Judaism, Christianity and Islam – three religions that play out across the globe.
Three religions that espouse peace and brotherhood, yet are locked – and have been locked for centuries – in confrontation and mistrust. You have to go no farther than the Mideast today, which is being ravaged and torn apart by religious factions to see the truth of this.
What is at the root of these religions that they promote peace and love, yet end up being the catalysts for war and destruction?
It is a small, exclusive vision – one that recognizes anyone outside their exclusive club as the “other”. There is no vision of humanity that goes directly to the heart of who we are.
Who are we? We are human beings, first and foremost. At the deepest roots lies our common humanity. Distinctions of race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, and ethnicity are surface distinctions.
Our religions are also surface distinctions. They are camps of people who have gathered together in a certain camp under a certain flag. It is all on the surface; because if the adherents of these religions truly believed in the sanctity of life, and in the potential of every individual on the face of this planet, then we would never go to war over these surface differences. But we have gone to war for millennia, and we are still going to war, and the fever for war seems to only be growing around the world.
War over these surface distinctions has gone on forever. Christianity spread across the Americas through the instrument of war, decimating the indigenous populations of North and South America. Islam spread in many times and places by the sword, brutally decimating, for instance, the inhabitants of India. Wars and distinction have been at the roots of these religions ever since they came into being.
These three religions are still at war, labeling each other according to their ancient, outmoded beliefs, and shutting out anyone who does not adhere to those beliefs.
It is madness, and this is the mad world we live in.
We need a new religion, one that goes to the very root of the problem, and severs and yanks up those roots of difference once and for all.
Such a religion is the Buddhism of the Soka Gakkai International, or SGI – now the largest Buddhist lay organization in the world, with 12,000,000 members in 192 countries and territories around the globe. Peace, not war, is – and always has been – at the heart of this religion, both in theory and in practice.
The Soka Gakkai was founded in 1930 by two great Japanese educators, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda. By the beginning of the Second World War, the Soka Gakkai had grown to about 3000 households. At this point, the Japanese military government, which was allied with the State Shinto religion, put enormous pressure on all religious organizations to conform to Shinto. Makiguchi and Toda refused to support the military government, and for this they were both imprisoned as thought criminals. A year and a half later, the first president Makiguchi died in prison. Toda was released near the end of the war, his health shattered. Slowly, he began to rebuild the Soka Gakkai, which had been destroyed during the war. By 1958, the year in which he died, the Soka Gakkai had grown to 780,000 households. His closest disciple, Daisaku Ikeda, became the third president in 1960, and under his leadership the Soka Gakkai has developed into a world religion.
Daisaku Ikeda is a prolific writer, poet, educator and founder of a number of cultural, educational and peace research institutions around the world. He has received over 350 honorary doctorates and degrees from universities and colleges around the world, a number unprecedented in history.
At the heart of the Soka Gakkai is the Lotus Sutra, the greatest of teachings of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni. And at the heart of the Lotus Sutra is the recognition of the sanctity of all life, and of the enormous potential and great life state residing within each individual’s life. This state of life is called Buddhahood. Through chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra – Nam Myoho Renge Kyo – members are able to activate the life force within their own life, and begin the process of transforming every aspect of their life in the direction of happiness.
In other words, the Buddha is not some god or supernatural being. The Buddha is the ordinary human being. This was the message the original Buddha, Shakyamuni, tried to share.
The roots of the Soka Gakkai were grounded, from the very beginning in peace, dialogue, and non-violence. It remains so today.
This is a religion that has now taken its place on the world stage – a religion transcending those surface distinctions of race, culture, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and nationality; a religion rooted in people, not authoritarianism and power; a religion honoring women equally with men; a religion dedicated to happiness in this world, in the here and now, yet a religion connecting each individual to the universe within their own life, and to eternity.
The Buddhism of the Soka Gakkai is a religion that is spearheading a new global civilization.
James Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, and the author of ten non-fiction books, including “A New Myth for the World”.
To schedule him for speaking engagements, contact him directly.