Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 31: The Great Path to World Peace [31.4]

31.4 A New Humanism

In a lecture delivered in India, the birthplace of Buddhism, President Ikeda discusses the history and limitations of contemporary humanism and outlines the principles of a new humanism based on Buddhism.

In human society, it is the power of humanity, of humanism, that will exert the greatest, most profound force over the long term. What, however, is humanism, which has taken so many different forms?

The evolution of the idea of humanism can be analyzed from many different angles. Here, I would like first to note the tradition of individualistic humanism that developed in the West over the course of the Renaissance and the Protestant Reformation, becoming the foundational ethos of civil society in the modern era. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the contradictions and limitations of this mode of humanism became more evident, giving rise to the experiment of socialist humanism.

While these different forms of humanism succeeded in liberating humanity from its medieval thralldom to an absolute being, humanity thus liberated found itself trapped by its own egotism, by what Buddhism calls the “lesser self.” Humanity has fallen prey to the fickle dictates of desire. The ills that result take the form of the complex of problems now facing humanity: the unraveling of social and community ties, environmental degradation, the growing gap between rich and poor. . . . The depth of the crisis gripping our post-ideological world is powerfully symbolized by the emergence of a wide range of fundamentalisms.

What, then, can provide the motivating energy and inspiration to move beyond the present impasse? How can we initiate the work of creating a vibrant global civilization of peace?

Here I would like to propose a new humanism—one that takes a cosmological perspective on what it means to be human—as a way of transcending the limitations of humanism to date and guiding us out of our current predicament. My reason for making this proposal is this: Ideology, which in one form or another has been at the heart of modern humanism, tends to emphasize dualism and conflict, producing discrimination and rejection of others. Cosmologies, in contrast, tend to include and embrace others; tolerance is inherent in cosmology.

The dharma-based humanism that supported Ashoka’s reign is an excellent example of an embracing cosmology. It is succinctly expressed in the fundamental principles of his rule: non-killing and mutual respect.

While a discussion of the principle of non-killing should really include forms of life other than human beings, for the present instant I would like to assert the minimalist stance that humans should under no circumstance kill other humans. This, I believe, should be in the preambular paragraph of any charter that humanity might choose to adopt in the 21st century.

History has been stained by too much blood shed in the name of “justice.” The French Revolution, for example, is a seminal event in the development of the modern tradition of humanism, and yet how many innocent people lost their lives to the justice of the guillotine? Likewise, in carrying out the grand experiment of socialist humanism, its original intent was betrayed as tens of millions of lives were sacrificed. This, again, is one of the immovable historical facts of the 20th century.

Such suffering must never be repeated. Thus, the first provision of a new humanism must be an absolute injunction against the taking of human life. In whatever logic or rationale it may be cloaked, “justice” accompanied by violence is empty and false. As Rabindranath Tagore declared throughout his life, any god who demands living sacrifice is a false god.

What, then, is the underlying weakness of the kinds of humanism that have prevailed until now?

While this is not the time or place to attempt a complete and rigorous analysis, I would like to state simply that the fundamental failure of humanism to date has been a failure to fully believe in people and to trust them.

Thus we understand the importance of Ashoka’s second policy, of mutual respect. When mistrust of humanity is directed against oneself, one experiences disempowerment. When directed against others, it takes the form of the refusal of dialogue and, ultimately, violence. Mistrust breeds mistrust. Hatred breeds more hatred. How can this deadly cycle be broken? Here I believe we need to call forth what might be termed a holistic, or even cosmological, humanism, one that regards the life of the individual as extending out to and embracing the entire cosmos, and therefore meriting the most profound reverence.

In India this view has flowered in different forms over the millennia, from the sages of the Upanishads to the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

The Lotus Sutra, which stands at the pinnacle of the teachings of Gautama Buddha, represents the ultimate crystallization of this philosophy. This is because it teaches people to abandon their attachment to difference, and urges them to awaken to the “great earth of life” which supports us all. When we stand on that common ground, difference ceases to be the cause of conflict, but instead serves to enrich our experience of life.

From a lecture titled “A New Humanism for the Coming Century,” at the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, India, October 21, 1997.

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