/ 28 March 2024

God edition: ‘Together we can change the country’

Photo 2024 M G Western Cape
Community: Members of the Soka Gakkai International in the Western Cape attend a Friendship Day to celebrate connection and compassion through art and culture.
God Edition

We each will soon be making important choices at the ballot box that will determine our collective future as South Africa. Choices that will shape our political landscape, our economic system, our physical security, our vulnerability to sickness, our education system.

Thirty years after our first democratic elections, social disorders rooted in hierarchy and violence are even more critical today. Self-interest has been prioritised and violence is justified. Present society is not only fractured along racial lines but also along lines of class. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world in terms of economic distribution. How do we create a cohesive society with so many barriers that still keep us apart? 

A society flourishes or declines based upon its guiding philosophy. When the philosophy and religion on which people base their lives become distorted or confused, that distortion will be reflected in every aspect of society including in the politics, economics and the security of the nation. 

A truly outstanding philosophy is needed to promote the well-being of our society. The values by which we live, locally and globally, must shift to realign with goodness and to advance truth and justice. As Buddhists we believe that a philosophy of humanism, a philosophy of life that reveals the wonder, dignity and infinite potential of all life be firmly established.

South Africa is a symbol to the world of confronting systems of social injustice. Our transition to representative democracy and to a Constitution which affirms the equality of all is widely regarded as remarkable. Today, however, many South Africans are still trapped by the continuing legacy of our apartheid past; they experience indignity, disrespect and a lack of security in their daily lives. 

Yet, we are inextricably linked to and inseparable from one another. Our lives are one with the eternal life force of the universe. The Lotus Sutra affirms the profundity of our relationship with all living beings, and that it is through our relations with others that we attain the life-state of Buddhahood — or character of the highest quality. 

Daisaku Ikeda, the third founding president of the Soka Gakkai, a community-based Buddhist organisation, was a Buddhist philosopher, peacebuilder, educator, author and poet. In one of his final essays, he shared the concept and philosophy of ubuntu with all Soka Gakkai organisations in the world. He wrote: “This teaching of Nichiren Buddhism resonates deeply with the African wisdom of ubuntu, a philosophy emphasising compassion, inner goodness and the interconnectedness of all people that says, ‘I am because you are.’” 

Photo 2024 M G Western Cape 2
Community: Members of the Soka Gakkai International in the Western Cape attend a Friendship Day to celebrate connection and compassion through art and culture.

Yet here in South Africa, ubuntu is being lost, marginalised and diminished. It is being replaced by values that promote hierarchy, difference and separation in a transactional approach to life. 

The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people equally possess the potential for Buddhahood. No one should mistake humbleness for weakness or lack of ability, although those whose values are rooted in arrogance think in that manner. Philosophies based on hierarchy and separation, philosophies of entitlement each lead to the greater suffering of the whole. 

 The essence of the life force of the universe, is love, is goodness. Having this understanding changes our experience of life in each moment, enabling one not only to endure, but to experience joy despite the difficulties one might be facing. Each moment has infinite potential for joy as well as for suffering.

Evil is an inseparable aspect of life. Each day we have the choice of which path we will follow. We can overcome our lesser selves and move out of a narrow, limited state of life into a deeper, more expansive existence through a process we term human revolution — our personal drama of self-reformation — in which we overcome our arrogance and live with gratitude. 

Unless it is put into practice, philosophy is nothing more than an intellectual game. The human revolution of individuals striving to recognise and overcome their attraction to fundamental negativity can be each of our creative contributions to changing the destiny of humankind. To stand firm in our self-worth and dignity contributes to the transformation of the human experience on Earth.

In the face of the problems we experience in South Africa we can give up, we can stand back or we can tackle them head on. Three different choices leading to three different futures.

We are all connected. We each have a mission. Together we can change South Africa. As we expand the circle of friendship and dialogue, we expand the space of comfort and security. Through each individual’s growing spiritual awareness we become a countervailing force to corrupt systems. 

Together we are stronger. Remember the grit, the pulling together, the indomitable will, the sacrifice, the global solidarity that resulted in the great victory for humanity when we were able to change our governing system 30 years ago. It is our legacy as South Africa. 

Let us each arise into our sovereignty as the ordinary people of South Africa. The time is now to deepen the bonds of trust and friendship we share with others and to bring forth all our wisdom and strength for the welfare of our communities. 

Loren Braithwaite Kabosha is the general director of Soka Gakkai International South Africa.