Our world today is facing a crisis unlike any other as the coronavirus pandemic shakes the foundations of our global society and economy. Yet, amidst this devastation, we are also seeing the strengthening of an international spirit of compassion to ensure that we leave no one behind. This concern — to ‘leave no one behind’ — is the animating spirit of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I know it is also the heartfelt wish of my young friends in India who are exerting themselves to encourage those around them and share in their suffering at this difficult time.
Reflecting on this spirit, I am reminded of a parable in Buddhism, the great spiritual heritage that was nurtured in the soil of the Indian subcontinent. This story appears in the Lotus Sutra, the teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha that opens our eyes to the brilliant dignity of all people.
A large group of people is crossing a vast desert in search of a magnificent treasure land. Exhausted by the hardships of their journey, they are about to abandon their quest. Just then, the leader points to a city in the distance and encourages them to keep going until they reach it. The hopes of the people revive, and they find the energy to continue. Once there, they recuperate, and the leader encourages them to keep going towards their actual destination. “Together,” he tells them, “we will be able to reach the treasure land.”
This parable speaks to us of the resilience and untapped strength of the human spirit. Even more significantly, it teaches us the importance of moving forward together with others in our pursuit of the goal of happiness, no matter how impossible the journey may sometimes seem.
Similarly, as the world strives to achieve the SDGs, we must be focussed not only on meeting targets, but also on restoring the well-being of each individual who is suffering. And likewise, the key to recovery from the coronavirus crisis lies in alleviating the suffering of those struggling the most.
I am convinced humanity possesses the ability to transform this crisis into a catalyst for creating positive value for all. The renowned historian Arnold J Toynbee, with whom I engaged in dialogue, held truly deep feelings towards India, great land of the spirit. He famously asserted that both civilisations and individuals can create tremendous value when they respond to and overcome the challenges that confront them.
As grave as this crisis is, there is no doubt we can overcome it if we summon up and share our inherent boundless wisdom, creativity and power. When we do so, the dignity of our lives will shine even more brilliantly.
India is a great nation of young people, a rising superpower of the 21st century with profound spiritual roots. I have no doubt that, through each of you, India will play a pivotal role in the emergence of a new renaissance of life as we persevere in our brave efforts to triumph in this challenging time.
(Daisaku Ikeda is honorary president of the Soka Gakkai and founder of the Soka schools system. He lives in Japan. February 4 marks the 60th anniversary of his first visit to India.)