Hope is not only the light that can be found at the end of the tunnel. It is also the light, faint and flickering, though it may be, that can help us navigate the darkness of our times. – Archbishop Desmond TuTu
I recently read two essays by Daisaku Ikda whose background as peacemaker, Buddhist philosopher and educator has been instrumental in establishing institutions related to peace and culture all reflecting Buddhist principles.
While his essays – “The Power of Dialogue,” “The Power of Hope” – were written for inclusion in David Kreiger’s book, Hope in a Dark Time, about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, Ikda’s words could not be more relevant to the times in which we are living.
“In the end,” Ikda writes, “peace will not be realized by politicians signing treaties. True and lasting peace will only be realized by forging life-to-life bonds of trust and friendship among the world’s people. Human solidarity is built by opening our hearts to each other. This is the power of dialogue.
“Dialogue is more, however, than two people facing each other speaking. The kind of dialogue that can truly contribute to peace must begin with an open and earnest ‘inner dialogue.’ By this I mean the ability to examine, carefully and honestly, our own attitudes.
“We can start by asking ourselves some simple questions: Have I made an effort to find out the facts? Have I confirmed things for myself? Have I been swayed by second-hand information, by stereotypes or malicious rumors?
“For Socrates, a clear awareness of one’s own ignorance was the starting point for wisdom. By questioning ourselves and our assumptions we can open the way to more meaningful communication. This is something that applies at all levels – from communications between family and friends, to those between countries and cultures. This is because people who are at least aware that they may harbor prejudicial attitudes can communicate across differences more successfully than those who are convinced that they are free from all prejudice.
“Ultimately, the challenge we each face is to grow into the kind of person who is capable of truly respecting others.
“In the teachings of Buddhism there is a passage that describes what our attitude toward people should be. It says that we should ‘rise and greet them from afar,’ showing them the utmost respect. In fact, it states that we should offer them the same respect we would a Buddha. Here I should clarify that a ‘Buddha’ is not a superhuman being. Rather this word refers to a person who has fully awakened the limitless capacity for wisdom and compassion that exists in all people. It is another way of expressing the supreme dignity that all people possess simply by virtue of being human.
“How could there be war if we saw each meeting with another as a rare and remarkable encounter with the most precious treasure of the cosmos? I can think of no more direct and simple path to peace.”
In his essay entitled, The Power of Hope, Ikda talks about the value of persistence in the face of obstacles.
“In Japanese, the word for ‘hope’ is written with two Chinese characters. One means to desire something deeply and intensely. The other means to gaze far into the distance, into the future.
“Mahatma Gandhi was, in his own words, an ‘irrepressible optimist.’ But his hope was not based on an objective analysis of the conditions that faced him. Rather, it was based on his absolute faith in the ‘infinite possibilities of the individual.’ In the same way, the great dream of equality and human dignity that possessed Martin Luther King, Jr., was a dream upheld by the force of diamond-like faith and will.
“All those who have achieved great things have done so because of their ability to create hope, to pull it forth from within themselves, regardless of the circumstances or challenges they face. We must learn to make the hope we cannot find. Where there is hope, there is the possibility of peace.”
While we have faced bitter divisions before, we should remember that hope – hope in ourselves and others – will open the door to optimism and infinite possibilities where, once more, we are guided by the “better angels of our nature.”
Taken from Hope in a Dark Time, Reflections on Humanities Future, edited by David Krieger, and used with permission by The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.