Ikeda's Humanistic Vision

This is an introductory reflection on the Center's theme for 2009, "Humanizing Our Lives, Humanizing Our World." It makes three main points: etc etc


One of founder Daisaku Ikeda’s enduring messages, which the Ikeda Center will focus on this year, is the need to build a new humanism for a new era. For Ikeda, most of our current societal problems are rooted in our willingness to elevate ideology over human health and happiness, as well as in the widespread sense of disconnection that engenders insensitivity to the sufferings of others. The new humanism Ikeda advocates is not just a philosophy, but also a way of being in the world. It is founded, on the one hand, upon a belief in the infinite potential of each human being, and, on the other, in a desire to contribute to global well being. Thus the active framing of the Center’s focus for 2009: “Humanizing Our Lives, Humanizing Our World.”

Throughout the year, we will be investigating a number of related questions, including: What are the attitudes we might hold, and what are the actions we can take, that would make our world – and our lives – more human? Can a deeper faith in the potential of the self for positive growth spark a more enduring compassion for others, indeed for all of humanity and the environment supporting us?

Ikeda’s writings consistently explicate the many dimensions of this dynamic humanism. For instance, in his 1993 Harvard lecture, “Mahayana Buddhism and 21st Century Civilization” (which we consider the “founding lecture” for the Center), he emphasized the challenge of restoring and reviving the human person. Why this need to restore and revive? Because the sad truth is that we witness the negative effects of dehumanization in too many aspects of the world today. For example, many sociological studies have documented the psychological “numbing” that occurs among children and adults in societies waging wars. What can we as individuals and as a society do to combat such dehumanization?

Ikeda’s founding lecture advocates a thoroughgoing sense of personal responsibility, which inevitably radiates outward through the web of life. If we confront each of our personal problems and daily challenges “with our full being, awakening the entirety of our consciousness and leaving no inner resource untapped,” he contends, then we will bring forth from inside ourselves overflowing wisdom, courage and compassion, “the three inherent properties of the Buddha.”

The challenges in this time of upheaval and change are in many ways unique. Still, the Center holds that a new humanism should be informed by a deeper understanding of our own American philosophical heritage, particularly as found in the Transcendentalism of the American Renaissance and the philosophical thinking of John Dewey. Taken together with Buddhist philosophy, these philosophies can help us meet the challenge of re-humanizing our culture and leavening our influence on the world.

For example, central to Buddhist thought is the notion of the “greater self,” which transcends the egoism of the “lesser self.” In the founding lecture, Ikeda finds resonance between this idea and the Transcendentalist idea of “the eternal One,” as articulated by Emerson, who spoke of “the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related.” For Ikeda, these notions “are another expression for the kind of openness and expansiveness that embraces the sufferings of all people as one’s own.” One need only think of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to see that the individualism put forth during the American Renaissance was never meant to isolate us from the experiences of our fellows.

Another recurring theme for Ikeda is the connection between Buddhist humanism and the ideas of Dewey. In the founding lecture, he cites Dewey’s seminal A Common Faith, offering a vision of what it means to develop our capacity as self-reliant individuals. He points to the humanizing task of creating positive value – especially as realized in the Deweyan ideals of art, education, fellowship, friendship, love, and growth in mind and body, those things that make human existence so rich and rewarding.

More than anything, perhaps, it is Dewey’s insistence that we realize ourselves through our social interactions – including difficult experiences – that resonates with Ikeda’s vision. Ikeda Center friend Jim Garrison, professor of philosophy of education at Virginia Tech, observes that for both Dewey and Ikeda, “obstacles call out our capacity for creative response that not only transforms the world, but the self in the process.” If this is true, then these particularly challenging times could be our greatest opportunity to become creatively and compassionately human.


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