At its historic Eighth World Assembly in Kyoto last year, Religions for Peace delegates addressed what is perhaps the most urgent challenge of our time: "Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security." The notion of "shared security," or "human security," was defined as "protecting the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment," and, more succinctly, as the "freedom from fear and freedom from want." In these remarks, I would like to illustrate these ideas with four examples from the Buddhist tradition: the commitment formula of "taking refuge" in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha; the image of shared community in the opening scene of the Lotus Sutra; the mass conversion of Dalits--formerly the "untouchables"--to Buddhism; and Rev. Nikkyo Niwano's discourse on the notion of jihi--"benevolence, a sense of oneness, the lack of a barrier between oneself and others"--the psychological and spiritual basis of shared security for our time.
In offering these comments, I wish to pay tribute to the enduring legacy of Rev. Niwano, whose founding of Rissho Kosei-kai and the World Conference of Religions for Peace has contributed immeasurably to reconciliation, healing, and the prospects for shared security in our world. And, in offering these reflections, I want to place Rev. Niwano in the context of the great thinkers and activists, both living and deceased, who have contributed to the rise of Engaged Buddhism in our lifetimes.
By now, the world is familiar with many of the preceptors of socially engaged Buddhism in Asia and the West: the Nobel Peace laureates, Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma; Dr. B. R. Ambedkar of India and Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne of Sri Lanka, leaders of some of the poorest communities in Asia; Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam and Ven. Maha Ghosananda of Cambodia, humble peacemakers in war-torn countries; the reformer-activists of Thailand, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Sulak Sivaraksa, and Bhikkuni Dhammananda; founders of the global relief organizations, Ven. Cheng Yen (Tzu Chi Foundation) and Ven. Hsing Yun (Fo Guang Shan); and the American engaged Buddhists, Robert Aitken, Bernard Glassman, Joanna Macy, Joan Halifax, Paula Green, and many others.
By directing the attention of devout Buddhists to concrete tasks of social service and global peacemaking, Rev. Niwano has earned a place of honor in this extraordinary company.
For more than 2,500 years, followers of the Buddha's path have affirmed their commitment by reciting three times the ancient Refuge Formula: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha." By so adopting the person, teachings, and community of the Awakened One as their guide, these devotees vow to undertake a path of spiritual practice and service to others. But in using the words saranam gacchami, Pali for "I go for refuge," they also proclaim their aspiration for what we might call a zone of "shared security." For the word saranam is derived from the root sri, which means to "lean upon, find support, shelter, protection, and rest." Thus, by "taking refuge" and by adopting the Five Precepts--to avoid harming, stealing, harsh or false speech, sexual misconduct, and intoxication--and by embracing the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which identify the universality of suffering and the possibility of its relief, Buddhists experience an immediate sense of support, shelter, protection, and rest.
A dramatic picture of this instant community of shared security is painted in the opening section of the Lotus Sutra. In A Buddhist Approach to Peace (1972), Rev. Niwano describes the harmonious audience that the Buddha attracted for the sermon that became the Lotus Sutra: bodhisattvas, monks, nuns, lay men, lay women, kings, princes, ministers, commonfolk, and extraordinary beings--"gods who live in heaven (the spiritual world), demons who fly in the sky, dragons who abide in the water"--all abiding in harmony within the Buddha's words, and all "seated on an equal level." The inclusivity of this picture is reminiscent of the "peaceable kingdom" the biblical prophets foretold, in which "the lion shall lie down with the lamb," and the care that Jesus and his disciples took of the 5,000 who showed up for his outdoor sermons, feeding them in body, mind, and spirit.
Rev. Niwano explains that the equality and harmonious coexistence of this audience, consisting of "all the living creatures in the whole universe," derives from "a single, invisible entity that is embodied in all things, . . . the great life force of the universe," and that this force is expressed in Buddhist philosophy as "the Void" and "the Eternal, Original Buddha." "When one can fully realize this," he continues, "then fraternal love, the feeling that all human beings are brothers and sisters, will spring up in one's heart. One will be filled with a sense of harmony and cooperation. This sentiment of fraternity is the benevolence or compassion taught in Buddhism."
In the fall of 2006 I experienced this overwhelming sense of fraternity and benevolence as one of several million pilgrims to the central Indian city of Nagpur. The occasion was the fiftieth anniversary of the Buddhist conversion movement initiated by Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), leader of the untouchables and the principle author of India's constitution. On October 14, 1956, Ambedkar, his wife, and nearly 400,000 of his followers repeated the ancient formula Buddham saranam gacchami, Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami, vowed to follow the Five Precepts, and took twenty-two additional vows eschewing the practices and beliefs of Hinduism and the caste system.
Growing out of the untouchables' movement for civil and human rights that Ambedkar launched in the 1920s, the new Buddhism, or Navayana ("new vehicle"), as Ambedkar called it, had all the marks of the later engaged Buddhisms that spread throughout Asia and the West. Ambedkar's favorite slogans, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," and "Educate, Agitate, and Organize" were borrowed from the West--Ambedkar earned doctoral degrees in New York and London--but they were articulated in his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in terms that any Buddhist might understand. The hallmarks of his teachings, and the social objectives of the waves of visitors to Nagpur last fall, were evident in their chants, their posters, and the seminars and conferences that attracted activists, government officials, and scholars like myself: a world in which people of all back-grounds have access to food and water, shelter and medicine, education and employment, dignity and respect--in a word, a world of shared security.
In A Buddhist Approach to Peace, Rev. Niwano returned to the theme of brotherhood and solidarity by focusing on the term jihi. "The Japanese word jihi is the equivalent of benevolence or compassion. The character ji is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word maitreya, an abstract noun derived from maitri, which means 'utmost friendship.' Hi is a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word karuna, whose original meaning is said to be 'moan.' When one sees others moaning in suffering or agony, one cannot refrain from moaning oneself. This state of being sensitive to the pain of others and feeling it as one's own is called hi. Both ji and hi are elements of the pure friendship that springs spontaneously from the sense of oneness, the lack of a barrier between oneself and others.
"If all people in the world had this sense of jihi (benevolence), how could they hate or have ill feelings toward others? How could they fight wars? A benevolent spirit is the true starting point of peace." And we might add, of a sense of shared security.
We should thank Rev. Nikkyo Niwano for reminding us of the immense resources of the Buddhist tradition, as we strive together for a world of peace and security.
Christopher S. Queen is lecturer on the study of religion and the dean of Students and Alumni Relations for Continuing Education in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University. Dr. Queen earned degrees in the history and phenomenology of religion from Oberlin College, Union Theological Seminary, and Boston University. His publications include Engaged Buddhism in the West.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2007 issue of Dharma World.