Humanism and the Buddha
By Daisaku Ikeda

Civilisation faces a crisis. In order to cope with this crisis, all responsible people, of whatever faith or creed, must evolve a new conceptual and ethical strategy in which respect for human life and civilised values and responsibility toward the Earth we live on combine with a programme of constructive action.
As a Japanese Buddhist, I must ask myself what contribution Oriental Buddhist philosophy and practice can make to the evolution of a new humanist ideal, as part of a general and necessary exchange between Eastern and Western traditions. The problems we face today - Third World poverty, the nuclear arms race, arms spending in general, the destruction of the environment, aggressive nationalism, and many more besides - are truly global in nature and demand a united approach to their solutions. We must strive to understand the values in each other's traditions in order to find a "common language". So, before I can assess the contribution that Buddhism can make, I have to think first of the nature of European humanism, which I believe has many strengths but also some important weaknesses.
Meetings with Remarkable Men
I gained my own perceptions of what was, to me, an alien tradition through a series of conversations - or "dialogues", as I call them - with several European intellectuals. Of course, these dialogues could not convey to me every nuance of every one of countless schools of thought, but they allowed me to try to understand the essence of the traditional European spirit of humanism - to see the wood rather than the trees, as it were. These dialogues took place, individually, with Arnold Toynbee, Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, Aurelio Peccei, René Huyge and Bryan Wilson. Although each had made remarkable achievements in his respective field, all of them generously lent an ear to my opinions. Without exception, the dialogues became very lively, and we were totally oblivious of the passage of time. We discovered many more points of agreement than had initially seemed possible - a great merit of the use of dialogues. I know for certain that I, at least, "developed myself".
My dialogues with Toynbee, the British historian, took place in 1972 and 1973, when I visited his home in London. (A full account of our dialogues was later published as a book called Choose Life.) Sometimes criticised for his views by other historians, Toynbee dismissed the prevailing Europe-centred concept of history. His was a global view of history, and it was upon this view that he based his conclusions. These I regard as a courageous development of European thought.
During the many hours of our dialogues, what I experienced was his strong sense of responsibility, enthusiasm and absolute devotion to learning, using which he fervently sought for a reason to be hopeful about the future of mankind. He was intensely interested in the philosophy of Buddhism and, after our last meeting, I received a message from him saying: "I hope you will arouse a whirlpool of peace towards the 21 st century by holding every possible dialogue you can." He suggested further Europeans who might be interested in my approach.
I first met Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the great advocate of pan-Europeanism, in October 1967; we conducted another dialogue three years later, when he visited Japan for the second time. On the second occasion he predicted that the 21 st century would see the appearance of an Oriental philosophy that would give a lead to contemporary scientific trends and temper materialistic aims. Towards the end of his life Coudenhove-Kalergi envisaged great exchanges between East and West. (I heard, too, that he thought Buddhism would be the key to the realisation of his grand programme.) His dream was certainly due in part to the influence of his Japanese mother, but his own experiences in the two world wars played a major influence in the forming of his vision.
My first encounter with Aurelio Peccei, an initiator of the Club of Rome, took place in Paris in May 1975. The Limits of Growth, a report issued by the Club of Rome, had sent shockwaves throughout the world, awakening a renewed realisation that the natural resources humanity has so long been exploiting are limited, and calling for a necessary change in our way of thinking about our relationship with our environment. Our dialogues were published as Before It Is Too Late.
Peccei had long held the view that the industrial, scientific and technological revolution must be followed by an internal change in human beings: he called this the "humanitarian revolution". This realisation was born from his experiences during World War II, when he was imprisoned and tortured by the fascists for nearly a year. His commitment to the need for this inner reformation thus was not just ideological. He asked me to explain the difference between his "humanitarian revolution" and my concept of "human revolution" (see below), based on Buddhism, which, although it will undoubtedly lead to humanitarian actions, involves a total transformation of our inner selves. Once I had explained my concept, he stated that in future he would opt for the "human revolution". We were agreed that an inner revolution is necessary; for my own part, I feel this even more so now, looking at the stalemates evident everywhere around us.
My friendship with Rene Huyge of the French Academy has lasted almost a decade. He insists on the necessity of enhancing the human spirit through religion, and he shares my idea of "human revolution". Through looking towards the soul he seeks to know the ultimate reality of humanity and the universe. He seeks ways to resuscitate modern society by uncovering the universal value hidden - too often hidden - in the innermost depths of human life.
The last of these eminent men was Bryan Wilson, of All Souls College, Oxford; our dialogue was published as Human Values in a Changing World. He is severely critical of the sometimes negative and authoritative trends he finds in established religion, yet he still feels that religion is the sole source of that which makes us human. This strongly interested me, because in one respect our approaches to religion are different: he, as a scholar, analyses religion from an objective, analytic point of view, whereas I, as a believer, practise the teachings of Buddhism. However, both of us feel most emphatically that religion exists for humanity, not humanity for religion.
Western Roots
As I have implied, I am not in a position to form strong opinions about the European spirit of humanism, because I have no specialist knowledge of it. However, in the course of my conversations with these and other European intellectuals, I have come to understand something of its essence, which is shared by countless different streams of thought over the last 2,000 years or more. Humanism in this sense is not so much a specific system of thought as an attitude of mind and spirit which gives the greatest emphasis to, and places the greatest value on, humankind and its affairs. It incorporates a universal optimism concerning humanity with the will to strive for individual improvement - as well as for the improvement of society.
The fountainhead of European humanism is found in ancient Greece, during the time when the Greeks were breaking away from a myth-based view of the world. They became more conscious of and concerned about the importance of individual human action, and so the hold that their gods and myths had exercised gradually diminished. Classical Greece hosted, in the 5 th century BC, an almost miraculous flowering of the arts, most notably in sculptural representation of the human form; at the same time Athenian democracy flourishing under the even hand of Pericles (c495-429 BC) was radically egalitarian, but also the cause of the instability and warfare that finally ended the Golden Age of Greece.
However, the values of Greek humanism continued to shape the Mediterranean culture of the ancient world right up to the end of the Roman Empire in the West. Roman civilisation gave Europe its first experience of unity. After the Empire collapsed in the 5 th century AD, Europe eventually found a new source of unity in Christianity - a religion which had at its core a humanistic vision of the nobility and dignity of humankind as created by God. But the medieval Christian view held that humankind was a community underpinned by theology and the ecclesiastical system. Further, humanity was bound by a common destiny, a destiny decided by the Church.
This view was challenged during the Renaissance, with the revival of interest in the non-Christian Greek and Latin literature of the classical world. As people rediscovered classical humanism, the individual came to be seen once again as a free agent. To renaissance humanists like the Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), humankind's dignity was the supreme value, and humanity's place was indisputably at the centre of the world.
Renaissance humanism led people to see themselves as creative beings, not only independent of nature but capable of altering and reorganising it. And with the renaissance began the acceleration of the process of technological invention and development, a process which has now advanced to become the dominant force in shaping and changing the world.
There are two crucial aspects to the development of European humanism. On the one hand, its dynamism has allowed astonishing cultural achievements in social institutions, the arts, sciences and technology. On the other hand, the individualism at the heart of this tradition, allied with the advance of technology, is a force for materialism, and for fragmented competitiveness both between individuals and between nations. This more negative aspect is undoubtedly central to many of the world's greatest problems. At the moment, for example, the world's governments spend over three times as much money on the military as they do on development - yet we already possess enough nuclear weapons to annihilate ourselves many times over. And, tragically, it seems to be the general rule that, the poorer a country, the worse the disproportion between its military and development budgets. Another major world problem, the matter of environmental destruction and dwindling resources, stems from the same roots. Nobody can deny that humankind, through the enormous power of innumerable technological advances, now exerts a significant measure of influence on the delicate natural balance of the biosphere. Little of this influence is benign.
The fact that we are spending three times as much on destruction as on constructing a better world is eloquent testimony to a fundamental distortion in our worldwide civilisation. We must try to find some way of eliminating the distortion, because, unless our civilisation is reoriented for the true benefit of humankind, we are doomed to self-destruction.
A New Concept in Humankind
There are those who argue that we shall be able to overcome all our global difficulties through technological advance - an outward-directed solution. I prefer to believe that the true and necessary revolution is spiritual and inward-directed. Until people can re-evaluate civilisation from a less selfish and materialistic viewpoint, they will find it hard to identify the sources of renewal and enrichment which form the basis of a better, more positive future for the human race as a whole. Certainly, there are specific problems which must be solved - and solved quickly - through the use of technology. However, this is only a piecemeal approach. It is crucial that we should start to view the whole complex of our problems in its entirety and then, from our fresh perspective, to work for fundamental reform. And my personal opinion is that a new concept of humankind must result from such a reform - a concept that will be indispensable to our descendants in the 21 st century.
There are four elements which I believe must be incorporated in this new concept. The first three represent the aims of all people, in both East and West, who seek for a better future for our species. The fourth, however, is perhaps rather more Oriental in its approach, drawing upon a different philosophical tradition. Other people might, of course, produce a different "shopping list", but this is mine.
First of all, this concept must emphasise the oneness of humankind and nature. We are not independent, self-sufficient beings but a part of the natural world, where all forms of animal and plant life depend on each other for existence.
Second, it must unequivocally assert the equality of all people, transcending the racial and cultural discrimination that persists today.
Third, any such concept must regard violence - whether individual, collective or national - as an absolute evil. Due to the development of technology, we have acquired an unprecedentedly great power to wound and kill each other. The only way to escape annihilation is to abjure all violence.
Finally - and here is where we are most concerned with looking inwards - our concept must insist on the need to sublimate human desires. Instead of seeking to attain only material wealth for humankind, we should maintain a balance between material and spiritual richness so that humankind as a whole may progress in a spirit of cooperation and harmony.
Humanism in Action
The question at this juncture is how such a concept, together with a code of behaviour based on it, can become the major trend of our times; my conviction is that it will be through the application of the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282).
There is a marked difference between Eastern and Western streams of thought on the subject of nature. In the past, people in the West have tended to regard humanity as being in some way superior to nature, and even as owning nature. (This is a legacy of Renaissance humanism: medieval ideas were closer to Oriental ones.) In contrast, the traditional Oriental view is that humanity is a part of nature, and in no way in rivalry with it. It is tempting to say that the difference between the two attitudes originates in the wide disparity between the Oriental and Occidental views of life itself.
A Buddhist scripture speaks of two bundles of reeds standing against each other. They will continue to stand against each other - unless one falls, in which case they will both fall. This simple metaphor illustrates a profound truth. Buddhism explains that everything is in constant flux, and that nothing exists independently. All things are interrelated as they come into being and as they disappear. This principle is called "dependent origination" or "dependent causation".
Based on dependent origination is another Buddhist principle which clarifies the relationship between life and its environment. Termed esho funi in Japanese, it explains the oneness (esho) of living beings (shoho) and their surroundings (eho). The Western mind may regard humankind and nature as two separate, perhaps even irreconcilable, entities - although this attitude is less common than it once was. From the Buddhist viewpoint, however, the two entities interact in a dynamic yet inseparable relationship. Underlying this concept is a perception which may seem to defy logic. It is that the entire universe is a single vast living entity. In other words, as the generating and activating forces of cosmic life operate, they simultaneously bring into being both life and its environment. Even if on the surface these two might seem to be separate and independent, in fact they are one and the same.
This leads us to the understanding that changes which take place in a single life must, without fail, affect all other forms of life as well. Thus esho funi applies not only to the relationship between humankind and nature but also to that between person and person, between people and society - between all things that exist in the universe.
This concept has profound ethical implications. Notably, in emphasising the oneness of human beings and their environment, it means that profound compassion in human relations and unqualified respect for the sanctity of life are absolutely essential. Esho funi is not a concept which one can accept only in part: such ethical considerations as the aforementioned are integral to the concept by its very nature.
A Buddhist scripture states: "Life itself is the most precious of all treasures. Even the treasures of the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life." Underlying this statement is the belief that the life of every single individual inherently possesses the "Buddha nature" - that is, the potential to develop the same wisdom and mercy as the Buddha himself. In its more general view of the inherent dignity of life, Buddhism postulates no distinction whatsoever between humanity and any other form of life, such as animals and plants. In light of the concepts of dependent origination and esho funi, no fixed order of relative superiority can be assigned among any of the numberless forms of life.
But we must view this from another angle, too. So far as we know, there are no other creatures in the universe aside from ourselves who can develop the wisdom to grasp these very concepts of esho funi and dependent origination. No other creature can extend compassion towards all living beings. The Buddha is the Enlightened One who embodies this wisdom and compassion. The concept of the universal Buddha nature, therefore, holds that all human beings are endowed with the potential to attain true enlightenment; that is, to become Buddhas. Sadly, we generally fail to recognise that this potential lies within us, and so we limit ourselves to the superficialities of our self-centred lives.
The Nine Consciousnesses
One of the doctrines concerning the Buddha nature is that of the nine Consciousnesses. (The word "consciousness" is used here as a translation of the Sanskrit vijnana, which means the act of discriminating.) The first five Consciousnesses arise from the interaction of the five sense organs with the outer world. The sixth functions to integrate the sensory impressions received by the sense organs. These six Consciousnesses operate in the surface (conscious) regions of the mind.
The first six Consciousnesses, because of their interaction with the environment, are in a state of constant change, yet there is no discontinuity from one moment to the next. Because of this continuity, people think that they possess a self that is unchangeable, not just from moment to moment, but from year to year. We even think that this self oversees and controls the first six Consciousnesses. This function of the mind that produces the sense of a permanent self is called the seventh consciousness, or mano-consciousness. Mano means "thought" or "idea", and the seventh consciousness gets its name because it performs the act of thinking.
Even deeper in the mind is the eighth, alaya consciousness. Alaya means a "dwelling" or "receptacle", and the eighth consciousness is so named because all that one thinks, speaks and does from moment to moment is imprinted in this consciousness. Moreover, the collective impressions stored here determine the workings of the preceding seven Consciousnesses. In brief, the latent effects of one's karma (literally "action", defined as thought, speech and deed) are engraved in the alaya-consciousness, and in turn create causes for new karma. If we want to relate the alaya-consciousness to Western ideas, we can say that it roughly corresponds to what psychology calls the unconscious. It is, so to speak, the storehouse of those memories and images that do not surface to conscious awareness.
Finally, below the alaya-consciousness lies the amala-consciousness. It is so named because it remains eternally untainted by the results of one's karma (amala means "pure", "stainless" or "spotless"). The amala-consciousness is the true self in the ultimate depths of life.
The Human Revolution
To summarise, there are three main points, based on the law regulating all life, which characterise Oriental thought - or, to be more precise, Mahayana Buddhism. These are, first, humankind and nature are one; second, the Buddha nature is inherent in all life; and, third, we have the power to perceive our true selves through the inner workings of our minds.
In the light of these Buddhist principles, we need to consider contemporary humankind from a new perspective. Observing society today, we see that most people have lost sight of their inherent dignity and, swayed by instinctive impulses and desires, grow increasingly self-centred. They prey upon one another, and often their hatreds and prejudices are barely concealed. Buddhism teaches that this ugly aspect of human beings stems from the "three poisons" of greed, anger and stupidity. Unfortunately, these three poisons, like the Buddha nature, are inherent in human life. I think that it is because we have given these poisons free reign that we have brought about the present distorted condition of our civilisation: we exploit nature for our own ends, manipulate other people selfishly, and sacrifice the future for the present.
As well as spotlighting this evil aspect of human nature, the wisdom of Buddhism teaches that, when we develop the Buddha nature in the depths of our lives, we can control the workings of the three poisons and transform them into an influence for good. In short, from the Buddhist point of view, human dignity is not something static. It requires constant effort to challenge our evil side firmly and overcome it. Both the teaching and the practice of Buddhism enable one to reform and improve one's life in this way. The practice is called the action of "human revolution", or the development of Buddha nature.
I believe that the human revolution, based on the emergence of one's inherent Buddha nature, can arise only from Buddhist practice. Reforming the depths of our lives is rather like enriching the soil. The kind of crop we plant and cultivate in the depths of our beings will bear fruit in our concrete actions in daily life and in our society. Since, as we have seen, all life is united, then all life will be improved by our individual enrichment.
So our goal of human revolution cannot be achieved in a realm isolated from actual society, but is possible only through the interaction of our repeated efforts in both our religious practice and our social actions. I am firmly convinced that we can construct a fundamental and indestructible defence against the serious crises battering modern civilisation only when we acquire a spirit of tolerance and cooperation among ourselves and a harmonious attitude towards nature through challenging ourselves in this way.

Published as part of an advertisement for President Ikeda's recent publications in the UK newspaper The Guardian, Friday March 18 1988.