Our Shared Humanity (Full-length)

Soka Gakkai International CHAPTER 1:BUDDHISM
FOR PEOPLE’S EMPOWERMENT Every day over six and a half billion people
around the world go about their daily lives. People whose color, culture, occupation or
lifestyle sometimes appear so very different that on the surface they may seem
to have very little in common. Yet they inhabit the same planet and
breathe the same air. They share a common humanity. It is this common humanity that
the 2,500–year–old faith of Buddhism embraces and reveres. Every single person alive today is unique. And each person’s life has
limitless possibilities. Yet our world is filled
with conflict and suffering. Buddhism came into being as a response
to human suffering, and to enable men and women to reveal
their full potential. Some perceive Buddhism as a solitary,
meditative religion, but the Buddhism practiced by the members
of the global lay organization SGI – Soka Gakkai International – is dynamic,
yet grounded in the realities of daily life. … Our Shared Humanity … An Introduction to the SGI Buddhist Movement
… Soka Gakkai International … … History of Buddhism … Buddha means enlightened one. Enlightened to the true nature of life.
The Buddha, Shakyamuni, was born a prince in the subcontinent of India
2,500 years ago. The four universal sufferings, in the shape
of birth, old age, sickness and death shocked the young Shakyamuni,and he
set out from his palace determined to find a solution. After a long, austere
search, he had the enlightened realization that our inability to grasp the true nature
of life was at the root of human suffering. Through learning how to access life’s
unlimited potential, humanity could transcend suffering and
establish a solid, indestructible happiness. Shakyamuni traveled around India
for many years, sharing his enlightened wisdom. His numerous orally transmitted teachings,
known as sutras, recorded after his death, spread throughout Asia, transforming the
lives of millions of people. But in time, Shakyamuni’s teachings
became fragmented and ritualized often losing sight of the original intention
of Buddhism – to alleviate suffering. In 13th century Japan a young priest
called Nichiren began to question why people suffered and why social
oppression and natural disasters continued to occur in a society
that upheld the Buddhist faith. He studied all the available sutras in search of the essence of Shakyamuni
Buddha’s teachings and found what he was looking for in the
life–affirming philosophy of the Lotus Sutra The roots submerged in the depths
of a muddy pond are capable of producing
the pure lotus flower. Likewise, all human beings,
according to the Lotus Sutra, equally possess the pure life–state
of Buddhahood. A Buddha is not a transcendent being,
but an ordinary person able to challenge and overcome
their own and others’ suffering through manifesting wisdom, courage,
compassion and vitality. To enable all people to activate
this state of Buddhahood Nichiren established the practice of
chanting the phrase Nam–myoho–renge–kyo which he identified as being the
expression of the fundamental law of life. He was adamant that chanting it
would release the vast potential dormant in the heart of every
single person, improving their own lives and the lives of other people. Nichiren’s efforts to empower ordinary
people and free them from suffering angered the feudal authorities and he
endured a lifetime of persecution. But his conviction in the Lotus Sutra and
Nam–myoho–renge–kyo never wavered. Buddhism respects and embraces life. All life. Whatever our differences,
Buddhist philosophy maintains that we are inextricably linked to one
another and to the planet we all inhabit. Causing harm to other people or to the
natural world that sustains life will inevitably have a negative impact
upon our own lives. For SGI, every existence on Earth is a dignified and unique expression
of life with untold possibilities. CHAPTER 2: WHAT IS SGI? The founder and first president of
this lay Buddhist organization was Tsunesaburo Makiguchi,
a Japanese educator dedicated to reforming the repressive and
nationalistic education system. Makiguchi advocated a more humanistic
approach to learning, encouraging children to lead
creative, fulfilled lives and make a positive contribution to society. In Nichiren’s Buddhism he discovered
a philosophy that both reflected and revitalized his thinking, and in 1930 he founded the Soka Gakkai –
the Society for the Creation of Value. When the Second World War broke out,
the military authorities imposed oppressive laws upon the Japanese people.
All dissent was ruthlessly suppressed. Makiguchi was imprisoned for opposing
the policies of the militarist government. He died in prison in 1944.
Imprisoned alongside Makiguchi was his fellow educator and closest
supporter, Josei Toda. Released from prison in 1945, Toda
worked tirelessly to reconstruct the Soka Gakkai organization into a broad–
based, grassroots Buddhist movement that offered a message
of hope and empowerment in the devastation, poverty and despair
of postwar Japan. With Toda as second president the
organization rapidly expanded. He encouraged its members to take up
the challenge of “human revolution” a process of self–mastery whereby a
positive change in the inner life of an individual is reflected
in their external environment, and ultimately in society itself. Toda was determined to see an end to war. In 1957 he made an impassioned appeal
for the abolition of nuclear weapons which he believed were a manifestation
of the darkest aspects of the human heart. Achieving world peace became
a fundamental aim of the organization. Constantly at Toda’s side was a young man
named Daisaku Ikeda, who wholeheartedly devoted himself to supporting the growth
and development of the Soka Gakkai. In 1960, two years after Toda’s death,
Ikeda became its third president. This was the era of the Cold War. Global tensions were high and the threat of
nuclear devastation hung over humanity. Ikeda believed that the Lotus Sutra’s
message of the dignity of all life could contribute to the advancement
of world peace. On the island of Guam in 1975, he helped
establish a new, global organization – SGI. Ikeda has also promoted dialogue between
people of different countries, cultures and belief–systems, as a fundamental step
towards building world peace. As leader of the lay Buddhist movement,
he has continued to meet with leading activists and thinkers
from around the world. The resulting dialogues and publications,
which encompass politics, culture, philosophy and science,
explore life and the universe and seek solutions to the problems that
confront our rapidly changing world. Ikeda has also founded peace–research,
educational and cultural institutions with a view to promoting greater mutual
understanding between nations. Since its formation, SGI has developed
into an international movement with 12 million members in 190 countries
and territories around the world. Each SGI organization shares the same
philosophy and basic practice but has the freedom to operate independently within
the customs and laws of its own country. Respecting and celebrating individual and
cultural differences is the lifeblood of SGI. The core activity for SGI members around
the world is the local discussion meeting. The monthly meeting provides
a relaxed ,informal space for both members and friends to share
their experiences and learn more about how to apply the principles of
Buddhism to their daily lives. Howard Hunter – Emeritus Professor
of Religion at Tufts University “Discussion groups are an embodiment of a
commitment to respect for other people’s point of view, so one does not have to act
completely isolated and alone and confused one can relate to other people who are
working through their problems, one can benefit from their experience and one can contribute positive values
to their experience.” SGI members around the world
participate in a variety of cultural, social and educational activities that
are an expression of common humanity, and demonstrate a commitment
to social responsibility and the promotion of world citizenship. Majid Tehranian – Director, Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research “To be a world citizen does not mean
that you have to give up your religion, your ethnicity, your nationality and so on it means that you have to assume
responsibility – global responsibility, and to understand what is going on
in the world.” CHAPTER 3: THE INDIVIDUAL For SGI members, faith, practice and study are the three interdependent, yet vital
elements of their Buddhist practice. The daily practice consists of reciting
a portion of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam–myoho–renge–kyo
to activate the Buddha nature and create happiness and value for
oneself and other people. Studying the writings of Nichiren,
both alone and in groups, helps members to understand
the principles of Buddhism and how to apply them
to contemporary life. Faith involves taking action and it’s important for members to see
actual proof that Buddhism is working in their day–to–day lives. SGI members consider that
sharing the philosophy and practice of Buddhism with others
is a compassionate act. Inner spiritual transformation
or – human revolution – is the focus of an SGI member’s
Buddhist practice. Khosi Kubeka is currently studying for her
doctorate at a university in the US. The social and educational system
Khosi was born into in South Africa deliberately discouraged black people
from pursuing their goals. Khosi Kubeka:
“Growing up in Soweto in the 1980s this was the height of apartheid,
when things were so much in upheaval, chaotic really.
I ended up having a sense of powerlessness and low self–esteem but at the same time
I did have the ambition to succeed and saw myself as someone who was
successful in the future, educated because education
is the key really. Being born in that kind of oppressive environment you feel like
this is your destiny and this is also something that was
ingrained by people around you that you need to accept your circumstances
because this is what you were meant to be.” Khosi decided to take responsibility
for her situation. “When I started practicing then I realized
there are so many possibilities I can do anything I want, and
my life is in my hands, that means I have to take responsibility for
myself – so that was very empowering to me.” Battling with her negative internal beliefs played a major part in Khosi’s
human revolution. “It felt like I had two voices. One that said ‘Now who do you think
you are? You’re just a girl from Soweto, you should just accept your destiny
because this is what you were meant to be.’ But on the other hand this burning
desire, feeling that ‘I am capable of more, I can do more with my life.
I can create value’ – was also powerful. Life is about struggling. You just have to
decide whether you are going to win or lose. That’s what this practice has taught me:
you have the power to decide. I plan to go back to South Africa
to teach at the university but also my greatest desire is to go back
and inspire other people who come from the same place that I come
from and I’m looking forward to that.” Dr. Howard Hunter:
“I think the Buddhist message in the SGI of cultivating, with as much fervor and
passion and dedication and discipline as we can, our own self–awareness…
that self–awareness is going to lead to what I think is the greatest
glory of Buddhism and that is compassion.” Sue Yeadon works for the English National
Health Service as part of a small team that supports people in her community
with the HIV virus. Sue’s involvement in this area
began 20 years ago when she met a young woman
with the virus. Sue Yeadon:
“What she needed was encouragement and compassion rather than people reacting with fear and horror and dread, and so
I decided that the only way I could overcome my own fear and
prejudice was to find out more about it. I remember thinking that as a Buddhist
it was time that I started to do something meaningful in society that would
make a difference somehow.” Over the last two years Sue’s work
has taken her to Africa where she visits children
hospitalized with the virus. “When we first arrived there were
no children on treatment, now they have nearly 100 children … If I hadn’t started practicing Buddhism
I don’t think I’d have been able to develop my compassion or my courage or wisdom
in the way I’ve been able to.” CHAPTER 4: SOCIETY SGI is committed to
making a difference. All its activities are based on the
compassionate desire to relieve suffering and make an active
contribution to society. Projects and awareness–raising activities
initiated at local and community levels encourage people to feel a sense of
connection to global issues such as disarmament and
sustainable development. As a non–governmental organization
affiliated to the United Nations, SGI believes that despite its flaws, the UN has the potential to effect
a positive change in the world. Hiro Sakurai – SGI’s Representative to the
United Nations in New York “One of the ways that SGI tries to bring
people’s voices back to the UN is through SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s
annual peace proposals. He’s been issuing peace proposals
over 20 years. These proposals have been reflected
in UN initiatives such as the World Program for
Human Rights Education. We have also conducted petition drives
for the abolition of nuclear weapons and presented the signatures of millions
of ordinary citizens to the UN.” In the public domain, as a NGO,
SGI has launched educational campaigns and created a range of international
exhibitions that promote human rights, peace and disarmament. Every year thousands are killed, injured and
displaced in the wake of natural disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes and
earthquakes. SGI has mounted numerous relief
programs for war refugees and victims of environmental and climatic disasters. SGI supports the Earth Charter movement,
which is working towards the establishment of a sustainable and peaceful world. A proposal initially put forward
by SGI representatives for an “International Decade of Education
for Sustainable Development” gathered international support and was eventually adopted by the
UN General Assembly in 2002. In support of this educational initiative,
SGI has created “Seeds of Change” an exhibition that highlights how
each person can make a difference. In the Amazon basin in Brazil, where there is an urgent need to promote
reforestation and sustainable development, SGI has set up the Amazon Environmental
Conservation Center. In response to the tragic Columbine
High School massacre in Colorado, SGI–USA’s Youth Peace Committee launched
a “Victory Over Violence” campaign. Culture festivals and outreach programs
which have been adopted by schools and communities form part of the initiative
which helps young people identify and counteract the root causes
of violence in their lives. This campaign, which promotes a culture
of peace, has now spread overseas. Anthony Lansiquot:
“I have tremendous optimism for the future, and I think this is one of the greatest
things about my practice, that it does give me that optimism,
because I’m aware of who I really am, and I know I can effect change in my
own life, and in other people’s lives.” Takako Yeung:
“For me what’s more important about being a teacher is nurturing
young people and making them believe they can make
a positive contribution to society and to give them the confidence to follow
whatever their dreams are.” SGI believes that the empowering
message of Buddhist humanism and the compassionate commitment and vision
of young people can make the 21st century a century which cherishes life where sustainability and the alleviation of
suffering become universal concerns and where, for future generations,
world peace becomes a reality. Each person has the power
to make a difference. Soka Gakkai International

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