Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 11: What Is Human Revolution? [11.8]
11.8 A Process of Unending Inner Transformation and Self-Improvement
Human revolution is one of the major themes of President Ikeda’s dialogue with cofounder of the Club of Rome Aurelio Peccei. This section introduces several aspects of human revolution that President Ikeda discussed in the dialogue.
The term “human revolution” was first employed in the context of the Soka Gakkai by its second president, Josei Toda. President Toda was imprisoned during World War II by the militarist Japanese government authorities for his steadfast practice of Nichiren Buddhism. During his incarceration, he had a profound religious awakening, which led him to decide to dedicate his life to propagating Nichiren Buddhism. Mr. Toda called this inner transformation that he experienced “human revolution.”
After the war, he elaborated on his experience, referring to the example of the main character in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. The novel’s hero undergoes a transformation from a pure-hearted youth to a man burning with the desire to bring to justice those who had wronged him. That is his human revolution. Mr. Toda’s personal human revolution was becoming a man burning with the determination to lead all people to happiness by propagating the correct teaching of Buddhism. It was a transformation from a life based on self-interest to a life based on a firmly held conviction. In our case, that conviction is, fundamentally, to propagate Nichiren Buddhism, which is inextricably linked to empowering others to become happy.
Buddhism also teaches establishing a state of self-mastery free from the domination of selfish desires and instinctual impulses, and having attained that state, living in cooperation and harmony with others, feeling compassionate concern for all life, and acting for the happiness and welfare of all people. The fundamental issue for all practitioners of Buddhism is transforming and perfecting the self with the aim of becoming such a human being. The complete achievement of that ideal is called “attaining Buddhahood,” and human revolution is the process of engaging in Buddhist practice toward realizing that ultimate aim.
Generally speaking, in the history of humankind—and since the dawn of the modern age, in particular—it has come to be believed that the key to human happiness lies in transforming our external world, our natural environment or our social systems, and this has been the primary focus. In the process, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that little thought has been devoted to transforming the way we live our lives, and efforts to regulate and control the inner workings of our hearts and minds have been depreciated or dismissed. But today, the task of transforming and elevating our inner, spiritual world has grown increasingly important. We call that effort human revolution.
We human beings are easily influenced by life’s inherent impulses, the three poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness. We are fragile beings, like tiny vessels on a wild sea that are easily swayed or swamped by the powerful waves of destiny and karma. Just as a great storm may sweep a small boat to some uncharted destination, we are often impelled to act in ways that defy reason, allowing short-term self-interest to undermine our very survival. For example, though we know rationally that we must care for and preserve our environment, we destroy and pollute it for immediate gain. Or to give another example, though rationally we wish for peace, we allow insecurity and fear to drive us to fortify our military arsenals, creating the opportunity for a minor incident to trigger a great and terrible war. Things of this sort have occurred repeatedly in history.
In order to protect ourselves from such forces of impulse, as well as the forces of destiny that drive individuals and societies at an even deeper level—like invisible ocean currents overwhelming and carrying away a fragile craft—we must possess a powerful commitment to humanism.
Buddhism teaches that a vast and powerful entity, the “great self” of the universe in its entirety, exists deep in the innermost being of each individual. It calls that entity the Buddha nature, and teaches how we can open and manifest our Buddha nature and demonstrate its power in our actual lives and actions.
Needless to say, living in the real world as we do, none of us is perfect. Those who achieve their human revolution have not attained perfection, either. Human revolution entails a clear awakening to our purpose in life, followed by the effort to approach the state of perfection a little at a time, keeping that purpose clearly in mind. Human revolution is not a final goal that can be realized; rather, it is a change in the course, the direction of our lives.
As a result, at any fixed point in time, those striving for human revolution will naturally have faults and deficiencies, just as all people do, and may appear no different from others. But on the inside, those engaged in human revolution are completely different from the people they were before they embarked on this spiritual adventure, and over the long term, their differences from others will become apparent. This is our conception of the process of human revolution.
From Before It Is Too Late, published in Japanese in October 1984.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.