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Peace and Human Security

By Daisaku Ikeda

In the following excerpts from a lecture delivered at the East-West Center, Hawai'i, on January 26, 1995, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda outlines three transformations rooted in "human revolution," the term first used by the second president of the Soka Gakkai, Josei Toda, to describe the inner reformation of the individual and the resultant renewal and invigoration of life and daily living. The full lecture is contained in A New Humanism: The University Addresses of Daisaku Ikeda (I.B. Tauris, 2010).

Children in Nepal light candles in a vigil for peace [© Piers Benatar/Panos Pictures/Uniphoto Press]

Looking back, we can say that the 20th century has been stained by the all too common slaughter of humanity at human hands. Our century has been termed a century of war and revolution; aptly so, for with two world wars and countless revolutions, it has been an unprecedented and bloody torrent of conflict and upheaval.

What has 20th-century humanity gained at the cost of this staggering sacrifice of human life?

Under the sway of the 19th-century cult of progress, in this century we have feverishly devoted ourselves to enhancing the structures of society and the state, laboring under the delusion that this alone is the path to human happiness. But to the extent that we have skirted the fundamental issue of how to reform and revitalize individual human beings, our most conscientious efforts for peace and happiness have produced just the opposite result. This, I feel, is the central lesson of the 20th century.

Our task is to establish a firm inner world, a robust sense of self that will not be swayed or shaken by the most trying circumstances or pressing adversity. Only when our efforts to reform society have as their point of departure the reformation of the inner life--human revolution--will they lead us with certainty to a world of lasting peace and true human security.

With this as my major premise, I would like to offer some ideas regarding three transformations that we face on our way toward the 21st century: from knowledge to wisdom; from uniformity to diversity; and, finally, what I would term "from national to human sovereignty."

Knowledge and Wisdom

The first transformation I would like to discuss is the need to move away from our present emphasis on knowledge toward a new emphasis on wisdom. Piercing, I feel, to the heart of the matter, President Toda stated that confusing knowledge for wisdom is the principal error in the thinking of modern man.

Clearly, the volume of information and knowledge possessed by humanity has seen an extraordinary increase compared to 100 or even 50 years ago. It can hardly be said, however, that this knowledge has led to the kind of wisdom that gives rise to human happiness.

Rather, the suffering generated by the grotesque imbalance between our knowledge and our wisdom is succinctly symbolized by the fact that the most sublime fruit of our science and technology has been nuclear weapons, and by the widening North-South development gap.

With the advent of an increasingly knowledge- and information-based society, it becomes all the more crucial that we develop the wisdom to master these vast resources of knowledge and information.

The same communication technologies, for example, that can be used to incite terror and hatred in whole populations, could just as easily produce a dramatic expansion of educational opportunity worldwide. The difference lies solely in the degree and depth of human wisdom and compassion.

The wisdom of Buddhism enables us to break the confines of the "lesser self," the private and isolated self held prisoner to its own desires, passions and hatreds. It further enables us to contextualize the deep-rooted psychology of collective identity as we expand our lives, with overflowing exuberance, toward the "greater self," which is coexistent with the living essence of the universe.

This wisdom is not to be sought in some distant place, but can be found within ourselves, beneath our very feet as it were. It resides in the living microcosm within and wells forth in limitless profusion when we devote ourselves to courageous and compassionate action for the sake of humanity, society and the future.

Valuing Diversity

The second transformation I would like to discuss is from uniformity to diversity.

As exemplified by modes of economic development which aim exclusively at the maximization of profit, modern civilization tends to the elimination of difference, the subordination of both natural and human diversity to the pursuit of monolithic objectives.

The result of this process is the grievous global problematic that confronts us today, and of which environmental degradation is but one aspect. It is vital that we pursue a path of sustainable human development based on a profound sense of solidarity with future generations.

The wisdom of Buddhism can also shed considerable light on the question of diversity. Because one central tenet of Buddhism is that universal value must be sought within the life of the individual, it works fundamentally to counter any attempt to enforce uniformity or standardization.

The fulfillment of the individual, however, cannot be realized in conflict with, or at the expense of, others, but only through active appreciation of uniqueness and difference, for these are the varied hues that together weave the flower gardens of life.

The Buddhist principle of dependent origination reflects a cosmology in which all human and natural phenomena come into existence within a matrix of interrelatedness. Thus we are urged to respect the uniqueness of each existence, which supports and nourishes all within the larger, living whole.

What distinguishes the Buddhist view of interdependence is that it is based on a direct, intuitive apprehension of the cosmic life immanent in all phenomena. Therefore, Buddhism unequivocally rejects all forms of violence as an assault on the harmony that underlies and binds the web of being.

Human Sovereignty

The third transformation I would like to discuss is from national to human sovereignty.

Undeniably, sovereign states and issues of national sovereignty have been the prime actors in much of the war and violence of the 20th century. Modern wars, waged as the legitimate exercise of state sovereignty, have involved entire populations willy-nilly in untold tragedy and suffering.

Origami cranes for peace [© David Clapp/Getty Images]

It is essential that we effect a paradigm shift from national to human sovereignty.

From the viewpoint of Buddhism, the transformation from state to human sovereignty comes down to the question of how to develop the resources of character that can bravely challenge and wisely temper the seemingly overwhelming powers of official authority.

In the course of our dialogues held in 1972 and 1973, the British historian Arnold Toynbee defined nationalism as a religion, the worship of the collective power of human communities. This definition applies equally, I feel, to both sovereign states and to the kind of nationalism which, in its more tribal manifestations, is fomenting regional and subnational conflicts throughout the world today.

Relying on the eternal law within to rise above the sway of evanescent authority in pursuit of nonviolence and humanity--it is in the course of this grand struggle that one experiences an indestructible life condition of comfort and security.

The three transformations which I have outlined come together in the process of human revolution, the reformation of the inner life, its expansion toward and merger with the "greater self" of wisdom, compassion and courage. It is my firm conviction that a fundamental revolution in the life of a single individual can give rise to the kind of consciousness and solidarity that will free humanity from its millennial cycles of warfare and violence.

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