The philosophy upheld by the SGI belongs to the tradition of Buddhist humanism which originated with Shakyamuni in the Indian subcontinent. The core value of this philosophy is respect for the dignity of life and all human beings.
Shakyamuni was born some 2,500 years ago 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 Shakyamuni awakened to is the essence of Buddhism.
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 traveled 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 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 enlightened to is expounded in the Lotus Sutra, a central teaching of Mahayana Buddhism, which holds that Buddhahood—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.
The Lotus Sutra teaches that all people possess the life condition of the Buddha and the Buddha’s wisdom. The Sutra also clarifies the path to enlightenment for all people. Secondly, it clarifies that the teachings in the Lotus Sutra represent the foundational teaching of all Buddhas. Thirdly, it teaches that at times when people have fallen into suffering, disbelief and worry, the teachings of the Lotus Sutra should be shared among the people as it will provide 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 Buddhist scholars thereby gaining a multilayered richness.
Some 1,500 years after Shakyamuni’s passing, in the 13th Century, Nichiren (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 Buddha nature. They are a fulfillment of the intent of the Lotus Sutra, an intent synonymous with the compassionate desire at the heart of Buddhism, as expressed by Shakyamuni’s words in the 16th chapter that are recited daily by members of the SGI:
At all times I think to myself:
How can I cause living beings
to gain entry into the unsurpassed way
and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?