By Attreyee Roy Chowdhury
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
Burning of firewood of deluded impulses, we behold the flame of enlightened wisdom —Nichiren Daishonin
The Buddhist approach to inner tranquillity, according to Nichiren Daishonin, the 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk whose thoughts form the base of the Soka Gakkai movement, begins by the fundamental act of surmounting deluded impulses or inner poisons. Then, through spiritual practice, the energy inherent in these impulses is transformed into an illuminating ‘flame’ of enlightened wisdom. In the resulting tranquil state, the light of enlightened wisdom shines brilliantly, unblocked and unhindered by the clouds of deluded impulses.
Deeply perturbed by the constant suffering all around despite the all-pervasive influence of Buddhism, Daishonin sought an answer in a thorough study of the various Buddhist sutras and treatises of renowned scholars. His studies brought him to the conclusion that the Lotus Sutra was the highest of Buddhist teachings and the misery of humankind emanated out of our disregard for this teaching.
(The Lotus Sutra holds that ”earthly desires are enlightenment”. Earthly desires in themselves are not enlightenment. They are an illusion. It is also a mistake to think that desires are purely evil. These two extremes are transcended by the Lotus Sutra. It also affirms that there is a single path to enlightmenment-that of the bodhisattva.)
Thereafter, Daishonin founded his own school of Buddhism and, throughout his life, debated and wrote a massive body of teachings to revive the true spirit of Buddhism, as a teaching to save people from misery rather than a ceremonial and ritualistic religion surviving on state sponsorship. Affiliated to the Soka Gakkai of Japan, Soka Gakkai Inter- national (SGI) follows the orthodox lineage of Daishonin’s interpretation of Buddhism. Soka Gakkai means ‘value-creating society’.
On a macro level, the SGI is a global association of grassroots organisations that seeks to promote the values of peace and respect for all people. At the heart of the movement is the ideal of education for global citizenship. Through a wide range of activities, the SGI seeks to foster awareness towards social and environmental responsibilities that we all share for the future of our planet.
Naveena Reddi, director-general of Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG), the Indian chapter of the movement, states that the SGI also promotes cultural exchange and seeks to advance the search for common values, such as tolerance and co-existence, which are present in different forms in all traditions. ”These activities,” says Reddi, ”are based on the premise that through direct interactions with people from different cultures-whose backgrounds and assumptions about life may differ greatly from our own-we strengthen our sense of common humanity.”
The most fundamental of all SGI activities, however, are the discussion and prayer meetings held and rooted in local communities. In today’s society, where unrestrained egotism has brought profound disruptions to the human heart and where humanity is losing sight of the art of coexisting with nature, these small gatherings of people of all ages, races, interests and backgrounds offer a forum for rich and refreshing exchange.
The SGI has consistently focused on people and on the movement for human revolution through the bodhisattvapractice. In the meetings, members strive to establish a condition of inner peace in daily life with the chanting of the mantra Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo, which means devotion to the mystic law of cause-and-effect. Members also seek to contribute to the realisation of peace in the world by enabling each individual to develop his or her unique qualities to the fullest.
Santanu Chowdhury, SGI member from Mumbai, explains how the Soka Gakkai philosophy benefited him: ”I had joined BSG in 1984 to overcome personal problems, which I was told was possible through practice of this philosophy. I soon surmounted them, but continued being a member for two reasons. First, I found that what I saw as my problem was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. I had far deeper problems to overcome, even within my family. Second, BSG made me sensitive to my social responsibilities and also gave me the confidence to believe that as an ordinary individual, I can make a difference to the ‘world order’.”
According to Dr Akash K. Ouchi, SGI representative in India: ”Buddhism provides a means by which destructive tendencies can be transformed into altruistic virtues. A person’s triumph over struggles and challenges, and the resultant unleashing of positive potential, is what is meant by ‘human revolution’.” Dr Ouchi also reinforces that becoming happy, mastering fear and appreciating how one’s life affects others are the prime objectives of SGI members.
The sheer simplicity and practicality of the movement has made the SGI today the largest practising Buddhist organisation in the world, comprising over 12 million members and spread across 180 countries. Even in India, with its headquarters in New Delhi, the movement is not restricted to the metros but is spreading to smaller cities and towns.
SGI traces its roots back to 1930 when Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1944) and Josei Toda (1900-1958), its first and second presidents respectively, founded Soka Gakkai in Japan as an association of teachers. The group sought to reform the Japanese educational system based on Makiguchi’s theory of soka (value creation) and Daishonin’s philosophy.
True to the principles of the movement, Daisaku Ikeda, the president of SGI since 1960, is more than just a Buddhist-he is a humanist who takes action based on the philosophy and wisdom of Buddhism. Under his direction, the SGI, which opposes all forms of violence, is promoting a movement for peace, culture, and education based on Buddhism and working to protect the sanctity of life and contribute to the welfare of humankind.
This movement has won sympathy from all quarters and has touched the hearts of people around the world. Laying a great emphasis on humanism, Ikeda feels that the happiness and security of the individual must be the end or the objective of any philosophy.
Contact: Dr Akash K. Ouchi, Naveena Reddi Ph: +91-11-6258125/6251016;
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
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1. The inherent dignity and equality of all human life
2. The unity of life and its environment
3. The interconnectedness of all beings that makes altruism the only viable path to personal happiness
4. The limitless potential of each person to make a difference
5. The fundamental right of each person to pursue self-development through a process of self-motivated reform or ‘human revolution’
‘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.