America, for all its promise and virtues, has been and remains a violent country. One has only to read its history and watch nightly news. Challenging that violence is an ongoing battle waged by people of goodwill from various religious faiths or strongly held humanistic convictions.
We ran an extensive article on gun violence in 2015–including suggestions on what to do about it. Since then shootings at schools are at their highest levels ever in 2018. You’re all aware of the mass movement led by eloquent teenage survivors of the shootings at Parkland, Florida. Those concerted efforts are not always enough, unfortunately. Of course, guns aren’t the root of the problem.
Here is an excerpt from a post on Views from Eagle Peak from the summer of 2016.
“It is enough,” said Shakyamuni (also known as Siddhartha Gautama–the historical Buddha), “to kill the will to kill.”
His words came as a response to this question: “We are told that life is precious. And yet all people live by killing and eating other living beings. Which living beings may we kill and which living beings must we not kill?”
In his 1991 lecture on The Age of “Soft Power” and Inner-Motivated Philosophy, delivered at Harvard University, SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda said this about Shakyamuni’s words:
Shakyamuni’s response is neither evasion nor deception. . . He is telling us that, in seeking the kind of harmonious relationship expressed in the idea of respect for the sanctity of life, we must not limit ourselves to the phenomenal level where conflict and hostility undeniably exist–the conflict, in this case, of which living beings it is acceptable to kill and which not. We must seek it on a deeper level–a level where it is truly possible to “kill the will to kill.” Read more of Ikeda’s message here.
More recently, an incident in Hollywood offers hope. Watch this clip (about two and a half minutes) from a news story and interview with Gage Brown, survivor of a knife attack. Brown says, he “feels only love.”
Perhaps you may be surprised—even amazed, at his response. Many would probably think Brown foolish or demented. In a culture with popular movies celebrating righteous violence, that’s to be expected. But Brown’s reaction is consistent with the humanism of Nichiren Buddhism.
In the clip, you may notice a plaque featuring words from a poem, The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land, by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. You probably won’t be able catch all of the words even if you pause the video. Here’s what it says:
My treasured friends,
There is no question that your multiracial nation, America,
represents humanity’s future.
Your land holds secret stores of unbounded possibility, transforming
the energy of different cultures
into the unity of construction,
the flames of conflict
into the light of solidarity,
the eroding rivulets of mistrust
into a great broad flow of confidence.
On what can we ground our efforts to open
the horizons of such a renaissance?
It is for just this reason,
my precious, treasured friends,
that you must develop within yourselves
the life-condition of Jiyu —
Bodhisattva of the Earth.
Ikeda presented the much longer poem to Los Angeles in 1993, in the wake of the Rodney King beating—which, like many other incidents of violence inflicted on African-American men, resulted in riots spreading throughout the area. In the poem, he offers an essential humanistic perspective of hope. Hope that is predicated in his view—and that of not only Gage Brown but millions of other Buddhists, including myself.
As explained in an article from the World Tribune (an SGI-USA publication),
Jiyu is a Japanese term that means to emerge from the earth. But in this poem, President Ikeda often uses jiyu to describe the dynamic life condition of Bodhisattvas of the Earth who vow to propagate the Mystic Law in the current age, marked as it is by conflict and disrespect for the dignity of life.
He then states that the solution to the increasing division in society is to “break through the hard shell of the lesser self,” reminding us to return to humanity’s essence, transcending all superficial differences and helping others awaken to the life state of jiyu within.
Forgiving others and leading a peaceful life is not exclusive to practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism, of course. But it’s very helpful in making America (and other countries around the world) a happier and less violent place. Read more of my post of 2016 here, to see what it has meant to me.