Stuart Rees Preface

Peace, Justice, and the Poetic Mind

A commitment to Buddhism through art, music, poetry, photography, and other art forms has been a significant feature of Daisaku Ikeda’s life and leadership. Such a multidimensional way of thinking and living has contributed not only to personal fulfillment but, more important, has encouraged millions of others to engage in activities that enhance everyone’s sense of freedom and fulfillment.

In the following twelve conversations between Dr. Ikeda and myself, we refer to such a way of “thinking and living” as the philosophy of peace and the poetic mind. Before sketching the book’s contents, I’ll make two simple points about the links between peace and poetry.

First, if peace only means a ceasefire in a war or an end to violence in domestic disputes, it is unlikely to have much lasting effect on human rights and on the quality of life of the people involved. But if peace negotiators used their imagination, they could focus on peace with justice, not simply peace. That is a crucial distinction. Striving for peace with justice depends, among other things, on exploring context, country and culture, individual needs and aspirations, and an appreciation of nonviolence.

That brings me to my second point—the value of poetry. In common with other art forms, poetry strives to convey meaning that enables readers and listeners to realize ideas and possibilities that they may have never previously imagined. The poetic mind cannot tell people what to do but can excite and motivate. The poetic mind cannot claim to have answers, but thinking poetically begins to realize human potential because it depends on humor and insight plus a willingness to laugh at oneself and to ponder life’s wonders, cruelties, and absurdities. Such a way of thinking and writing brings us, inevitably, to peace with justice.

We start our dialogue with an exchange about the courage needed to take a stand on issues of war and peace, on questions about justice and human rights. In this respect, we follow that wonderful challenge made by the late Stéphane Hessel, French freedom fighter, concentration camp survivor, diplomat, and co-architect, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the age of ninety-three, Hessel wrote the bestselling book Time for Outrage! He insisted that to express outrage about injustice was a crucial life force and the means of staying in touch with one’s humanity. The alternative, he said, was indifference.

Our dialogue stays in touch with humanity by opposing violence of all kinds, in particular by advocating the creation of a world without nuclear weapons. President Ikeda’s annual peace messages have appealed for the creation of an international nuclear disarmament agency. We discuss ways to respond to his appeal as a national and international priority for any individuals or groups concerned with promoting peace with justice.

Our dialogue about the philosophy, language, and practice of nonviolence refers not only to the cultural heritage of Buddhism but also to a respect for views derived from all religions and from citizens with no religious beliefs. Such understanding and tolerance is the core of that humanist orientation of peace linked to poetry.

The philosophy and practice of nonviolence are expressed not merely through the spoken or written word. They can be seen in the way we care for children, the mentally ill, the homeless, the frail elderly, asylum seekers, and refugees. In Mahatma Gandhi’s terms, nonviolence is a “law for life.” It is also expressed in the way we dress, the manner of decorating our homes, the music we enjoy, the poetry we read, and the hospitality we offer to others.

Protecting and preserving a precious natural environment is another feature of nonviolence. Such a goal could be a political priority for all the world’s peoples. Indifference to environmental destruction, or to the possession of nuclear weapons, would be a reason for protest.

A common theme in our dialogue concerns the need to respect the dignity of all human beings and all living things. Such a goal is shown in all thirty clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is why we place great faith in “education to nurture a culture of human rights.”

All these deliberations lead to views about individual peace of mind and to perspectives on education, on the conduct of business, and on the crafting of social and foreign policies. Such views and perspectives depend on the dominance of altruism over egoism, which is another way of describing the philosophy of peace and the poetic mind.

Stuart Rees
Hyams Beach, New South Wales, Australia

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