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 和 而 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.
From Lou Marinoff, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at The City College of New York, founding president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, and author of the bestseller Plato Not Prozac!
As a corollary of Shakyamuni’s Second Noble Truth (which identifies suffering as the result of ignorance of truths such as impermanence) the doctrine of the interdependence of all phenomena has been known for a long time, especially by Buddhists. Globalization, however, has made this doctrine palpable to billions of people. The transcendence of global economic forces over local political ones has obliged us all to understand that no-one exists in isolation. That we are all connected economically and technologically can further compassionate causes, but can also be exploited by unscrupulous ones (such as predatory capitalism). It follows that globalization must include a component that teaches and implements the ethics of interconnectedness. This is vital to the morally wholesome evolution of the global village.