What do the Buddhism which I practice within SGI (hereafter referred to as Buddhism) and young people have in common? At first glance it might seem that the answer is ‘nothing at all’. A common view of Buddhism might be that it involves meditation and calmness, perhaps a degree of detachment from everyday life. Whereas young people might be seen as the opposite of this – energetic and self-absorbed as they grapple with establishing themselves, their careers and their lives. However together, Buddhism and young people have the potential to transform the world we live in. And it is this possibility of transformation that is the key to Buddhism’s attractiveness to youth. As a religion borne out of the desire to eliminate suffering based on the inner transformation of individuals, Buddhism has the ability to appeal to young people’s wish to improve the world around them.
As a Politics teacher I spend most days surrounded by teenagers discussing how the world works. It is evident that many young people are troubled by what they see around them. Decisions are made by governments that don’t necessarily reflect the views of the young and it is easy for them to feel a sense of powerlessness. They often don’t think that it’s possible to change things and this can lead to them losing hope and feeling that they can’t make a difference. Crimes committed by and against young people are frequently reported in the media, and the news cycle can seem relentlessly bleak.
However Buddhism teaches that each individual has incredible power, that our inner transformation can have a positive impact on the world around us. In fact, it is precisely when young people determine to undergo this inner transformation that society has the potential to establish respect for the dignity of all life as its foundation. This, after all, is the aim of Buddhism and it is one that young people share.
Daisaku Ikeda, President of the lay Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (SGI), has particularly high hopes for youth, saying in his 2017 Peace Proposal to the United Nations entitled “The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering In a New Era of Hope”:
“When youth make the determination to illuminate the corner of the world they inhabit now, it brings into being a space of security in which people can regain hope and the power to live. The determination to live together that is ignited in this space of security shines as an embodiment of the global society in which no one is left behind, inspiring courage in people living in other communities who confront similar challenges.”1
Rather than being thought of as too inexperienced or lacking in the skills necessary to take a lead, Buddhism teaches that young people have a great role in using their passion and determination to instigate great changes not only in their own lives, but also in the lives of those around them. Buddhism teaches that all people are worthy of respect, and that of course includes those who are young. It that sense, Buddhism embodies ideas of equality that appeal to young people, many of whom have a keen sense of justice.
When young people awaken to the true value of their life, they have the ability to give hope and inspiration to others. They are able to lead lives where they can positively transform any situation and take on any challenge, and their friends and family gain the belief that they too might be able to do the same. This is the complete opposite to the powerlessness that many young people feel or are made to feel.
The Buddhist philosophy practised by SGI members teaches that it is through each person achieving an unshakeable foundation of happiness, based on absolute respect for their own life and the life of others, that we are able to spread hope and joy to our environment. It is these ripples of hope that will transform our world. With Buddhism young people have a concrete way to achieve the positive change that so many of them long for.
This year Soka Gakkai International-UK (SGI-UK) was able to witness the effect of young people living their lives based on their Buddhist practice. In March 2018, the youth of SGI-UK decided to create an event with 6000 participants called Generation Hope, three meetings held in three locations – Manchester, Bristol and London – on the same day. It was our way of showing the world that there is a group of young people who haven’t given up on society, who know that things can change for the better, and who are determined to be at the forefront of that positive change. It was the largest gathering of youth we had ever had in SGI-UK and the planning and preparation for the event was led by youth with the full support of the entire organisation.
Generation Hope was a great success, achieving the aim of 6000 young people filling all three venues. It enabled every person to feel a sense of empowerment and hope about the possibility of change. This was achieved through cultural performances such as live music and dance, and through experiences of how Buddhist practice had transformed people’s lives. The feedback from those who attended was incredibly positive. One guest said, “I want to remember that one person can make a difference, and to never give up. Change is possible.”
Buddhism has so much to offer everyone, and in particular the youth of the world. It gives us the means to reveal our enlightened state. This enlightened state, what Mahayana Buddhists call our Buddha nature, can be displayed by each individual. It is the unleashing of this positive force from within that is the key to the transformation of our lives and the world around us.
When young people are respected and nurtured in the way that Buddhism teaches, and are given the opportunities and support to reveal their inherent potential, incredible things can happen. SGI-UK has been revitalised as a result of the actions of its youth. Everyone’s practice has been refreshed as we engaged in dialogue with those in our environment to encourage them in the spirit of Generation Hope. The joy of practising Buddhism is evident throughout our organisation, and people are brimming with experiences of how Buddhism has enabled them to transform their lives. It was the youth taking a bold and courageous stand that enabled this to happen. And it was the support and encouragement of our older and more experienced friends in the practice that gave the youth the belief that they could do it. Different generations working together and learning from each other is something the world needs to see and put into action.
The solidarity of youth is a powerful thing. Young people often have a keen sense of justice and have therefore stood up against war, poverty and discrimination at key turning points in history. In a letter to one of his followers, Nichiren Daishonin, the thirteenth century Buddhist monk who’s Buddhist philosophy SGI bases itself on, wrote: ‘Great events never have minor omens. When great evil occurs, great good follows.’2
It isn’t difficult to see what we might call ‘great evil’ in the world we’re living in. In terms of Nichiren Buddhism, we characterise it as anything that seeks to deny or disrespect the innate dignity of life. It will take a solidarity of people, led by the youth, committed to a peace based on absolute respect for all life to ensure that ‘great good’ will emerge.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel recently made a joint appeal to the youth of the world. In it they said:
“There is no challenge that cannot be resolved if we unite in solidarity. We are confident that young people will take up the search for solutions, acting in solidarity from within their respective places of belonging across all differences of spiritual and cultural identity to generate waves of dynamic, shared action. We call on youth to take on the responsibility of walking together with the people, embracing the confidence that each of their actions will produce results in future.”3
Buddhism empowers all people and it is this that particularly speaks to young people. What Buddhism teaches us is that right now, just as we are, in the midst of sometimes challenging circumstances, we can reveal our Buddha nature and make a firm determination to illuminate the corner of our world. When young people make a shared pledge to work for peace and the happiness of each individual the world can be transformed. Nobody can deny that this transformation is sorely needed. It is Buddhism that can awaken the young to their ability to change the world, and this is why it is so important for us to share our philosophy with young people. When we do so, we are taking a firm step towards fulfilling the aim of Buddhism. With young people practising Buddhism we can all be confident that the world we want will definitely be achieved.
Youth Division Leader of SGI-UK
1 The full text is available on the SGI-UK website: www.sgi-uk.org/sgipresident/peace-proposals
2 Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Volume 1, p. 168
3 The full text is available at https://www.daisakuikeda.org/sub/resources/works/lect/20180605-esquivel-ikeda-jt-appeal.html