When the invite reached me, an invite for a symposium on Dr. Daisaku Ikeda’s 2013 Peace Proposal titled ‘Compassion, Wisdom and Courage: Building a Global Society of Peace and Creative Coexistence’, I must say, I was intrigued. Not by the Peace proposal per se, I am an equal opportunity cynic, but by the three words that were part of the title of the symposium. Unknown to the sender of the invite, these are three words which I have tried to build my life around, every single day.
Naturally, I did accept. Given that I am at the best of times, a reluctant attendee at any event, this was one that I was looking forward to, hair in metaphorical braid.
So here is a bit about the event and the wonderful speakers at the event.
The Symposium was presented by Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG), the Indian affiliate of Soka Gakkai International, a UN recognized NGO working for peace, culture and education, in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).
The panel of speakers comprised Dr. S Parasuraman (Director, TISS), Dr. Kishore Mandhyan (Former Political Director, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General), Ms. Sheela Patel (Founder and Director, SPARC – Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres ), Mr. Mathew Spacie, (Founder and Executive Chairman of Magic Bus) and Ms. Varsha Das (BSG Representative) .
Dr Daisaku Ikeda, President of the SGI, whose 2013 Peace Proposal was under discussion, is a Buddhist teacher, peace activist, prolific writer, Poet Laureate, photographer, educator and founder of a number of cultural, educational and research institutions around the world. A tireless crusader for peace, he has an unshakeable belief that, “A great revolution of character in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a society, and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind”.
Every year, since 1983, Dr Daisaku Ikeda, a recipient of the United Nations Peace Medal, has been submitting a peace proposal to the UN that offers a practical framework for creating peace in a world marred by violence. In his current (2013) Peace Proposal titled, ‘Compassion, Wisdom and Courage: Building a Global Society of Peace and Creative Coexistence’, Dr. Ikeda looks at how we must face the underlying ailments of human civilization head-on and enable people to recover hope and strength needed to lead lives of dignity. To do this, a spiritual framework is needed that will ensure that all human activity contributes to the larger objective of a global society of peace and creative coexistence. If we picture such a society as an edifice, the foundation on which it rests is respect for the dignity of life, and the key pillars that hold it up are human rights and human security.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Parasuraman explored the true meaning of dignity. He highlighted widening economic disparities and the growing vulnerabilities of the less privileged. The depletion of natural resources and displacement of people from their lands and livelihood are causes for serious concern. Dr. Parasuraman said that when disparity created by economic fundamentalism joined hands with religious fundamentalism, it has enormous implications for the diversity of humankind. The issues can cause conflict to intensify and suffering to magnify. But there are rays of hope. When he invited applications from graduates of top universities to serve the poor in areas of violent conflict, he received 10000 applications for 150 positions. While the coming days are going to be extremely difficult, he was confident that there are people willing to share the sufferings of others – and they are among the best and brightest of India.
Mr. Kishore Mandhyan started his address adding to Dr. Parasuraman’s story of hope. He said that young people always offered him a seat when he travelled in the crowded Mumbai local trains. This was something he never experienced in New York or Zurich. He lauded the efforts of the SGI which now is a global voice across borders in almost all countries. He called it a “ voice on behalf of the weak, a call for the strong, and a shaft of light from the deep past, from Bodh Gaya where the Buddha sat to an unknown and uncertain future”. He then underlined the importance of being a thinker and a doer as opposed to the concept of being a thinker or a doer. Mr. Mandhyan also fully identified with the concept of self-transformation of the individual. More than fancy degrees, he was of the opinion, “You learn from yourself from within”.
Expanding on the core theme of compassion, wisdom and courage, he defined compassion as the wisdom of the heart, not of the mind. He recalled a chance encounter, in the middle of the night in an overcrowded railway platform in Rajasthan, when he was looking for a place to sleep. An 80-year old illiterate man, a complete stranger, waiting to go to Hyderabad to claim his dead son’s body, squeezed him in, offered his turban as a pillow, and promised to wake him up when his train came in at 3.30 in the morning! This was the face of compassion that he experienced early in his life and this memory inspired him throughout his peacekeeping years at the UN.
“Without compassion, even the most brilliant idea or the wisest act cannot have its full effect”, he said. Wisdom is humane intelligence. Without humane intelligence, compassion is trite. “We are all fundamentally equal and we must practice it every day,” he emphasized. Finally, courage does not stand alone, it rests on compassion and right knowledge. Courage is the courage of everyday life, it is about standing up for what is right.
Ms. Sheela Patel said that the concepts outlined in Dr. Daisaku Ikeda’s Peace Proposal resonated with what she has learned in her many years of work with NGOs. When we talk about courage and commitment, it is essential to be honest and transparent with yourself about what you are ready to do. The most important reason why the rights of so many people are not defended is that those of us who can defend, choose to look the other way. She shared her deep belief that poor people have an amazing amount of knowledge from their ability to survive in their environment, and given an opportunity, they would be able to produce strategies and solutions that lead to transformation. This is the part she feels closest to in the Peace Proposal – that transformation is possible through collective action. Ms. Sheela Patel was full of appreciation for the concept of global citizenship and local action. In reality, we cannot avoid understanding the global perspective and how it affects our day-to-day life. In an incisive comment on failure, she noted that everyone has a right to fail – except the poor who get no second chances. “You are destroyed by the first failure that comes to you”, she observed.
Mr. Matthew Spacie spoke about the limited choices that children from poor backgrounds have. He fully endorsed Mr. Amartya Sen’s quote, “ Where there is no opportunity, there will be poverty”. He emphasized that the scale of unemployment amongst poor youth in the coming years will be a huge challenge. Emphasizing that he is a doer, he showed a film about the ground work his organization, the Magic Box, is doing by using sport as a platform to empower children living in highly marginalized communities in India. He believes in community leadership and trains teachers and influencers to emerge from within the children’s groups. According to him, the ripple effect of change in one single person can change a family, community and society.
Ms. Varsha Das, BSG representative, commented on the immense common ground that was evident between the lives and work of the speakers and the salient points that Dr. Ikeda has put forth in this year’s Peace Proposal. Summarizing the speeches, she said that they shared Dr. Ikeda’s beliefs about self-transformation, wisdom and compassion. She stated that the determination to share the joys and sufferings of others, believing in the limitless possibilities of life and to be able to defend and celebrate diversity form the basis of the Peace Proposal. Emphasizing the idea that it is the heart that is most important, she referred to the teachings of the 13th century Buddhist sage, Nichiren Daishonin, who teaches the superiority of the treasures of the heart over the treasures of the storehouse and the treasures of the body. She drew the audience’s attention to the opening film that showed how the youth of the Soka Gakkai are working to create hope and are determined to work to bring about an inner transformation at the local level. In conclusion, she referred to Dr Ikeda’s guidance that instead of one person taking 100 steps, it is important that 100 people take one step. “With this kind of an inclusive philosophy and understanding, we can definitely change the world,” she concluded.