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The Hidden Claws

by Clark Strand

IN 1946, THE YEAR FOLLOWING THE WORLD'S FIRST USE of nuclear weapons, Albert Einstein declared, "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking...." Sadly, more than 60 years later, this is still the case. The discovery of nuclear energy represented a radical shift in the paradigm which until then had governed scientific theory and practice, but there was no corresponding shift at a social or spiritual level to prepare humanity for the awesome responsibility that came with unprecedented destructive power. Thus a widening chasm opened before us which, then as now, seemed almost impossible to bridge.

Fortunately, what seems impossible at the level of society (namely, a global spiritual shift to keep pace with the rapid scientific one), is nevertheless possible at the level of the individual, and so there is every reason for hope. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has written: "A great human revolution in just a single individual [can] help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind."

In examining the historic record of the Soka Gakkai, I believe that this "human revolution in the life of a single individual" is precisely what we see in evidence on September 8, 1957, when President Josei Toda gave his famous "Declaration Calling for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons."

Brief as it is, the text of that Declaration sounds as shocking today as it did when it was delivered 50 years ago. A shift in paradigm is always shocking. At first we cannot be certain we have heard it correctly. Precisely because it supersedes the old model, it is difficult to assimilate. In the beginning, we lack the new spiritual and intellectual resources for taking it in. Indeed, we may feel tempted to reject such a paradigm at first because it doesn't fit anywhere within the model we are used to.

On that day, before a group of 50,000 members of the Soka Gakkai's youth division, Toda stated what he hoped his hearers would regard as his "foremost instruction for the future." Given that he was then already ill--and, indeed, would die seven months later--his words must have had the added power of a kind of last will and testament. In the famous photograph taken of him on that occasion, it is clear that his physical vitality is on the wane. This in itself must have added a certain power and urgency to the substance of what he said. He was making a transmission of the teaching he had devoted his life to, and he did so in the most uncompromising of words:

"Although a movement calling for a ban on the testing of atomic or nuclear weapons has arisen around the world, it is my wish to go further, to attack the problem at its root. I want to expose and rip out the claws that lie hidden in the very depths of such weapons. I wish to declare that anyone who ventures to use nuclear weapons, irrespective of their nationality or whether their country is victorious or defeated, should be sentenced to death without exception."

When we consider the fact that even his successor and closest disciple Daisaku Ikeda had to struggle to grasp the meaning of Toda's words, it is clear that they were not immediately understandable to everyone. For one thing, Buddhism does not support the idea of a death penalty. For another, Toda himself had spoken out against it, claiming the very idea was "absolutely futile."

Toda's "Declaration" was one of those occasions when a great Buddhist teacher, in contradicting himself, pointed to a truth that lay beyond the framework of our ordinary way of thinking. In Toda's case, what he was pointing toward was an entirely new way of living in human society, one that would prove necessary if we were to survive in a global age.

That new way of living was based on an awareness of the fundamental dignity of human life. But to attain that awareness, one first had to see oneself as fundamentally human rather than merely as belonging to a nation, a religion or a tribe.

At the beginning of his life mission, when Josei Toda stated his value-creating philosophy with the simple words "The Buddha is life itself," he did not mean that the Buddha's life was the life of a person living in Japan. Though his mission in the beginning was directed toward the impoverished and downtrodden people of postwar Japan, it was ultimately never restricted to purely nationalistic concerns. It was simply the right place to start--with his own devastated country and his own suffering people. But from the beginning, his religious vision had broken the tribal mode. Even in his later struggles with various adversaries--with the Nichiren Shoshu hierarchy and with the Japanese government itself--he was aware that the true nature of his struggle was with "the claws of evil" hidden in the depths of the human heart itself. This was his only adversary in life, and in truth the only real adversary of humanity itself. When he called for the death penalty for anyone who ventured to use weapons of mass destruction, he was calling for all of humanity to unite in resisting the only force that could possibly ever destroy them--the roots of the three poisons: greed, anger and ignorance. These were "the hidden claws" in the depths of the human heart that needed to be eradicated.

In making his declaration against nuclear weapons, Toda was calling for all humanity to unite, crossing traditional boundaries of tribe and country, victor and vanquished, in opposing a force that was truly the enemy of all. It was the first time in human history that the shape and contour of that enemy had become fully apparent. Until then, human beings had always been content to war among themselves, satisfied with the traditional tribalistic notion of "enemy as other." Now, for the first time, they faced an enemy with the power to destroy them all.

At first it must have seemed to Toda's listeners that he was talking about the scientists or politicians who authorized the use of such weapons, or the soldiers who had deployed them, but they quickly realized that the real enemy, whom Toda referred to as "a devil incarnate, a fiend, a monster," was much vaster and more powerful than that. Storm the palace or the presidium and you might find its minions, but the demon itself could be found only by searching out the deepest recesses of the human psyche. It was the first time in human history that the demon could be identified as separate from the purely projectory "enemy-as-other" that human beings were used to fighting. This enemy was far more dangerous than any single nation, territory or tribe. It had the power to destroy all nations, all territories and all tribes--and given the freedom to exercise its influence over humanity, it was almost certain to do exactly that.

In retrospect, the new paradigm bequeathed by Josei Toda to his successor Daisaku Ikeda and to the rest of the Soka Gakkai youth was more than an antidote to the single problem of nuclear proliferation. In truth, Toda was offering the solution to all other manner of global problems--from terrorism to economic expansionism to global climate change. For none of these problems could even be addressed unless men and women across the globe became empowered through a process of human revolution. Only a paradigm that expanded their vision beyond the traditional boundaries separating human beings and defining their interests apart from one another could possibly address problems that exist on a truly global scale.

The advent of nuclear weapons brought with it the necessity for a new way of thinking, in that for the first time in history, human beings became capable of destroying all human life. Likewise today, the problem of global climate change cannot be solved by nationalities or special interest groups acting alone. Global problems require global solutions. And global solutions require a global consciousness--and the willingness of all humanity to work together as one. But as with all radical shifts in consciousness, it has to begin somewhere. In Buddhism, I trace that beginning to September 8, 1957.

CLARK STRAND is an author and lecturer on contemporary spiritual practice. A former Senior Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, he has been an influential voice in America and abroad on the transmission of Buddhism to the West.


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