/ 3 April 2021

Believe in the goodness of humankind

Holy Priest Nichiren
High Tide (1932) from “Nichiren Seijin Goichidai Ki Gafu” (Picture Album of the Life of Holy Priest Nichiren). Tenrei Horiuchi 1903-1982 Human saviours: High Tide (1932) from Nichiren Seijin Goichidai Ki Gafu (Picture Album of the Life of Holy Priest Nichiren) shows Nichiren abandoned on a rock after remonstrating against government policies. A fisherman saved him.

One prevailing view of humans is that they are flawed, incapable of overcoming their innate negative tendencies of anger, greed and foolishness. Many projections of the future are apocalyptic, implying that no matter what we do, the world and humanity are heading for disaster. 

The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, characterised human life in its natural state as “nasty, brutish and short”. 

In contrast, the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin, as practised by the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), is based on the belief that everyone is endowed with the Buddha nature. Every human equally has the life state of Buddhahood as their true identity — which is deeper than their karmic consciousness and their subconscious mind. 

A Buddha is not an absolute being separate and apart from being human. A Buddha shares and seeks to understand the sufferings of others and the conditions of the time, vowing to lead the people and the age to enlightenment. Buddhahood is synonymous with the expansive life of the universe itself. We live in a sacred relationship with all.

The significance of Nichiren Buddhism lies in the focus on the Buddha nature in all beings and in the establishment of the practical means to access this consciousness, so that humans can derive optimum meaning from their lives. Transformation of our inner world — the “human revolution” — is relevant to modern civilisation, which has long been trapped in a sort of spiritual quagmire. 

We can escape the quagmire by calling forth the supreme human potential available to each of us. No matter a person’s basic life tendency, their character, their karma — which includes one’s family and circumstances — each human, by virtue of being human, is capable of manifesting this highest life state of love and compassion. Belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind is the philosophical foundation of SGI’s humanism. 

This philosophy is in alignment with the ethos of ubuntu. As Mamphela Ramphele, co-president of the Club of Rome, noted in her interview featured in the SGI’s United Nations office: “In Africa we have the concept of ubuntu, the conviction that you are only human in relation to other human beings. That it is our essence as human beings to be good, to take care of ourselves, to take care of others, and to have a sense of empathy. 

“People are interconnected and interdependent … Covid-19 has taught us that you can’t be healthy unless other people around you are healthy. Covid has shown that inequality is dangerous, it’s life threatening to both the rich and the poor.” 

The pandemic has enabled us to see more clearly the pain and suffering underpinned by a philosophy of separateness that is rampant globally and could lead to humanity’s extinction. 

Philosophies and approaches to life that perceive humanity’s consciousness as being shattered into billions of separate, individual interests have created climate change, extreme income inequality, a global pandemic and other existential crises facing humanity.

The “normal” was lethal and many now question how to realise a more balanced way of life in which people are never subjugated to or become the tools of their own unbridled desire, technology or power imbalances. This time challenges and requires us to act with belief in the basic goodness of all humanity. 

Just as science showed the enormous amount of energy contained in even a single particle of matter, we must now awaken to the fact that the inner determination in each individual’s life at every moment contains the power to change the world.

If we seek personal security, we must first transcend our lesser selves that are ruled by egoism and work to establish the peace and security of the society in which we live. We must become our own liberators and help and encourage others to do the same. Faith is the engine, the power source for our human revolution, a revolution of our innermost state of mind that requires continual efforts. 

We cannot remain passive in the face of these severe realities. Rather, we should open ourselves to the limitless power, the dynamic of change, that is created when awakened people unite and act together. It is in proving this truth that humanity in the 21st century can fulfil its mission.

It is important in this new time to have a spirituality or philosophy that recognises and celebrates the interconnectedness of everything and acknowledges the sacred in all. An ethos is required that seeks to bring harmony from conflict, unity from rupture; that is based more on “us” than on “me”. It signals a spirit that seeks to encourage mutual flourishing and mutually supportive relationships among humans and between humans and nature. 

Just as some who are compassionate in their own spheres, are now being stretched and called to live with compassion and empathy beyond their comfort zones or current cognitive imagination.

In Cape Town, hungry residents receive hot food from volunteers of the Lavender Hill Sport and Recreation Foundation. (Marco Longari/AFP)

In Nichiren Buddhism — a philosophy rooted in creating good, gain and beauty for oneself and others — the way you live your life is your spiritual practice. How you endeavour to respect all others and quest to see the mystic, innumerable meanings of each moment in your life are the flowering of your humanity, your human revolution.

“Life is the supreme treasure,” writes SGI’s president, Daisaku Ikeda. “Once we become aware of this ethos of respect for life and all human beings, the way we look at ourselves, at others, and our relationships with them, too, is radically changed. When we change the world changes. When we can believe in the goodness of ourselves and others, and in our inherent capacity to radically transform ourselves, we feel hope for the dawn of a bright new future, and we become a part of creating that future.”

A philosophy rooted in a belief in the infinite capacity of each human produces a society based on value systems and objectives that nurture and promote humanity, rather than fostering a competitive zero-sum, win-lose approach to politics, community, economics and life.

By example, an ubuntu-based economy and a Buddhist-based economy would be a “love economy” in which the real indicators will be measures of happiness rather than gross national product. It would

be an economy based on compassion and the goal of enhancing the well-being of all humans. 

For some, this approach to humanity might seem naively optimistic. Buddhist optimism is not the escapist optimism of those who throw up their hands and say, “Somehow or other things will work out.” Rather it means clearly recognising evil as evil and suffering as suffering and resolutely fighting to overcome it. It means believing in one’s ability and strength to struggle against any obstacle. It is to possess a fighting optimism.

Hope is a decision. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

This year opened a decisive decade toward 2030. Ikeda has urged SGI members in 192 countries to grasp the essential importance of this time: “The coming decade is an extremely important time, when we must work to resolve the challenges facing our planet and to build a new culture for humankind, a new human civilisation based on respect for the dignity of life and human revolution.” 

This decisive decade can enable a change in the destiny of humankind. Let us each reveal our potential as humans, and create the Century of Africa, the Century of Life.