Harmony Without Uniformity

Thoughts on Conviction 7:
"Interdependence Forms the Crux of the 21st Century Worldview"

By John Berthrong

The Ikeda Center's seventh core conviction focuses on a principle found in almost all Buddhist and Confucian worldviews, namely the belief in the interdependence of all the things and events of the world. Although not a Buddhist, I have always been struck by the immensely rewarding appeal of the conviction of interdependence. Moreover, as a student of Chinese philosophy and contemporary Western process philosophy, I have been taught by these traditions of the wisdom of the Buddhist insight into the interconnections that constitute our world. There are times when we all yearn for this insight to become actualized in the international relations of a world of seemingly endless conflict.

As we all know China has dramatically opened to the world over the past three decades. I have been struck by one turn of phrase I have read and heard over and over again in the various conferences I attend frequently now in China. It is classic quote from the Analects of Confucius (Kongzi). It reads he er butong 不同, and can be translated or paraphrased as "harmony without uniformity." It is an insight that expresses a number of themes that vary with the occasion, whether academic or diplomatic. First and foremost it articulates Kongzi’s conviction that we can seek a just and peaceful harmony between and among human beings without a strict demand for any kind of essential uniformity controlling a flourishing human society. The philosophical point, that harmony does not demand complete uniformity, is something Buddhism also understands so well through its doctrine of dependent origination.

Many of my Chinese colleagues believe that this is a critical insight for personal, professional, economic, political and international relations in the twenty-first century. I believe they are correct. The world would be so much more amicable place if we were to believe in harmony without uniformity. Even more, the world would be a much more peaceful place if we could find ways to operationalize this hallowed Buddhist and Confucian insight.

I have had the pleasure of working with the staff and programs of the Ikeda Center even before it moved into its wonderful current home. One thing has always struck me about all the publications, programs and events of the Ikeda Center: they all embody Master Kong’s insight. The Ikeda Center has encouraged a multitude of dialogues that have embodied a profound sense of harmony without any kind of restrictive uniformity. In fact, of there is one word I would use to describe the Ikeda Center it is dialogical. The Center encourages conversation as a necessary means and ideal that needs to be practiced in the complicated and conflicted world of the twenty-first century. The Ikeda Center’s vision of a harmony without uniformity has been embodied in programs about art, public policy, philosophy, gender relations, ecology, international relations and a host of other topics all aimed at increasing the chance for a twenty-first century dedicated to the peace and freedom of all people, and in fact, the whole creation. The Ikeda Center is a wonderful example of how the vision of the humane harmony of just interdependence can be fostered by committed people from around the world.

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Dr. John Berthrong is Associate Dean for Academic and Administrative Affairs and Associate Professor of Comparative Theology at the Boston University School of Theology. His books include All Under Heaven: Transforming Paradigms in Confucian-Christian Dialogue.

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