“Soka Gakkai International’s perspective – Faith Matters in AZ Central

Soka Gakkai International’s perspective

Faith Matters by Edward Casper, Guest Columnist

Why would Buddhists care about others? Aren’t they only concerned with attaining personal enlightenment?

I recently saw a Facebook post that criticized the idea of pursuing personal growth, a core aim of Buddhist practice, at the expense of society’s ills. And that observation may seem to have some merit on the surface. But part of the Arizona Interfaith Movement’s mission is to promote a deeper understanding of the various traditions that make up the organization. So, in that spirit, I’ll respectfully rebut and, I hope, dispel that myth.

Nichiren, the 13th-century Buddhist monk who established the practice SGI-USA follows, wrote, ‘Life at each moment encompasses the body and mind and the self and environment of all sentient beings … as well as all insentient beings … including plants, sky, earth, and even the minutest particles of dust. Life at each moment permeates the entire realm of phenomena and is revealed in all phenomena.’

In other words, our lives, the lives of those around us, our environment, and the entire universe are interconnected. Nothing exists in isolation.

The late Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, past president of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) often quoted non-Buddhists when they echoed Buddhist teaching. One such person was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote these oft-quoted words while in the Birmingham jail, ‘We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’

No Buddhist ever stated the concept of interconnectedness better.

Echoing Dr. King, Dr. Ikeda observed, ‘The altruism taught in Buddhism … is our refusal to accept any suffering as unrelated to us.’

Therefore, it follows that practice for oneself, self-improvement, and realizing our innate enlightenment includes practice for others. The two are inherently linked because our lives are interconnected. One’s practice of compassion and concern for others supercharges one’s own personal growth and sense of well-being. Nichiren metaphorically put it this way, ‘When one lights a torch for someone at night, one brings light not only to another person but to oneself as well.’

So, what does that mean in practical terms? What can we as ordinary humans do to reduce the suffering in the world? My answer is simple. Do what you can. One of my favorite ways of looking at this comes, not from Buddhist teaching, but from the Talmud which states, ‘Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.’

Each of us has something unique to offer, even if we think it’s small or insignificant. To that point, Nichiren wrote, ‘If the spirit of many in body but one in mind prevails among the people, they will achieve all their goals.’ The phrase ‘many in body’ refers to each individual’s uniqueness. While ‘one in mind’ invokes unity of purpose. By combining our unique abilities with others, we can help improve our part of the world.

As Dr. Ikeda observed, ‘Altruism is the most effective means of self-realization and self-perfection. Doing good for others is the best way to develop one’s character and find greater happiness.’

Edward Casper is the SGI Buddhist Representative on the Arizona Interfaith Movement Council.

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