable support to people in need and bring forth from within the will to move forward.
The Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is scheduled to be held in Sendai in northeast Japan in March 2015, the fourth anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. Among the side events, the SGI will cosponsor a symposium on "Enhancing Resilience in Northeast Asia through Disaster Risk Reduction Cooperation," where civil society representatives from China, South Korea and Japan will explore the possibilities for deepened collaboration in the area of disaster prevention and recovery. Local Soka Gakkai youth members will also organize a symposium on disaster risk reduction and the role of young people and will participate in discussions on the role of faith-based organizations in disaster risk reduction.
These events will focus on empowering people who have been affected by disaster so they can play a key role in enhancing the resilience of society. This is of equal importance in efforts to ensure the dignity and human rights of refugees as more and more of them find themselves in prolonged displacement situations. The fundamental nature of the suffering experienced by people in humanitarian crises remains the same, regardless of the cause: They are driven from their homes, the foundations of their lives destroyed. What matters most is how such individuals can discover renewed sources of hope.
The fact that more than 80 percent of the world's refugees are being hosted by developing countries heightens the relevance of the steps being taken in Africa to deal with the issue of protracted displacement. Efforts to build a framework for regional cooperation have been made through the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
There is interesting research that suggests that, in response to prolonged displacement situations in Africa, progress is being made in de facto integration, which has been defined as when people (1) are not in danger of deportation, (2) are not confined to camps, (3) are able to sustain livelihoods and support themselves and their families, (4) have access to education, vocational training and health care, and (5) are socially networked into the host community through ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The research suggests that this kind of "de facto integration" can be observed in several agricultural regions. 
Following the call made by the ECOWAS Council of Ministers in May 2008 for equal treatment between refugees and other ECOWAS citizens, displaced persons living in Nigeria and elsewhere were issued passports by their home countries. As a result, many of them have been able to establish a new status as migrant workers, opening a way for them to formally settle in the host country.
The Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, whom I have the honor of considering a friend, has stated that using imagination to put oneself in another's place is the foundation of justice.  I think one key to a solution to the refugee issue can be found in the spirit of Africa, a continent with a long history of movements among people and a tradition of tolerance toward people of different cultures.
Here I am reminded of my first visit to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, in October 1960. Struck by the fresh energy of representatives of newly independent African nations, I gained the conviction that the twenty-first century would be the century of Africa.
The struggle for human rights of former South African president Nelson Mandela and the tree-planting movement led by Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) provide examples of groundbreaking initiatives that could herald the arrival of a keenly sought twenty-first century of peace and humanitarianism which have originated in Africa.
Despite numerous challenges, African nations have continued to explore ways of addressing the problem of forced displacement through regional cooperation. As the UN prepares to adopt a new set of development goals, the wisdom and experience of Africa can, in the words of the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko (1946-77), contribute to "giving the world a more human face." 
I would like to call for greater regional cooperation--along the lines of the African example--in the Asia-Pacific region, host to a large number of displaced persons, and in the Middle East, where there has been a sharp increase in the number of refugees resulting from the Syrian civil war.
As one element of such initiatives, I would like to suggest that neighboring host countries collaborate to promote the empowerment of refugees. Specifically, I would like to propose regional joint empowerment programs by which educational and employment assistance projects include both the refugee population and the youth and women of the host country. This would provide opportunities for members of the refugee and host country populations to develop deeper bonds, creating a sustainable framework for refugee support and enhancing the resilience of the region as a whole.
Abolishing nuclear weapons
The second field for shared action I would like to consider is toward the realization of a world without nuclear weapons.
The first resolution taken up at the first session of the newly established UN General Assembly in January 1946 addressed the problem of atomic weapons. During the process of drafting the UN Charter, the existence of atomic weapons was yet to become public knowledge and discussions were more focused on security than disarmament. However, just a little over a month after the adoption of the Charter in late June 1945, atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As news of this shocking event spread throughout the world, there were increasingly urgent calls for the UN to respond promptly to this new challenge.
Through the resolution, which called for "the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction,"  the General Assembly unanimously sought the complete elimination of such weapons, without any exception.
This call was nearly forgotten amidst the steady heightening of Cold War tensions. However, the 1950 Stockholm Appeal gathered millions of signatures from around the world and was said to have had an impact on the decision not to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War, while the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs were established in 1957 by scientists from both sides of the East-West divide to address the threats posed by nuclear weapons. These and other civil society efforts generated momentum for an international legal framework on nuclear weapons.
Combined with lessons from incidents such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war, this finally resulted in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which entered into force in 1970. Signatories to the NPT committed themselves to the good-faith pursuit of nuclear disarmament, the unfinished project first taken up by the UN at its inception. Today, however, forty-five years after the treaty's entry into force, the abolition of nuclear weapons has yet to be realized and progress on disarmament has stagnated.
Recently, the movement calling for a world without nuclear weapons has taken a new form. Last October, a total of 155 countries and territories signed a Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons. Through this, more than 80 percent of the member states of the United Nations clearly expressed their shared desire that nuclear weapons never be used under any circumstances.
The humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons have now been the theme of three major international conferences, starting with the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in March 2013 in Oslo, Norway, followed by international conferences in Nayarit, Mexico, and most recently in Vienna, Austria, in December last year.
Among the findings revealed in this series of conferences, I believe the following three points are particularly important:
- It is unlikely that any state or international body could address the immediate humanitarian emergency caused by a nuclear weapon detonation in an adequate manner and provide sufficient assistance to those affected.
- The impact of a nuclear weapon detonation would not be constrained by national borders, would cause devastating long-term effects and could even threaten the survival of humankind.
- The indirect effects of a detonation would include the hampering of socioeconomic development and ecological disruption, with the effects being most concentrated on the poor and vulnerable.
At the Vienna Conference, the United States and the United Kingdom, both participating for the first time, publicly acknowledged the complex debate being conducted on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons. As this demonstrates, the effects of any nuclear weapons use are such that the realities must be faced by all, including the nuclear-weapon states.
However, when it comes to how to proceed from here, opinions are divided. The majority of the conference participants share the view that the only certain way to avoid the devastating consequences of nuclear weapons use is their abolition. In contrast, among countries possessing nuclear weapons and their allies is the deeply rooted idea that deterrence must be maintained and the best way to realize a world without nuclear weapons is through a gradual step-by-step process.
While the gulf between these two positions may appear great, they are actually connected by a bedrock of shared concern over the devastating impact of nuclear weapons. This is a concern held both by those who have signed the Joint Statement and those who have not. I therefore believe that it is important to take this concern as our point of departure in the search for shared action toward a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Based on this understanding, it is crucial for the nuclear-weapon states to consider what kind of initiative is needed to prevent irreparable damage for not only themselves and their allies, but for all countries. Here, I would like to examine from a variety of perspectives the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons above and beyond their sheer destructive capacity. It is these aspects that distinguish nuclear weapons and make them fundamentally different from other forms of weaponry.
The first aspect I would like to examine concerns the gravity of their impact--just what they are capable of instantaneously obliterating.
I was struck by the following words contained in the Report and Summary of Findings of the Vienna Conference: "As was the case with torture, which defeats humanity and is now unacceptable to all, the suffering caused by nuclear weapons use is not only a legal matter, it necessitates moral appraisal."  This appeal echoes the point that my mentor, Josei Toda, emphasized in the declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons that he made in September 1957, at a time when Cold War tensions were rising and the nuclear arms race was accelerating. In the declaration, Toda urged:
Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons. 
Buddhism teaches that the most serious threat to human dignity is the evil arising from the fundamental delusion inherent in all life known as paranirmitavasavarti-deva or the devil king of the sixth heaven. This is a state manifesting the willingness to reduce the existence of each individual to insignificance and rob life of its most essential meaning. Toda asserted that what is hidden in the depths of nuclear weapons is this most extreme form of evil.
Therefore, he urged that we must go beyond the prohibition of the testing of nuclear weapons and reject the logic of nuclear deterrence, which is predicated on the readiness to sacrifice the lives of vast numbers of people. This is the fundamental solution to the threat of nuclear weapons and must be pursued in the name of the right of all the world's people to live.
Dr. Joseph Rotblat (1908-2005), who long played a central role in the Pugwash Conferences--which were established in 1957, the same year Toda made this declaration--once shared with me the following appraisal:
Two approaches to nuclear weapons have been taken. One is the legal approach, and the second is the moral approach. Mr. Toda, as a religious person, took the latter. 
There is an absolute normative prohibition against torture, which deems the act unjustifiable under any circumstances. Likewise, the time has come to challenge nuclear weapons from a moral perspective.
After World War II, following in the footsteps of the US, the Soviet Union successfully developed nuclear weapons; the UK, France and China followed suit. Nuclear weapons proliferation has continued even after the NPT entered into force, and the global nuclear standoff has come to be seen as an unchangeable and unmovable reality within the international community. Underlying this is the policy of nuclear deterrence, which, reduced to its simplest terms, accepts the possibility of annihilating an enemy population while enduring extensive damage in return.
As Toda laid bare, this goes beyond any distinction between friend or foe, instantly negating all the achievements of society and civilization, erasing the evidence of each of our lives, stripping all existence of meaning.
Masaaki Tanabe, who leads a project to recreate images of Hiroshima as it was before the atomic bombing, states: "There are things that just cannot be recreated even with the most advanced computer graphics technology."  His words vividly illustrate the irreplaceable nature of that which has been lost.
A world of nuclear deterrence--a world secured by the prospect of imminent destruction--renders everything fragile and contingent. The absurdity of this situation generates a nihilism that has a profoundly corrosive effect on human society and civilization. This cannot be tolerated.
Additionally, as was discussed at the Vienna Conference in December 2014, there is always the danger of an accidental nuclear detonation through human error or technical fault, or of a cyber attack. Not only is this problem unanticipated by deterrence theory, it is a danger that increases in direct proportion to the number of countries that adopt or maintain a policy of nuclear deterrence.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the leaders of the US and the Soviet Union had thirteen days to seek ways to defuse the crisis. Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, it could be as little as thirteen minutes before it reached its target. Escape or evacuation would be impossible, and the targeted city and its inhabitants would be devastated.
No matter how much effort people may have expended trying to live happy lives and no matter how long the span of time over which their culture and history may have developed, all of this would be rendered instantly meaningless. It is in this inexpressible absurdity that the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons is to be found, quite apart from the quantifiable measures of their enormous destructive power.
The second aspect of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons I would like to examine is the structural distortion that is generated by continued nuclear weapons development and modernization.
At the Vienna Conference, the impact of nuclear tests was included in the agenda for the first time. The term hibakusha is nowadays applied to all those who have suffered from radiation poisoning caused by nuclear weapons, and this of course includes those affected by the more than 2,000 nuclear tests that have been conducted worldwide.
It has been estimated that the Republic of the Marshall Islands experienced the equivalent yield of 1.6 Hiroshima-sized bombs every day throughout the twelve years that nuclear tests were being conducted.  This fact testifies to the actual effects wrought by the policy of nuclear deterrence despite its claim to have prevented the use of nuclear weapons. That is, the nuclear deterrence policy in which threat is met with threat provoked a nuclear arms race resulting in an enormous number of nuclear weapons tests, generating, in the words of Marshall Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs Tony deBrum, "a burden which no nation, and which no people, should ever have to carry." 
Since the adoption of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, the number of tests involving nuclear explosions has dropped to almost none. However, the fact that the CTBT has not entered into force despite having 183 signatories renders this de facto moratorium fragile.
Moreover, the CTBT does not prohibit the modernization of nuclear weapons, and as long as the policy of nuclear deterrence persists there is a structural incentive for one country to follow the modernization of another with modernization efforts of its own. Annual spending related to nuclear weapons, which already has reached US$105 billion worldwide,  is expected to increase further. If this enormous sum were to be directed at improving health and welfare in the nuclear states and at supporting developing countries where people continue to struggle against poverty and deprivation, the lives and dignity of huge numbers of people would be enhanced.
The continuation of nuclear weapons development not only goes against the spirit of Article 26 of the UN Charter, which calls for the "least diversion for armaments of the world's human and economic resources," but also results in the inhumanity of perpetuating a distorted global order in which people whose lives could easily be improved are forced to continue living in dangerous and degrading conditions.
The third aspect of the inhumanity of nuclear weapons I would like to touch upon is that the maintenance of a nuclear posture locks countries into continuous military tension.
At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, as one of the items for prompt action, the nuclear-weapon states committed to "further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies."  They reported on their progress last year, but there has been little substantive change. Many leaders of the nuclear-weapon states acknowledge that it is extremely difficult to imagine situations where nuclear weapons would be used and that it is the nature of most contemporary threats that they cannot be countered by nuclear weapons. Yet adherence to policies of nuclear deterrence hinders the fulfillment of this commitment to disarmament.
At this point, it is perhaps difficult for the nuclear-weapon states to completely free themselves from concerns that they or their allies may be threatened by a nuclear attack. Despite such concerns, however, priority should be placed on the step-by-step removal of the underlying causes of tensions and working to create conditions in which response through the threatened use of nuclear weapons is no longer seen as the only option.
As was clarified in the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, not only the use itself of nuclear weapons but also the threat of use would generally be considered illegal.
Judge Ferrari Bravo, in a Declaration appended to the Advisory Opinion, commented that "the gulf separating Article 2, paragraph 4, from Article 51 [of the UN Charter] has widened, as a result of the great obstacle of deterrence which has been cast into it."  As this indicates, the continuance of nuclear deterrence policy has transformed the understanding and practice of the right to self-defense from the way it was originally conceived by the framers of the Charter. While Article 2, paragraph 4, stipulates that the threat or use of force is in principle illegal, the existence of nuclear weapons has made necessary continual preparations for individual or collective self-defense, which are defined under Article 51 as a temporary measure to be taken until the Security Council is ready to act. Thus what was to be an exceptional measure has become regular practice, subverting the intent of the Charter.
Even after the end of the Cold War, this structure has not changed. Even without any armed clash or hostility between countries, the threat of use on which nuclear deterrence is premised continues to generate military tensions that implicate a large number of countries.
The nuclear-weapon states and their allies are drawn into an obsession with secrecy and security to protect the classified information related to their nuclear weapons and associated facilities. At the same time, states that feel threatened by the nuclear-weapon states are incentivized to develop their own nuclear weapons and pursue military expansion. In the worst case, this spiral leads to serious consideration of preventive military action.
The proponents of nuclear deterrence have consistently identified it as the key to preventing the use of these weapons. But when the framework for considering the nature of nuclear weapons is expanded to take in the full implications of life in the nuclear era, the enormity of the burden imposed on the world as a result of these policies becomes painfully clear.
I believe that the fact that nuclear weapons have not been used in wartime since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be attributed more to an awareness of the weight of the responsibility for the devastating humanitarian impact of their use than to any deterrent effect. And it is a fact that the countries that do not come under the protection of a nuclear umbrella have never been subjected to the threat of nuclear attack. It is the moral weight of the pledge to relinquish the nuclear option--for example, through the establishment of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ) where countries collectively refuse to pursue nuclear armament--that has clearly marked a line that other states feel they cannot cross.
At the Vienna Conference last month, in light of the unacceptable humanitarian consequences and associated risks of nuclear weapons, Austria made a pledge--in its capacity as a participating country, rather than as the host and chair of the conference --to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders, states, international organizations and civil society in order to realize the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.
Prior to the conference, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the SGI organized an interfaith panel at a Civil Society Forum with practitioners of the Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist faiths to discuss a path to nuclear abolition. The outcome of the discussion was summarized in a Joint Statement, which expresses the participants' pledge to work for a world free of nuclear weapons. The Joint Statement was presented during the general debate at the Vienna Conference as a voice of civil society.
The key to creating shared action toward a world without nuclear weapons is found in our success in focusing the energy of such pledges this year, the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Here, I would like to propose two specific initiatives.
The first is to develop a new institutional framework for nuclear disarmament, based on the NPT. In December 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted an important resolution urging States to explore, during the 2015 NPT Review Conference, "options for the elaboration of the effective measures [for nuclear disarmament] envisaged in and required by Article VI of the Treaty." 
Since the 1995 decision to indefinitely extend the NPT, there has been little progress toward the implementation of the various agreements that have been reached, and challenges continue to pile up. This resolution expresses the deep sense of urgency among the 169 countries that supported it about the continued deadlock surrounding nuclear weapons issues.
Given this context, I would like to urge the heads of government of as many states as possible to attend the NPT Review Conference this year. I also propose that a forum be held at the Review Conference where the findings of the international conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons can be shared.
In light of the fact that all parties to the NPT unanimously expressed their concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons at the 2010 Review Conference, I hope that each head of government or national delegation will introduce their nation's plan of action to prevent such consequences at this year's Review Conference. I further urge that the Conference advance debate on the effective measures for nuclear disarmament that Article VI of the NPT requires, and that it establish a new institutional framework to this end.
The NPT is understood to be built around three pillars: nonproliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and nuclear disarmament. The first two goals are supported by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and the convening of nuclear security summits and by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In contrast, there is no institution dedicated to sustained debate and ensuring compliance with the NPT's disarmament obligations.
Building upon the "unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament," reaffirmed at the 2000 Review Conference, I propose the establishment of an NPT disarmament commission as a subsidiary organ to the NPT to ensure the prompt and concrete fulfillment of this commitment.
The NPT establishes that a special conference shall be convened to consider a proposed amendment to the Treaty if requested by one-third or more of the state parties. An NPT disarmament commission could be established through such a process. It would work to bring together disarmament plans and verification regimes in order to reach the positive tipping point of largescale nuclear disarmament on the way to a world free of nuclear weapons.
The second initiative I would like to propose concerns the adoption of a nuclear weapons convention. Although various challenges and tasks remain, I firmly believe that the seventieth anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki creates a momentum that can propel negotiation of such a convention. Specifically, I suggest that a platform for such negotiations be established based on a careful evaluation of the outcome of this year's NPT Review Conference.
Two years ago, the UN convened an "Open-Ended Working Group to develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons." We could build on this and develop it into a forum for negotiations that would include the regularized participation of civil society.
Additionally, a 2013 General Assembly resolution called for a United Nations high-level international conference on nuclear disarmament to be convened no later than 2018. I suggest that this conference be held in 2016 and that it begin the process of drafting a nuclear weapons convention. I strongly hope that Japan, as a country that has experienced the use of nuclear weapons in war, will work with other countries and with civil society to accelerate the process of bringing into being a world without nuclear weapons.
The United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues will be held in Hiroshima in August, and the World Nuclear Victims' Forum will take place in October and November, also in Hiroshima. Likewise, the annual Pugwash conference will be held in Nagasaki in November.
Planning is under way for a World Youth Summit for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons to be held in Hiroshima in September as a joint initiative by the SGI and other NGOs. Last year, the youth membership of the Soka Gakkai in Japan collected 5.12 million signatures on petitions demanding the abolition of nuclear weapons. I hope that the summit will adopt a youth declaration pledging to end the nuclear age and that it will help foster a greater solidarity among the world's youth in support of a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.
In our dialogue, Dr. Toynbee emphasized that the key to solving the issue of nuclear weapons lies in the global adoption of a "self-imposed veto"  on the possession of such weapons. On January 21 this year, the United States and Cuba initiated negotiations toward the restoration of normal diplomatic relations, which were broken off the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Looking back on this history, one could say that the crisis was resolved through the use of a self-imposed veto--the decision to refrain from using nuclear weapons--on the part of the United States and the Soviet Union.
The process I envisage for the establishment of a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons is one in which each country commits itself to such a self-imposed veto, with these acts of self-restraint forming an overlapping fabric that brings into being a new era--one in which the people of all countries can enjoy the certainty that they will never suffer the horrors wrought by the use of nuclear weapons.
Realizing a sustainable global society
The last field for shared action I would like to address is the construction of a sustainable global society.
In order to respond to environmental challenges such as climate change, we must share experiences and lessons learned as we work to prevent a worsening of conditions and effect the transition toward a zero-waste society. Such efforts will be crucial in the achievement of the SDGs, and I would like to stress the indispensable role of cooperation among neighboring countries to this end.
Concretely, I call on China, South Korea and Japan to join together to create a regional model that will embody best practices that can be shared with the world, including those relating to the development of human talent. In November last year, the first China-Japan summit meeting in two and a half years was held. As someone who has long sought and worked for friendship between the two countries, I was deeply gratified to see this first step toward the improvement of bilateral relations following a sustained chill.
In the wake of the summit, in December, the Japan-China Energy Conservation Forum was restarted, and on January 12 this year, consultations were held regarding the Japan-China Maritime Communication Mechanism. This mechanism can play a crucial role in preventing the escalation of any incident, and I hope that efforts to begin operation within the year as agreed to by the two leaders will proceed smoothly.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the normalization of relations between South Korea and Japan. While there is still a need to defuse political tensions between the two countries, we should not lose sight of the fact that people-to-people interactions have continued to expand, with some five million people now traveling between Korea and Japan annually, a number even greater than that for China and Japan. When bilateral relations were normalized in 1965, the annual figure was a mere 10,000 people. Although public opinion surveys reveal that large percentages of people in both Korea and Japan do not have a favorable opinion of the other country, more than 60 percent acknowledge the importance of the relationship.
In addition to such interactions, I have high expectations regarding the forms of trilateral cooperation that have been steadily developing for the past dozen or so years. Since the start in 1999 of trilateral cooperation in the environmental field, there are today more than fifty consultative mechanisms including eighteen ministerial meetings and more than one hundred cooperative projects. To encourage the further development of such cooperation, it is important that trilateral China-Korea-Japan summits be renewed following the three-year hiatus brought about by heightened political tensions.
As the adoption of the SDGs nears, such summits should be restarted at the earliest possible date to solidify the trend in improved relations, while building toward a formal agreement to make the region a model of sustainability. The leaders of the three countries should mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II by embodying the lessons of that conflict in a pledge never to go to war again and should initiate efforts to build robust mutual trust through regional cooperation in support of the new challenge of the SDGs being undertaken by the UN.
In my meetings with political, intellectual and cultural leaders from China and Korea including Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) and Korean Prime Minister Lee Soo-sung, we have discussed the way that Japan and China and Japan and Korea can deepen bonds of friendship in order to make lasting contributions to the world.
Jean Monnet (1888-1979), who played a key role in helping France and Germany overcome their centuries-long animosity, asserted during negotiations among European countries in 1950: "We are here to undertake a common task--not to negotiate for our own national advantage, but to seek it to the advantage of all." 
In September 2011, a Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat was established by China, Korea and Japan. One role for this secretariat is identifying potential cooperative projects. I hope that the three countries will work together for the advantage of all in every one of the fields set out in the new SDGs.
As mentioned earlier, the SGI will be cosponsoring a side event at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in which civil society representatives of the three countries will meet to discuss regional cooperation toward disaster prevention and post-disaster recovery. This is being held with the support of the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat, and I am confident it represents the kind of positive engagement at the grassroots level that will complement intergovernmental regional cooperation toward the realization of the SDGs.
In this regard, I would like to make two proposals for expanding grassroots exchanges.
The first of these has a focus on youth. A key turning point in postwar relations between France and Germany was the 1963 Élysée Treaty, which initiated an era of greatly expanded exchanges among youth. "Centuries-old enmity can give way to profound friendship."  This phrase comes from an article jointly written by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in 2013, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Élysée Treaty. And indeed, the more than eight million young people who have had the opportunity to live or study in the partner country have played a critical role in generating firm bonds connecting the two societies.
Eight years ago, a program of youth exchanges was initiated between China, Korea and Japan, and I hope this year will be the occasion for greatly expanding the scale of this program. In addition to increasing cultural or educational exchanges such as those among high school or college students, I would like to see the establishment of a China-Korea-Japan youth partnership through which young people can actively collaborate on efforts to realize the SDGs or other trilateral cooperation initiatives.
For individual participants, the experience of working together on the daunting challenges of environmental or disaster-related issues is an invaluable one, impressing in their young lives the confidence that they are creating their own future. Further, such treasures of a lifetime will without doubt become the foundation of friendship and trust that will extend far into the future.
In the three decades since the signing of an exchange agreement between the Soka Gakkai Youth Division and the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF) in 1985, there have been regular exchanges. In May 2014, a new ten-year exchange agreement was signed, with the promise to continue to work together to enhance friendship between the two countries. For their part, the Soka Gakkai youth members in Kyushu have engaged in a wide range of exchange activities with Korea. All these activities arise from the belief that networks among young people fostered through face-to-face encounter and exchange are ultimately the most critical factor in building a more peaceful and humane world in the twenty-first century.
My second proposal is to greatly increase the number of sister-city exchanges between the three countries, aiming toward 2030, the SDG target date.
When I met with Premier Zhou Enlai forty years ago, our most salient shared interest was in deepening friendly relations between citizens of the two countries. In my September 1968 call for the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations, I stated: "The normalization of relations between nations will only be meaningful when the people of both come to understand each other and interact in ways that are mutually beneficial, contributing by extension to world peace." In like manner, Premier Zhou held that lasting Sino-Japanese friendship could only be realized when the people of both countries truly understood and trusted each other. When we met, he spoke of his own youthful experience of living and studying in Japan for a year and a half, and I cannot help but feel that this shaped his perspective.
In 1916, the year before Zhou came to Japan to study, the Japanese political philosopher Sakuzo Yoshino (1878-1933) wrote the following against a backdrop of worsening Sino-Japanese relations: "If there is trust and respect between the citizens, even if hostility or misunderstanding regarding political or economic issues arise, these will be like waves stirred on the surface of the ocean by the wind, but which leave the deeply flowing currents of friendly relations undisturbed." 
This expresses my own long-standing conviction. If people of different nationalities can engage in exchanges of the heart, sharing concern for each other's happiness, the great tree of friendship that is fostered will withstand all wind and snows, extending branches of lush growth far into the future.
Currently there are 356 local government sister-city agreements between China and Japan, 156 between Japan and South Korea, and 151 between China and South Korea. We should continue to extend such sister-city exchanges while fostering the crucial one-to-one bonds of friendship.
Our founding spirit
In making these concrete proposals, I have been intensely conscious that in the end it is the solidarity of ordinary people that will propel humankind in our efforts to meet the challenges that face us, such as those that will be tackled through the new Sustainable Development Goals.
It was forty years ago today, on January 26, 1975, that representatives of fifty-one countries and territories gathered in Guam to found the SGI. President Toda's vision of global citizenship and his determination to eliminate misery from the Earth were intensely present to me at that moment. When I decided to write "the world" next to my signature in the column for "nationality" at that inaugural conference, I was expressing my vow to fulfill my mentor's vision.
The declaration adopted at that first meeting affirmed our founding spirit in the following language:
In the creation of peace, the heart-to-heart bonds between people awakened to the sanctity of life are even stronger than economic or political ties between nations. . . Lasting peace cannot be achieved without the realization of the happiness of all humanity. We will therefore strive to make the Buddhist ideal of compassion the basis of a new philosophical orientation that inspires concrete contribution to the survival and flourishing of humankind.
This spirit remains unchanged today, as our movement has spread to 192 countries and territories.
Rooted in an expanding foundation of friendship and dialogue, we will continue to work for a world without nuclear weapons or war and to eliminate misery from the face of the Earth, to create a new society in which all people may fully enjoy the blessings of human dignity.