In 1972 SGI President Daisaku Ikeda travelled to Russia for the first time and met the Russian premier, Alexei Kosygin, who asked him to define the ideology of the Soka Buddhist movement. In his answer President Ikeda told him that it is peace, culture and education, the underlying basis of which is humanism.
President Ikeda's answer provides the basis for our activities, both within SGI-UK as we develop our discussion meeting movement, and as individuals engaging with the wider world.
Saying that Buddhism is a humanist philosophy means that the starting point is the individual human being. 'On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime', the first letter by Nichiren Daishonin starts with 'you', the human being: 'If you wish to free yourself from the sufferings of birth and death you have endured since time without beginning and to attain without fail unsurpassed enlightenment in this lifetime, you must perceive the mystic truth that is originally inherent in all living beings.' (WND-1, p. 3)
Nichiren Buddhism teaches us that each individual can unlock the universal life- force in his or her own life. President Ikeda has expressed the greatest potential in all humans as 'the dignity of life' using this phrase to convey that every person is worthy of the greatest respect.
Establishing and maintaining a peaceful world therefore starts with this premise of the dignity of life. Yes, peace is the absence of war, but it is much more than that. It is about creating conditions where cultural differences are embraced and appreciated, and where the process of dialogue is firmly established as the means for resolving conflict. It is about creating a society where there is genuine equality, where everyone is respected and where human rights are championed. It is about creating a society where every single individual, whatever their faith or philosophical background, has the opportunity to fulfil his or her potential.
Through history we have seen the effects of 'hard power' in terms of resolving issues between nations: the attitude to use strength and arms to conquer, subdue or annihilate an opponent is the opposite of the spirit of peace mentioned above.
'Soft power' is based on the recognition that every person is worthy of respect and is based on dialogue. The result is mutual benefit. Dialogue means discussions between individual people as well as between nations, and recognising that there may be other ways of living creative lives to the way that we have chosen.
Every year since 1983 President Ikeda has written peace proposals
to the United Nations, and to other global policy makers and decision takers. They set out in straightforward and reasonable ways actions which could be taken by governments and global agencies to improve the world around us. We can see that many of the themes he continues to raise have been reflected in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and more recently in the Sustainable Development Goals. 1 Importantly though, they also include actions which individuals and civil society organisations can take to make a difference on a local level. The collective effect of these local causes will, by extension, have an impact on the wider world. A constant theme in these proposals has been the abolition of nuclear weapons which by their very nature are a denial of the dignity of life. President Ikeda explores the humanitarian consequences of both intentional and accidental detonations of these weapons of mass destruction.
Former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury wrote about President Ikeda's annual peace proposals saying: 'I know of no one who has highlighted the role and responsibility of the world body [the UN] so consistently, relentlessly and substantively for such a long period of time.' 2
We might not be directly involved in organisations like the United Nations ourselves, but we can still apply the same principles mentioned in these proposals and ensure that the actions we take are 'soft power' actions in conflictual situations which arise in our personal lives, and make sure that we utilise dialogue to resolve issues rather than force, or take destructive actions which will cause disunity and disharmony.
Hearing this word we might first of all think of art, or music, or other aspects of the creative spirit, but there is a broader meaning which applies in this context.
It is widely thought that 'culture' is what has enabled homo sapiens to make the transition from the basic, the primitive and the immediate to the developed, the civilised, and the visionary. It is about the human tendency to look for how things can be improved and then to take action to improve them. Culture is therefore the opposite of a narrow, closed-minded view that it is all right for things to stay as they are. It is having the vision of how society can be different, and how people can fulfil their individual creative potential, and stretching our horizons so that that vision can become a reality. Culture is about exploration, exchange and development, and learning from others and transcending differences.
President Ikeda has founded various institutions such as the Min-On
organisation which arranges cultural exchanges whether for bodies such as orchestras or theatre and opera companies to perform in different countries, and the Fuji Art Museum
which provides exhibitions of works of art from different cultures. On an individual level we can cultivate a broader awareness of the world through simple things like reading good books and seeing the world through the eyes of great artists, composers, poets and writers. This is not limited to what might be considered 'classical' art - a broad approach to life includes being aware of contemporary culture.
Ultimately though we are expressing our cultured side when we rise above the immediate and determinate to create a better world for ourselves and others.
From the Buddhist point of view, education is about fostering the inherent potential in each individual regardless of age. It is also about learning self-control, and recognising that humans are capable of revealing both the three poisons of greed, anger and foolishness, as well as the enlightened qualities of courage, compassion and wisdom. The founder of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, who was originally a teacher and educator, wrote: 'The aim of education is not to transfer knowledge; it is to guide the learning process, to equip the learner with the methods of research.' 3 Education for Makiguchi was about the happiness of children; it was a means by which children could open their minds and interact creatively with their environment, rather than serving as a tool to mould a docile and obedient population.
Education is also about deeply applying the principle of our interconnectedness
. It is about being a 'world citizen' and playing a part in seeing what we can do to eradicate hunger and poverty in the world, and see harmony between humanity and the environment.
President Ikeda has founded a Soka school system in Japan which has schools, particularly in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, that can guide children from kindergarten to senior school. There is also the Soka University near Tokyo, and Soka University of America in California. It would be wrong however to think that this heading of 'education' is just about setting up schools or educational institutions around the world. Where good institutions already exist, our aim might be to introduce them to the SGI's approach and Daisaku Ikeda's philosophy. The broader definition above is what is important about education: fostering the inherent potential in each individual, whatever their age and time of life.