Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / The Identity of World Citizen in Soka Buddhism

The Identity of World Citizen in Soka Buddhism

What is my identity ? - is the most important question for any individual to ask.  Identity is always based on a reference of belonging.  A realistic and broadminded choice of reference for one’s sense of identity can lead to harmonious relationships and valuable actions, while a limited or emotional choice of a reference of identity can lead to clashes and sufferings. 

Tribal, national, racial and religious references of identity - have their limited validity and specific margin of use in the daily life of society.  All of these references are part of the general ‘ultimate or original reference’ (which includes them all): the reference of “Humanity”.

In philosophical terms, race, ethnicity or religion - are specific references belonging to the general set of humanity.  Problems arise when people put the ‘specific’ category in place of the ‘general’ - creating thus a situation in which religion or race become more important than humanity itself. 

The wars of the Middle East and elsewhere are examples of clash of identities, where people put their specific ethnicity or religion as more important than the humanity of others.

Confusing what is Specific with what is General - will inevitably create sufferings, as Nichiren states:

“If you confuse the general with the specific even in the slightest, you will never be able to attain Buddhahood and will wander in sufferings”. WND1 p 746

The Sense of Belonging

The sense of belonging of the individual starts with the level of one’s family, and expands to include the whole of society, as Darwin observes in his work The Descent of Man (1871):

“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest  reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races”

(Source: Charles Darwin Quotes: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/214713-as-man-advances-in-civilization-and-small- tribes)

To extend one’s “social instincts and sympathies”, means expanding one’s “field of belonging” farther than just family or nation - ultimately to that of the whole world.  It is a perspective based on understanding Interconnectedness and compassion as the essence of humanism.

Three Criteria of World Citizenship

According to philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, there are three criteria for “world citizenship”.  The three criteria are related to the ‘three qualities of Enlightenment’: wisdom, compassion and courage. To qualify for “world citizenship” the individual must develop:

  • The wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life.

  • The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and understand people of different cultures  and grow from encounters with them.

  • The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches
    beyond one’s immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering in distant places.

Source: Global Citizenship http://www.daisakuikeda.org/main/educator/edu/edu-10.html

Bodhisattva reference of identity

The concept of Bodhisattva of the Earth expounded in the Lotus Sutra is based on humanism and belief in the Buddhanature of all people.  Self-identity as a “world citizen” (which is basically a Bodhisattva identity, caring for all with whom one is interconnected) does not conflict with any reference of race or religion. It requires a humanistic perspective based on flexibility, broadmindedness and openness, and in particular requires awareness of the reality of interconnectedness of all life.

Self-Identity and Inner Freedom

An identity based on ‘world citizenship’ reflects a wider scope of broadmindedness (and consequently: a more mature behaviour) - free from limitations of excessive attachments to differences and to partial references (of racial, ethnic or religious nature).  Self-identity influences the individual’s sense of inner freedom in society interacting with others, and – to a certain extent – affect one’s feeling of inner security.

“The state of mind of one who ceaselessly strives to transcend [own] egocentrism is that of inner peace and tranquillity. The heart of such a person is lit with the wisdom of dependent origination, and overflows with the spirit of compassion”. Source: From Inner Peace to World Peace, A Buddhist Perspective 

While the concept of world citizenship implies a vision of a peaceful world - “world peace” then starts from the individual’s inner peace, made possible by an identity based on “humanity” - as a reference.