Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 14: “Be Good Citizens!” [14.8]

14.8 The Qualities of Global Citizens

To be a good citizen of our country is to be a global citizen. Here, President Ikeda discusses three essential elements of global citizenship—wisdom, courage, and compassion—and shines a light on the bodhisattva way of life that opposes divisiveness and aims for harmonious coexistence and unity.

What are the conditions for global citizenship?

Over the past several decades, I have been privileged to meet and converse with many people from all walks of life, and I have given the matter some thought. Certainly, global citizenship is not determined merely by the number of languages one speaks, or the number of countries to which one has traveled. I have many friends who could be considered quite ordinary citizens, but who possess an inner nobility; who have never traveled beyond their native place, yet who are genuinely concerned for the peace and prosperity of the world.

I think I can state with confidence that the following are essential elements of global citizenship:

  • The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life.
  • The courage not to fear or deny difference, but to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from encounters with them.
  • The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

The all-encompassing interrelatedness that forms the core of the Buddhist worldview can provide a basis, I feel, for the concrete realization of these qualities of wisdom, courage, and compassion. The following parable from the Buddhist canon provides a beautiful visual metaphor for the interdependence and interpenetration of all phenomena.

Suspended above the palace of Indra, the Buddhist god who symbolizes the natural forces that protect and nurture life, is an enormous net. A brilliant jewel is attached to each of the knots of the net. Each jewel contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality.

When we learn to recognize what Henry David Thoreau referred to as “the infinite extent of our relations,”1 we can trace the strands of mutually supportive life, and discover there the glittering jewels of our global neighbors. Buddhism seeks to cultivate wisdom grounded in this kind of empathetic resonance with all forms of life. In the Buddhist view, wisdom and compassion are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing. Compassion in Buddhism does not involve the forcible suppression of our natural emotions, our likes and dislikes. Rather, it is the realization that even those we dislike have qualities that can contribute to our lives, and can afford us the opportunity to grow in our own humanity. Further, it is the compassionate desire to find ways of contributing to the well-being of others that gives rise to limitless wisdom.

Buddhism teaches that both good and evil are potentialities that exist in all people. Compassion consists in the sustained and courageous effort to seek out the good in any person, whoever they may be, however they may behave. It means striving, through sustained engagement, to cultivate the positive qualities in oneself and in others. Engagement, however, requires courage. There are all too many cases in which compassion, owing to a lack of courage, remains mere sentiment. Buddhism calls a person who embodies these qualities of wisdom, courage, and compassion, who strives without cease for the happiness of others, a bodhisattva. In this sense, it could be said that the bodhisattva provides an ancient precedent and modern exemplar of the global citizen.

The Buddhist canon also includes the story of a contemporary of Shakyamuni, a woman by the name of Shrimala, who dedicated herself to education, teaching others that the practice of the bodhisattva consists in encouraging, with maternal care, the ultimate potential for good within all people. Her vow is recorded thus: If I see lonely people, people who have been jailed unjustly and have lost their freedom, people who are suffering from illness, disaster or poverty, I will not abandon them. I will bring them spiritual and material comfort.2

In concrete terms, her practice consisted of the following:

  • Encouraging others by addressing them with kindness and concern, through dialogue (Skt. priyavacana).
  • Giving alms, or providing people with the things they require (Skt. dana).
  • Taking action on behalf of others (Skt. artha-carya).
  • Joining with others, and working together with them (Skt. samanartha).

Through these efforts, Shrimala sought to realize her goal of bringing forth the positive aspects of those she encountered.

The practice of the bodhisattva is supported by a profound faith in the inherent goodness of people. Knowledge must be directed to the task of unleashing this creative, positive potential. This purposefulness can be likened to the skill that enables one to make use of the precision instruments of an airplane to reach a destination safely and without incident. For this reason, the insight to perceive the evil that causes destruction and divisiveness, and that is equally part of human nature, is also necessary. The bodhisattva’s practice is an unshrinking confrontation with what Buddhism calls the fundamental ignorance.3

“Goodness” can be defined as that which moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy, and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature. The pathology of divisiveness drives people to an unreasoning attachment to difference and blinds them to human commonalities. This is not limited to individuals, but constitutes the deep psychology of collective egoism, which takes its most destructive form in virulent strains of ethnocentrism and nationalism. The struggle to rise above such egoism and live in larger and more contributive realms of selfhood constitutes the core of the bodhisattva’s practice.

From a lecture at Columbia University Teachers College, “Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship,” U.S.A., June 13, 1996.

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

  • *1Henry David Thoreau, “The Village,” in Walden, The Selected Works of Thoreau, edited by Walter Harding (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975), p. 359.
  • *2See The Lion’s Roar of Queen Srimala: A Buddhist Scripture on the Tathagata-garbha Theory, translated by Alex Wayman and Hideko Wayman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), p. 65.
  • *3Fundamental ignorance: The most deeply rooted illusion inherent in life, said to give rise to all other illusions. The inability to see or recognize the truth, particularly, the true nature of one’s life.