Daisaku Ikeda,
For the Sake of Peace -- Seven Paths to
Global Harmony: A Buddhist Perspective

(Middleway, 2001)

Daisaku Ikeda is the president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), an NGO associated with the United Nations that strives for the achievement of world peace on Buddhist principles. In For the Sake of Peace he summarizes the philosophy -- or better, ideology -- on which his peace proposals are based.

In order to grasp Ikeda's stand it is necessary to have some basic understanding of where he and SGI fit in with the Japanese Buddhist tradition. Soka Gakkai is -- in the context of the history of Buddhism -- a very recent phenomenon. This controversial organization was founded only in 1930 by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi (1871-1943), a dissident who refused to subjugate to the mandatory worship of Shinto deities, which was prevalent in pre-war Japan. As a result he was imprisoned and died in captivity. After the war Makiguchi's successor Toda Josei resuscitated Soka Gakkai and now, under its third president, it boasts more than 12 million members worldwide. It is hard to find a balanced appreciation of Soka Gakkai. Some critics, accusing it of being overly nationalistic and overly zealous in its missionary activities, do not even accept it as a Buddhist entity. The allegations of nationalism seem strangely at odds with the views expressed in For the Sake of Peace.

Soka Gakkai has based its ideology on the teachings of a very influential medieval Buddhist: Nichiren (1222-1282), founder of a sociopolitical sect of the same name. It is therefore not surprising that Daisaku Ikeda makes repeated references to him. Nichiren's doctrine was a reaction against the growing otherworldliness and devotional piety of his contemporaries Honen and Shinran. Nichiren instead advocated that man's energies should be devoted to living a decent life in the present. In order to focus on the here and now, Nichiren drew his inspiration from meditations on the so-called Lotus Sutra, one of the most important texts of Mahayana Buddhism. In this respect, Nichiren -- in turn -- was following an even earlier Japanese Buddhist guru, Saicho (767-822). Like this predecessor, Nichiren spent years in isolated meditation on Mount Hiei and would subsequently distinguish himself by his organizational skills and nationalistic views. At present Nichiren Buddhism has some 40 million adherents and is thus the single largest main form of Japanese Buddhism.

While Ikeda does not express any of the explicitly nationalistic views that seem to run like a red thread from Saicho via Nichiren to Makiguchi, he and his organization do advocate a form of engaged Buddhism. Instead of following the Eightfold Path of the original Buddhist canon, the author recommends "Seven Paths to Global Harmony."

Readers not well versed in Buddhist teachings may find surprisingly few explicit and direct references to Buddhism in the first four chapters of the book. In identifying the first three paths towards peace, Ikeda appears to draw more on western traditions than on Buddhism. In the paths of "Self-Mastery," "Dialogue and Tolerance" and "Community," we encounter figures like Plato, Leonardo da Vinci, Michel Montaigne, Gabriel Marcel, Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, literary giants such as Dostoewsky, Rabindranath Tagore, and even the Kyrgyz novelist Chingiz Aitmatov. Only those already acquainted with Buddhism will be able to recognize the "Buddhist tendencies" in the views of these thinkers and writers.

It is not until halfway through chapter 5 titled "The Path of Culture," after discussions of the thought of historian Arnold Toynbee, the Palestinian literary critic Edward Said, as well as Martin Luther King and Albert Schweitzer, that we are introduced in more detail to Ikeda's great inspirer, Nichiren.

That does not mean that the first half of the book is not worthwhile. If anything it shows the reader that numerous strands of western thought are compatible with certain key ideas of the Buddhist tradition. Ikeda has, for example, some very valid things to say about the importance of language -- an issue that was recognized by Plato and Nichiren alike. Personally I was charmed by the reasoning expounded in "The Path of Dialogue and Tolerance." The true meaning and importance of these two concepts are illustrated by references to the Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, as a "peerless master of dialogue" by virtue of the fact that "his life was completely untrammeled by dogma." Ikeda then proceeds by making some unexpected connections with Montaigne, Gabriel Marcel, Henri Bergson, and Stefan Zweig.

The chapters "The Path of Culture" and "The Path of Global Awareness" are definitely Buddhist in tone. Most important are the explanations given of the Buddhist views on "good" and "evil" and the concept of time. Key to understanding these is to let go of dialectic or binary thinking. Buddhism takes "good" and "evil" not as opposite poles but accepts that one contains the other. The true aspect of life is namely that it is in an incessant flux. This bears a close relation to the doctrine of "Dependent Origination" through which Buddhism explains both the workings of the universe and the "human condition." Briefly summarized this doctrine states that results manifested in the future are shaped by the inner motivations of our present actions. This in turn has implications for the Buddhist view of time and causality which is referred to as "simultaneity of cause and effect."

Although Daisaku Ikeda has succeeded in underscoring the notion that Buddhism is decidedly humanist, there are nevertheless some inconsistencies in his reasoning. For example, as mentioned earlier, Buddhism takes "good" and "evil" as relative and transmutable. But in his passionate plea for a complete nuclear disarmament, Ikeda -- like his predecessor Toda Josei -- seems to contradict this by describing nuclear weapons as "evil incarnate" and "absolute evil." This brings us to the main flaw of For the Sake of Peace. Ikeda is quite apt at explaining Buddhist intellectual discourse, illustrating it with most interesting -- and even surprising -- cross-references to western tradition. However, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of transforming the international arena his proposals are utopian. But maybe that is exactly what is needed to achieve a true transformation of global relations.

[ by Carool Kersten ]
Rambles: 14 September 2002

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