Many philosophies attempt to find the truth somewhere beyond phenomena, or postulate some fundamental existence that rests beneath all phenomena.
No affairs of life or work are in any way different from the ultimate reality [true entity]. Only in the actuality of the "affairs of this world" (all phenomena) can we demonstrate the "true path"--that is, the wisdom of the true entity [as taught in the lotus sutra].
The idea of change as the essential nature of reality can be found as far back as Heraclitus, who saw both nature and human society as being in a state of constant flux. In our century of war and revolution, however, the pace of social transformations seems to have been accelerated beyond its natural rhythm.
In Buddhist cosmology, all phenomena are transient; all systems continually pass through repeated cycles of formation, continuance, decline, and disintegration. For humans, transience is experienced as birth, illness, aging, and death, the sources of pain that inspired Shakyamuni to seek truth. Death is the ever-present reminder of the finite nature of existence. Plato wrote that true philosophers are always engaged with death, and Nichiren, creator of the Buddhist philosophy on which Soka Gakkai is founded, warned us to study death before we study other matters.
As humans sought to conquer the fear of death by finding ways to partake of the eternal, they brought religion into the whole of human history. In modern scientific times, however, death has been seen as evil and irrational, and life as good and rational. Rather than overcoming death through faith, people tried to ignore it. But during this climactic period in modern civilization, what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls the "century of megadeath," we have begun to reexamine the meaning and nature of death. The current interest in brain death, funerary styles, and research by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and others all indicate a renewed sense that death is more than the absence of life. It is part of a larger, more essential whole that we experience as individuals and express as culture.
One way to understand life's essential eternity is in the Buddhist idea of an intrinsic (Dharma) nature within phenomenal reality, including life and death. Depending on and responding to environmental conditions, it alternates in cycles between emergence and latency. The Lotus Sutra teaches that the purpose of existence -- the eternal cycles of life and death -- is "to be happy and at ease." With faith, we can experience inner change and have joy in death as well as in life.
If social or other external reforms cannot solve the problems of our world, how can Buddhism help? The Mahayana tradition provides guidance in three broad areas. The first is its stress on dialogue. The pacifist character of Buddhism was established with Shakyamuni's rejection of violence in favor of the power of language, which could accomplish what coercion could not. Language can achieve such power when one is truly enlightened, free of prejudice, dogma, and attachment and can rise above ethnic, national, or any other differences.
What matters is within the heart. To Shakyamuni, inner evil was like an "invisible arrow" piercing the hearts of individuals. Although he expressed it differently, the Harvard University philosopher Josiah Royce argued for reform based on the same idea. To attain the power of dialogue, we must be aware of the "arrow" of our own prejudices. Only then can we conquer them and achieve a global faith with universal values.
Second, Buddhism can lead toward the restoration and rejuvenation of humanity by encouraging goodness and the ability to overcome dogmatism and insularity. Buddhist discipline and self-reliance balance internal and external forces, avoiding both overdependence outside oneself and overconfidence in human capabilities in science or any other area. This idea calls to mind John Dewey's concept of "the religious" -- as opposed to specific religions -- which has the power to bring people together and help them grow out of self-worship into their full potential. In other words, we need help, but our human potential comes from within. If we do not want to repeat history, we must strive to keep the balance and embrace the religious impulse as a vehicle for human restoration. As Harvey Cox has suggested, Buddhism can help us steer our lives as we actually live them and bring forth our strength, goodness, and wisdom.
Third, Buddhism provides a philosophical basis for the symbiotic coexistence of all things. A vivid image in the Lotus Sutra depicts the Buddhist Law as a gentle, nourishing rain that falls everywhere, yielding unity in the diversity of all phenomena. The term "dependent origination" describes the mutually sustaining and mutually dependent interrelationships that form the living cosmos. When Goethe has Faust remark, "Into the whole, how all things blend...," he is voicing an idea central to Buddhist thought. It allows us to go beyond the mechanistic idea of causation, for example, by addressing the unpredictable, uniquely human element that affects all our relationships. Nor does the emphasis on relatedness and interdependence mean that individual identity is obscured. Again and again the sutras urge us to live true to ourselves, independent of external pressures, and to let the "greater self" rise beyond the ego to fuse with the life of the universe, through which cause and effect eternally intertwine.
Awareness of the greater, cosmic self can be discerned in the work of many thinkers, writers, and artists; Jung perceived it in the depths of the ego, and it comes forth in Walt Whitman's poems and in the writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the other Transcendentalists. As a Mahayana Buddhist idea, it expresses the openness of character that embraces the sufferings of others and seeks ways to alleviate their pain and augment their happiness, here and now, in this life. Only the solidarity created through human nobility will break the isolation of the modern self and lead to new hope for the world. And when the greater self awakens, it will enable each of us individually to experience life and death with equal delight.
Moreover, Art has always been central in human life because it has the power to integrate and reveal the wholeness of things. Through art, people discover their bonds with each other, with nature, and with the universe. Into all the forms of art is impressed the symbol of ultimate reality. The soul of the artist stretches beyond the physical dimensions of the work to seek union with ultimate reality, to cosmic life. The work is life itself, born of the union of the self and the universe, the microcosm and the macrocosm. Through art we are spiritually renewed and energized by finding the infinite in the finite and universal meaning in actual experience.
When a jewel of art stirs an inner impulse that carries us beyond the world around us, we can share the ineffable experience with others while confirming its reality. That is why religion has always worked through art to affirm identity with the universal. As the English author Jane E. Harrison writes, it is "the same impulse that sends a man to church and to the theatre." That urge can inspire awe in a Japanese visitor to the Louvre, for instance, as he senses the ultimate reality in the great works of Christian art, even though his traditions are different. As in the cathedrals of Notre Dame and Chartres, art in the Middle Ages was the prime expression of the integration of the world's reality and ultimate reality. In the fusion of art and religion, people sought a more fulfilling life.
Japanese religiosity also exhibits a strong esthetic dimension that reaches out for wholeness and forms a link with the universal. To Andre Malraux, that dimension expressed an "inner reality," a religious quality in the Japanese perception of unity in society, nature, and the universe. Similarly, the French poet Paul Claudel described Japanese esthetics as concerned with being one with nature, rather than dominating it.
With modernization, however, has come a decline in the force of religion in both Eastern and Western civilizations. As it weakens, people cut themselves off from nature and the universal, and their bonds with each other shrivel and die. The artist, also, is isolated, playing to an audience rather than with it, and the painter approaches the blank canvas to be created for unknown viewers. The environment today offers no area of mutual encounter, no organic community of interest where the integrating force of art can work to connect us to ultimate reality. Tough many struggle to regain wholeness, some by trying to revive the vitality of ancient people, they are losing the ability to transcend the visible and penetrate deeper into reality. This despite their brilliance and freedom to create.
The Japanese esthetic consciousness springs from the idea of human coexistence with nature. It may contain a primitive animism, but even stronger is a sense of the total and eternal connectedness of things. This is described by the Buddhist term Kechi-en, which indicates the causal relationships that join every phenomenon to all others. Nothing can exist in isolation. Take the traditional Japanese arts of tea ceremony, flower arranging, folding screens, haiku, and linked verse; all have full meaning only when placed in a space in ordinary life. They achieve their value from the connections they establish with the space around them.
The idea of ku or sunyata( emptiness or viod) in Mahayana Buddhism is the reality of all things depending on the interconnections of kechi-en. Ku is the source of the dynamism of what I call "creative life"--that impulse to go beyond the limits of space and time in pursuit of the universal self. In breaking through to achieve self-renewal in tune with the universe, the creative life brings about a transformation. In the words of Rene Huyghe of the Academie Francaise: "We are connected with the totality and united with the creative action of the future, toward which the universe advances."
The Lotus Sutra, the core of Mahayana teaching, describes creative life as a totality beyond space and time, and it is contained in a single moment of an individual life. Our life enfolds all phenomena and at the same time pervades the universe, through past, present and future. On an everyday level, creative life propels us to the uninhibited realization of self-perfection, finding the Buddhist Way right here, in this troubled, mundane world. It is like the Treasure Tower adorned with jewels that the Sutra describes, the symbol of the grandeur and dignity of life, here and now, invoked through art's visual, poetic, musical images.
The creative life in the Lotus Sutra encompasses the religious, ethical, and esthetic dimensions of human life, which come together like a colored top whose hues blend into one as it spins. "Leap for Joy, rise and dance," says the Sutra, using the metaphor of dance to express the exultation of Shakyamuni's disciples when they embraced his teaching in the Lotus sutra "Dance," "leap," "rise" are symbols of the vibrant dynamism of the creative life, sublime in its pursuit of the Law while it strives to contribute to human society. One recalls a passage by Paul Valery in "Dance and the Soul" when he notes the "exaltation and vibration of life...the supremacy of tension" in the dance, the intense striving inspired to seek freedom from formal bounds. In difficult, changing times like ours people begin looking inward. Valery, Malraux, and many others saw the signs of a spiritual revolution, the glimmerings of creative life. Through inner human revolution it will surge onward in the quest for ultimate reality. This is the wellspring of the energy that activates all human endeavor.