Education & Philosophy

What Do We Mean By Buddhist Humanism?

Participants engage in dialogue at the 2018 Ikeda Forum

Icebreaker activity at the 2018 Ikeda Forum

We often state that our work is inspired by Buddhist humanism as presented by Daisaku Ikeda. That’s a suggestive phrase, but needs some unpacking to understand its nuance.

In his opening lecture at the 2009 Ikeda Forum, Dr. Steven Rockefeller explored this topic in detail. Drawing connections with the pragmatic philosophy of John Dewey, he made a few key points. First, this humanist approach is based on “deep respect for the dignity and equal worth” of every person. Next, it is concerned with “the problems of people and with human development both individual and social.” And third, it “involves a basic faith in the possibilities of human nature and the capacity of human beings to deal with the challenges of life.” Thus, the concern for Ikeda is not solely with Buddhism as an end itself, but also with what the principles of Buddhism can contribute to “realizing the ideal possibilities of human existence.”

Or, as Ikeda frequently expresses it, “religion exists to serve people; people do not exist to serve religion.” What this means, says Rockefeller, is that Buddhist humanism staunchly rejects “authoritarianism, dogmatism, and exclusivism.” Nevertheless, Ikeda insists that, because of core understandings of life as ever in flux and characterized by interdependence Buddhism is uniquely well suited to contribute to the evolution of a more peaceful world. In particular, writes Dr. Jason Goulah, if we apply Daisaku Ikeda’s Buddhist philosophy to our efforts for the good of all humans and the world we share, we can identify four main commitments: to dialogue, to global citizenship, to value creation, and to creative coexistence.