Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 11: What Is Human Revolution? [11.3]

11.3 Human Revolution—A Concept of Key Importance for the 21st Century

Responding to a question from a high school student, President Ikeda explains human revolution in an accessible fashion.

Human revolution is not something unusual or special. For example, say that one day a boy who is always playing and never studies makes the decision, “From now on, I’m going to study” or tells himself, “I’m going to make efforts for the sake of my future.” When he does that, he is engaging in human revolution.

Let’s say a mother is only concerned about the welfare of her own family. Then, one day, she says to herself: “There’s no way of knowing that our present happiness will continue forever. I’m going to seek a more permanent kind of happiness.” Then, through her Buddhist faith and practice, she becomes a powerful support for her entire family. That’s human revolution for that mother.

Suppose there’s a father who only thinks about himself, his own family, and his friends. Then, one day, he decides to take a step beyond that limited realm of concern and reach out with compassion to those who are ill or suffering, to find a way to enable them to lead happy lives. That is the father’s human revolution.

In other words, human revolution is opening your eyes wide and looking beyond your ordinary concerns, striving for and dedicating your actions to something higher, deeper, and broader.

Someone who at first may seem to be a hopeless case can, by achieving a major self-transformation through their Buddhist practice, become an inspiration to countless others.

Also, times when you are suffering intensely, when you don’t know what to do or which way to turn, can become important opportunities for making great strides in your human revolution.

If you tend to be easily discouraged, just refresh your determination each time that happens. People who are resolved to see problems as opportunities and keep trying again and again, forging ahead with unflagging optimism, will definitely succeed in their human revolution.

Our lives as human beings are a complex fabric of many factors—our personalities, habits, karma, and family connections among them—in which we can easily become entangled and unable to free ourselves. People spend their days fussing and fretting about immediate, minor problems, and before they know it, their lives are over. Many end their lives still trapped in the cycle of the six paths, or lower six worlds—that is, the worlds of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, and heavenly beings.1

Human revolution is a revolution in our actions and behavior. It means to purposefully engage in behavior that is grounded in compassion, in actions that break free from the cycle of the six paths and bring us to the worlds of bodhisattvas and Buddhas.

When human revolution spreads to the family, the country, and the world, it becomes a noble and bloodless revolution for peace.

There are many kinds of revolutions—political, economic, industrial, scientific, and artistic; there are revolutions in the distribution of goods and services, in communications, and countless other spheres. Each is significant in its own way, and sometimes necessary. But whatever changes are made, if the people implementing them are selfish and lack compassion, they won’t improve the world. Human revolution is the most fundamental revolution, and indeed the most essential revolution for humankind.

Human revolution will be a primary focus for the world in the future. It is the spiritual basis for orienting everything in a new and positive direction, including our views of life, society, and peace. I believe that human revolution will be a concept of key importance for the 21st century.

“Revolution” means to turn things around. It signifies a sudden, radical change.

The natural process is for people to grow little by little, with the passage of time. Human revolution is a step beyond that gradual process, propelling us rapidly in a positive direction. And while it is a rapid improvement, it is also growth that continues throughout our lives. There is no end point. And our Buddhist practice is the engine, the driving force, for our human revolution.

There are countless books of moral teachings that have existed for thousands of years. There are also self-help and inspirational books, but achieving human revolution or changing our karma cannot be realized through words alone.

The Soka Gakkai has consistently followed the path not of abstract arguments but of actual human revolution—transforming our minds, orienting them in the direction of supreme goodness in our real lives through concrete action.

Fundamentally, human revolution is achieved by uniting with the life of the Buddha. Through attaining the “fusion of reality and wisdom”2 with the Buddha, the power for self-transformation wells up within us.

Only human beings have the ability to seek growth and self-improvement. We have the capacity to consciously change the direction of our lives, to enrich and deepen our lives instead of just allowing them to flow on aimlessly.

People tend to view the way to greatness as rising within the ranks of society. But human revolution is bettering ourselves in a more profound, inner way. It also has an eternal aspect. It is far superior to mere social advancement.

Human beings always remain human beings; we can’t transform ourselves into some higher being. That’s why the most important thing is to transform ourselves as human beings. We can try to adorn ourselves with fame, social status, academic credentials, knowledge, or money, but if we are impoverished in terms of our own humanity, our lives remain poor and empty inside.

What matters is who we are when all the external things are stripped away; who we are as ourselves. Human revolution is transforming that inner core, our lives, our selves.

Shakyamuni was a prince, but he abandoned all the trappings of his royal status to seek the truth about life. That was his human revolution. Nichiren Daishonin also openly declared himself to be of the lowest social rank in his day, “the son of a chandala family” (WND-1, 202).

Human beings fought two world wars in the 20th century. Hundreds of millions of people experienced hellish suffering. What was the cause? If we ponder that, we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that human beings themselves must change—that we must transform ourselves into beings of compassion.

Today, many are concerned about a new rise in nationalism and authoritarianism. The great tragedy of World War II that occurred just a half century ago is being forgotten. That’s why the presence of the Soka Gakkai, an unwavering proponent of peace, is so important.

Second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda spent two years in prison during World War II, standing firm against Japanese militarism. This is what inspired me to join the Soka Gakkai. It made me decide that I could trust him. I didn’t know anything about Buddhism. I had faith in Mr. Toda as a human being. And walking the path of oneness of mentor and disciple with him has been my path of human revolution.

From Discussions on Youth, published in Japanese in March 1999.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.

  • *1The worlds of hell, hungry spirits, animals, asuras, human beings, and heavenly beings are known as the six paths, or the six lower worlds, while the worlds of voice-hearers, cause-awakened ones, bodhisattvas, and Buddhas are known as the four noble worlds. Together they are referred to as the Ten Worlds. They are also referred to as the ten life states of hell, hunger, animality, anger, humanity, heaven, learning, realization, bodhisattva, and Buddhahood.
  • *2Fusion of reality and wisdom: The fusion of the objective reality or truth and the subjective wisdom to realize that truth, which is the Buddha nature inherent within one’s life.