Publisher’s Introduction: In this issue we bring you reflections on SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2017 Peace Proposal by long-time SGI member Michèle de Gastyne. Her piece focuses on elements she found noteworthy in the Proposal. De Gastyne’s thoughts are excerpted and condensed from a more comprehensive article on her blog. Unless otherwise indicated by a link, all quotations from Daisaku Ikeda are from his 2017 recommendations Like most of his submissions, it’s long and far-ranging, covering many issues. Take note of the title, as it indicates his belief that cultivating the world’s youth is where hope lies. To further your understanding, Ikeda’s 2017 proposal includes these elements:
- The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope
- Building Solidarity: The Role of Young People
- Overcoming Division and Xenophobia
- Engaging Youth and Women in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: Moving Past Deterrence
- Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons: The Legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- A People’s Declaration for a World without Nuclear Weapons
- Restoring Hope in the Lives of Refugees
- Human Rights Education
- Gender Equality
See a synopsis of Ikeda’s submission, with links to all of these sections and to the complete document at the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) website.
One additional editorial note: Some may wonder why three of ten sections of this year’s proposal are about nuclear weapons. One has only to consider the current situation with the US and North Korea to understand how the risk of their use has escalated. That risk includes far more serious and extensive death and destruction than possible with any conventional weapon. Moreover, the long-lasting effects of radiation exposure on plants, animals—and humans are catastrophic.
Essay, “on Nuclear Disarmament, Human Rights Education, SDGs and ‘Leaving No One Behind’,” by Michèle de Gastyne
Involve Youth in Global Programs
How many people feel there’s nothing ordinary citizens can do in the face of the 15,000+ nuclear arms that exist on our planet? If you fit into that large category, I’d like to share another way of viewing Humanity’s current situation. Without one trace of pessimism in his recommendations, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda asserts we must include youth at the forefront. He calls youth the “critical agents of change who embody hope” in finding and implementing international solutions, including the most intractable.
Many will be surprised to read that last statement. But the realization of its truth is already making its way within the U.N. system and hallways of governments. I hope after reading this piece, a few more people will be equally convinced there is a clear path forward for a safer world, which is also more just and harmonious.
Take this inspiring paragraph, for example: “It’s estimated there are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of ten and twenty-four living in our world today. If these young people, rather than resorting to conflict and violence, can come to uphold and protect the core values of human rights, I am positive that a path toward a “pluralist and inclusive society”–as articulated in the U.N. “Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training”–can be brought into being.”
Likewise, Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, said:
‘[W]e have to make sure there’s space for young people everywhere to be part of this movement for sustainable development. . . young people want to work together with joy, they want to trust each other.’
Nabarro’s remarks came at “Youth Boosting the Promotion and the Implementation of SDGs,” an SGI co-sponsored UN event [SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals are a UN-developed set of 17 goals and 169 targets to sustain habitability of the World as development occurs].
For Abolishing Nuclear Weapons, End Deterrence and Empower Grass-Roots Involvement
There is a powerful case for “participative democracy” and transparency in this peace proposal. Ikeda encourages individuals and groups to publish statements indicating their commitment to a nuclear weapons-free world. Or to hold grass-roots events on the significance of a people-driven international treaty in the spirit of the Einstein-Russell Manifesto of 1955, which he quotes, “We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.“
Ikeda says the supposed deterrence of a nuclear umbrella is actually a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the head of humanity. He urges ordinary citizens to promote the idea through NGOs and Civil Society that nuclear conflicts must never be fought. He urges working hard to include participation of U.N. treaty negotiations for prohibiting the existence of nuclear weapons, reminding us that Japan has a particular responsibility. Never losing his optimism, he nonetheless warns that nuclear states would need strong encouragement from their citizens in order to move toward this goal because of vested interests.
Recent conflict between the USA and North Korea has brought the problem of misplaced confidence in “deterrence” home, now more than ever. Accordingly, I’d like to quote from the submission, a description of how the historical Buddha helped resolve a serious military conflict over water rights 3 millennia ago:
“It is noteworthy how Shakyamuni observes the workings of the hearts of those facing a hostile confrontation: They did not take up arms in fear of the opponent, but rather were filled with fear the moment they took up arms. While they might have felt rage toward an adversary that was trying to take their water, fear did not possess them. But the moment they were armed, prepared to strike deadly blows against their adversaries, their hearts were filled with dread.”
Ikeda tells us how longtime contributing editor to the Washington Post newspaper, David Emanuel Hoffman, eloquently depicted how such fear-driven psychology almost produced a particularly nightmarish scenario during the Cold War. Hoffman said that a global power had been planning a nuclear retaliatory system, unstoppable by human intervention, near the end of the Cold War. He notes that although it never went beyond the conceptual stage, this ultimate [but irresponsibly dangerous] form of deterrence embodies the deep-seated fear that comes from nuclear arms possession.
For Giving Hope to Refugees and Combating Xenophobia–Involve the Youth!
In terms of seemingly endless refugee crises and the difficult problem of solidarity, Ikeda cites UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his statement from October 2016:
“I will do everything I can . . . for refugee protection to be assumed as a global responsibility, as it is. And it’s not only the refugee convention. It’s deeply rooted in all cultures and all religions everywhere in the world. You see in Islam, you see in Christianity, you see in Africa, in different religions, in Buddhism and Hinduism, there is a strong commitment to refugee protection. “
Reading his words, I am deeply grateful to have such a humane person at the head of the United Nations organization at this time in history.
On a philosophical level, I found particularly interesting Ikeda’s discussion on two major currents of thought existing in Shakyamuni Buddha’s India 3 millennia ago. The SGI President notes:
“[T]wo currents of thought prevailed. One was a kind of fatalism that our present and our future are entirely determined by karma accumulated in the past. The other held that all things are a matter of chance and that nothing in our lives is the outcome of any particular cause or condition.
The fatalistic view engendered the resignation that no effort on our part can alter our destiny and our only choice is to accept our fate. This worked to rob people’s hearts of hope. The other view, by disassociating any action from its outcome, uprooted people’s sense of self-control, making them indifferent to the harm they inflicted on others.”
Do we not have a similar thinking today, one that saps our hope and our strength to challenge difficult circumstances? The kind of causality and karma that Ikeda describes in terms of cause and effect, explains that the correct understanding of the Lotus Sutra is not the concept of karma that leads to passive acceptance. But rather, the realization that patterns of behavior we tend to repeat are absolutely within our power to change, by the choices we make every moment. Therefore, the law of cause and effect is actually an empowering mechanism.
Regarding xenophobia, Ikeda says,
“Xenophobic thinking is propelled by a stark division of the world into good and evil. . . In the same way, when the pursuit of economic rationality has no counterbalancing consideration of the human element, a psychology is unleashed that is ready to extract even the most extreme sacrifices from others.“
Ikeda also cites words from the various scholars, including this quote from British historian Arnold J. Toynbee:
“In my experience the solvent of traditional prejudice has been personal acquaintance. When one becomes personally acquainted with a fellow human being, of whatever religion, nationality, or race, one cannot fail to recognize that he is a human like oneself.”
When speaking about friends and neighbors in need, Jane Addams, the founder of the famous Hull House [a refuge facility for impoverished immigrants in Chicago, opened in early 20th century] said the residents “can teach us what life really is. We can learn where our boasted civilization fails.”
The following words comprise one of my favorite series of quotes in the proposal:
“The world is not simply a collection of states, nor is it composed solely of religions and civilizations. Our living, breathing world is woven of the endeavors of countless human beings who may share particular backgrounds but no two of whom are the same.
To view and judge others only through the prism of religion or ethnicity distorts the rich reality we each possess as individuals. In contrast, when we develop a deep appreciation, through our individual friendships, of each other’s unique value, differences of ethnicity or religion are illuminated by the dignity and worth of that friend and shine as the value of diversity.
The magnetic field of friendship can enable the functioning of an inner compass when we have lost our sense of direction and help us right society when it seems to be veering off course.”
A New Aid Architecture–Linking Humanitarian Help with SDGs; the “Nexus” Approach and “Virtuous Cycles”
Ikeda proposes the UN initiate a “new aid structure” with vocational training that solves humanitarian challenges and protects human dignity. The SGI president points out that work is a crucial means of sustaining one’s livelihood that also gives meaning to one’s life. Displaced persons could contribute to SDGs in host countries after their training. He notes that in 2016, International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder called for a “New Deal” along similar lines. Ryder reiterated the importance of giving work opportunities to forcibly displaced persons.
One refugee-related figure stood out in bold relief as I read the recommendations: A full 86 percent of refugees receiving aid from UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees–the UN refugee agency] are welcomed, not by industrialized, but by developing countries! Most of these countries are situated near conflict zones! Therefore, such states are already facing numerous challenges like poverty, health and hygiene, so the burden is untenable.
Before the official launch of the SDGs, a new methodology of virtuous cycles, named the Nexus Approach, was researched at the U.N. University and implemented in several regions. The concept comes from realizing that interrelated problems need an integrated approach.
“For example, if progress is made in securing safe sources of water (Goal 6), this will lead to a reduction in the number of people suffering from infectious or other diseases (Goal 3). It will also reduce the burden on women, who had spent many hours each day providing water for their families, thus opening new employment opportunities for them (Goal 5), making it possible to escape extreme poverty (Goal 1) and enabling their children to attend school (Goal 4).”
This approach aims to discover the interconnections among 169 targets across the 17 areas that comprise the SDGs, and to realize simultaneous progress toward their achievement.
I find the example in Tanzania he shares, particularly inspiring. Quoting from the submission:
“Last year, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) highlighted examples of women who are promoting the realization of the SDGs by taking action for others, often in very challenging circumstances, under the theme ’From where I stand.’ Among them is a solar engineer active in her village in Tanzania. Despite having a disability, she worked hard to develop her skills and continues to put her knowledge to use for her fellow villagers. At first, very few of the men respected her as an engineer, but when she installed solar equipment in their homes, bringing light to them, and repaired equipment when it was broken, she began to enjoy the respect of more and more men.”
According to Ikeda, this is an excellent example of a virtuous cycle advancing the SDGs as the people’s agenda. In other words, through the empowerment of one woman, not only was renewable energy made available to the people in a Tanzanian village, but attitudes also changed toward women. In addition, children gained access to study opportunities.
Ikeda continues on this point, stressing that the ability to solve problems is not something reserved for special people. But rather, a path that opens before us when we face reality head-on, taking up some aspect of a difficult challenge, and acting with persistence.
“Our capacity to overcome difficulties is unleashed as we turn anguish and concern into determination and action”, he says. Ikeda is convinced that young people in particular have capacity for fresh sensitivity and a passionate seeking for ideals. Therefore, he believes “their energy can catalyze chain reactions of positive change as they forge bonds of trust among people.”
Moving on to more on development, the proposal shares yet another positive example in Africa of the “Nexus Approach;” a project that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is implementing in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia accepted more than 730,000 war-affected people from neighboring countries in 2016. But it has also been suffering its worst drought in more than thirty years. All the while helping enhance local management of natural resources and supporting rehabilitation of community infrastructure, the UNDP project has reduced tensions between refugees and local populations through promoting peaceful coexistence efforts.
Ikeda adds that in terms of confronting SDG challenges, in the case of both developed and developing countries, precisely what will create work opportunities for many people are efforts to promote sustainable agriculture and prevent food shortages, to implement renewable energy infrastructure and to provide medical, healthcare and sanitation services.
In the section dedicated to environment and climate agreements such as the CAP21 signed in Paris December 2015, as well as on refugee protection, Ikeda insists again on the role of young people in building solidarity between religions, cultures and states. He shares a mobile application for youth called “mapting.” It combines “mapping” with “acting.”
Human Rights Education: Building a Culture of Human Rights
In terms of Education SGI President Ikeda proposes the promotion of a “Culture of Human Rights,” by celebrating the 70th anniversary in 2018 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed December 1948 in Paris.
Grappling directly with the problem of terrorist attacks and the rise of violent extremism, Ikeda says youth who have lost hope for the future and a meaning in life are increasingly pulled into religious extremism. So he brings our attention to a November 2016 conference at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, USA, co-sponsored by the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research that met to explore peace-building in tension areas and underlying factors that drive extremism, as well as its prevention. The SGI president believes the key element is promotion of Human Rights Education.
[The Toda Institute was founded by Ikeda 1996, in order to “perpetuate the legacy of Josei Toda and his vision of global citizenship and of a world free from nuclear weapons”, he says. The late Iranian-born peace scholar Dr. Majid Tehranian (1937-2012), with whom he had a long-standing friendship, served as the institute’s first director.]
To finish with this important aspect of the document, I’d like to note Ikeda indicates that the SGI, with cooperation of UN agencies and other partner organizations, has developed a new human rights education exhibit. The SGI launched it in late February 2017, in conjunction with the convening of the Human Rights Council. He says that through initiatives such as this, the SGI aims to inspire renewed commitment within civil society to generate a constantly expanding solidarity in favor of a culture of human rights. Further, in collaboration with other NGOs, his ultimate objective is to move global public opinion toward the adoption of a legally binding convention on human rights education and training.
Fighting for Women’s Rights Opens the Way for All Human’s Rights
On a related subject, Ikeda shares his convictions regarding placing the need for gender equality at the heart of Human Rights considerations. He believes only this will ensure the end to all discrimination. In other words, it is a vital priority for respecting the inherent dignity of each human being.
SGI President Ikeda describes a scene in the Lotus Sutra when the daughter of the metaphorical Dragon King attains enlightenment. Ikeda calls this the pivotal moment in Mahayana Buddhist teachings, proving the capacity of women to become Buddhas (“enlightened beings”).
On this subject, he calls for support of the movement dubbed “HeForShe,” launched by the U. N. Agency UN Women, in the hope of encouraging support by men and boys for gender equality.
To conclude I’d like to cite Daisaku Ikeda one more time, not from the Peace Proposal but by using a quote from his dialogue with the late Indonesian President Abdurrahan Wahid, compiled in The Wisdom of Tolerance: A Philosophy of Generosity and Peace. From Chapter 5 “Cultural Exchange is the Source of Creativity,” comes this:
“On his visit to our (Soka) university, Rector Gumilar Rusliwa Somantri (of the Univ. of Indonesia) said that young people around the world today share the same problems, as well as the responsibility to resolve them. This is a pivotal age, he continued, in which each individual needs to strive to build a civilization for all humanity, transcending race, national borders, and all other divides, and establish a world in peace.”
I feel this remark echoes well the spirit of this 2017 Peace Proposal. Underlying the concrete propositions there is an underlying call to involve youth on all levels of decision-making and problem solving, including the most challenging such as nuclear disarmament. It appears as an evident logic to me: After all, the Youth will be the persons facing the effects of today’s decisions. Therefore, don’t we owe it to their generation to give them all our support, in order to leave no one behind?
Praying for Peace, from Paris
Michèle de Gastyne
Bio of Michèle de Gastyne
Michèle was born in Washington, DC, of a French-American father and an American mother. Her father fought in the Resistance during WWII and later moved to the US where he became an official composer of the US Air Force Band and Orchestra for 20 years. She speaks and writes English, French and Japanese (she confesses that reading and writing Japanese is a bit more difficult, often requiring a dictionary).
She has taught English in Paris since 2004. Her students are mostly adults from all walks of life. She employs the perspective of Soka Education—a humanistic, intercultural, and individualized approach, focused on finding the inherent talents and capacities of each unique person. The concept of World Citizenship also underlies this pedagogy.
Michèle lived in Japan for 7 years, before ending up in the NYC area. She was there during the Sept 11, 2001 attack. In her words,
“That, as well as a serious car accident almost destroying my left arm, changed my life. I ended up in Paris from 2002, eventually living across the street from the Bataclan concert hall when it was attacked [November 2015]. Another life-changing event. Because I’ve been an SGI Soka Movement Buddhist and humanist continuously since 1974, I have decided to create positive value from my experiences and devote myself to mutual understanding and building a peaceful world based on respect.
Daisaku Ikeda has received over 330 honorary degrees, mostly doctorates, from prestigious universities throughout the world. He has issued proposals to the international community addressing global issues every year since 1983. Philosopher, author and peacebuilder, he has been president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist association since 1975. He issues his peace proposals on January 26 each year, commemorating the founding of the SGI. See www.daisakuikeda.org
For additional resources compiled by Michèle for her own blog post, which includes more information on dates, people and places, Additional Resources omitted from this Article.