By fostering cooperation and providing spiritual support, Soka Gakkai International intends to bring the bodhisattva way of life to the contemporary world. Its Indian chapter is also growing quietly
"To live without spirituality is like being hungry in a pitch-dark room"
Buddhist philosopher, author and peace proponent, Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Born in Tokyo in 1928, Ikeda experienced firsthand the human loss, anguish and turmoil of a nation at war. In the chaos of post-war Japan, he came to embrace Buddhism through his encounter with educator and ardent pacifist Josei Toda, then head of SGI. Ikeda's war experiences shaped his deep commitment to peace and underlined his efforts toward the creation of a global culture of peace.
Excerpts from an email interview with Ikeda:
How relevant is India’s spiritual legacy today?
Our world today is in desperate need of a new understanding, a new philosophical outlook. Personally, I believe that what is required is a ‘cosmological humanism’. By this I mean a philosophy rooted in a tolerant and compassionate cosmology that seeks to include and embrace others. This kind of humanism regards the individual as inseparable from the universal. Individuals are thus neither small nor powerless, for their lives embody the vital essence of the cosmos and merit utmost respect. This reverence for life is at the heart of the Indian spiritual tradition, in particular of ahimsa, non-violence. I have great expectations for an Indian renaissance. India’s message of non-violence has never been more vitally important to the world than now.
What is Buddhism’s unique contribution to creating peace?
Since its inception, peace and pacifism have been integral to the philosophy of Buddhism. Fundamentally, this is rooted in a profound sense of reverence for life. Buddhism has consistently rejected violence, stressing that dialogue and discussion are the best and most effective means of resolving conflict.
Shakyamuni’s life offers many illustrations of this. He was able, for example, to speak with anyone, from leaders yielding immense power of his day to the most ordinary people. He was able to mediate conflicts, not by judging the immediate rights or wrongs of the case, but by addressing universal human concerns, such as the desire of all people to live in peace and security. What made Shakyamuni such a peerless master of dialogue? Ultimately, I believe this was due to the expansiveness of his enlightened state, utterly free of dogma, prejudice and attachment. As he described it: ‘‘I perceived a single, invisible arrow piercing the hearts of the people.’’The ‘arrow’ symbolises a prejudicial mindset, an unreasonable emphasis on differences. Our times require an embracing wisdom that, rather than dividing, brings into view what we share and hold in common as human beings. Genuine dialogue is a manifestation of this kind of wisdom.
Spirituality is at times perceived as a luxury. Comment.
Human beings have come to wield enormous power, whether in science, technology, politics or economics. But have such advances led humanity towards harmony, happiness and peace? Advances in science and technology, which are so often used for terror and destruction, can easily be channelled towards positive ends. The difference lies in human wisdom.
Spirituality is not a luxury. Gandhi said that spiritual power surpasses even the greatest physical power. It has no limits. To live without spirituality is like being hungry in a pitch-dark room. To find the way, one must have light—the light of wisdom based on spirituality. There is no greater need in our world today than for a healthy renewal of human spirituality.
Please comment on the symbiotic relationship between the self and the environment.
I believe that only spirituality and wisdom can lead us out of the thoughtless brutality that consumes nature, leaving only a ravaged wasteland behind. Life and its environment are one. A barren, destructive mind produces barren, devastated natural environment. The deser- tification of our planet is driven by the desertification of the human spirit.
Everything is interdependent, supported and nourished within the larger web of life. When one link is harmed, other links are affected. We should think of the environment as our mother. What greater crime could there be than harming one’s own mother?
Buddhism offers us the wisdom to see the natural environment not as something to be mastered but to be honoured and cherished. If anything, we must learn to master ourselves. As Nichiren, founder of the school of Buddhism I embrace, once wrote: ‘‘When you face a mirror and bow respectfully, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you.’’
What are the biggest challenges in the world today and how, in your opinion, should we meet them?
The time has come for us to re-examine the nature of human civilisation. For much of human history, we have been trapped in cycles of hatred and reprisal. We must redouble our efforts to break this cycle and transform distrust into trust.
It is the nature of evil to divide. The universe, this world, and our own lives are the stage for a ceaseless struggle between hatred and compassion, the destructive and creative aspects of life. We must never lack in our efforts to bring forth the compassionate and creative capacities that we possess.
Unless we can achieve a fundamental transformation within our own lives so that we are able to perceive our intimate connection with all our fellow human beings and feel their sufferings as our own, we will never realise the goal of world peace.
Have you visited India and do you have plans to do so in the near future?
I have visited India six times and have always looked up to it as the land of spirituality. As a Buddhist, especially, I feel a profound debt of gratitude to the land that gave birth to Buddhism. As a multicultural, multilingual land with a long history of forging unity from diversity, I feel that India offers the world an important model for the future. I have many dear friends in India and I certainly hope that I shall have the pleasure of visiting them again.
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