The philosophy upheld by the SGI belongs to the tradition of humanism which originated with Prince Siddhartha in the Indian subcontinent. The core value of this philosophy is respect for the dignity of life and all human beings.
Prince Siddhartha (also known as Shakyamuni, or Gautama) was born some 2,500 years ago in Lumbini, to the royal family of an area in what is now Nepal. Shakyamuni observed the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death and, although he was then young and healthy himself, he perceived that these sufferings were an unavoidable aspects of human life. He renounced secular life and embarked on a quest for a true philosophy that would elucidate the meaning of life for all people.
Shakyamuni studied both traditional teachings and new teachings of his time but was not satisfied. He practiced meditation and contemplated deeply upon the root cause of suffering and a way to overcome it. Through this, he awakened to the eternal and universal law permeating the universe and the lives of each and every individual. This Law (Dharma) to which he awakened, formed the basis for a new humanistic life philosophy.
Shakyamuni realized that people were suffering due to the ignorance of the sanctity of their own lives and to self-centeredness arising from attachment to elusive desires and destructive egotism. After awakening to the true nature of life, Shakyamuni travelled widely, sharing his wisdom with others. Shakyamuni taught that by awakening to the universal Law one could release oneself from the lesser self and manifest one’s pure and highest state of life. This according to him was the most dignified and essential quality needed in order to live fully human lives.
The truth to which Shakyamuni was awakened to is expounded in the Lotus Sutra, which holds that the highest life state of life—characterized by compassion, wisdom and courage—is inherent within every person.
The Lotus Sutra describes Shakyamuni’s vow made in the distant past to elevate the life state of all living beings to that which he had attained. The Lotus Sutra calls for acts of compassion in order to inherit and actualize Shakyamuni’s eternal hope.
Firstly, the Lotus Sutra teaches that all people possess the highest life condition and supreme wisdom, courage and compassion. Secondly, the Sutra also clarifies the path through which all people can manifest this highest life condition. And thirdly, it teaches that people’s suffering, disbelief and worry can be transformed into a source of hope, courage and security.
The Lotus Sutra expresses the essential wish to attain unshakable happiness for oneself and all others and reveals Shakyamuni’s core teaching of how to lead people to overcome the root cause of suffering. Over several centuries, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and Shakyamuni’s true intent were clarified and universalized by various scholars thereby gaining a multi-layered richness.
Some 1,500 years after Shakyamuni’s passing, in the 13th Century, a sage named Nichiren Daishonin (1222–82) crystallized in universally accessible form the ultimate reality expounded in the Lotus Sutra. He defined this as “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” the fundamental law that is the essence of all life and phenomena. Nichiren’s teachings opened the way for all people to awaken to their highest potential. Nichiren’s teachings enable all people in today’s age to manifest their highest life state in the most easily accessible and easily applicable manner.