The following is an excerpt from “The Age of Soft Power,” SGI President Ikeda’s address on Sept. 26, 1991, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. The full text appears in My Dear Friends in America, second edition, pp. 122−31.
One of the most important Buddhist concepts, dependent origination, holds that all beings and phenomena exist or occur in relation to other beings or phenomena. All things are linked in an intricate web of causation and connection, and nothing, whether in the realm of human affairs or natural phenomena, can exist or occur solely of its own accord. Greater emphasis is placed on the interdependent relationships among individuals than on the individual alone. As astute Western observers like Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead have noted, however, overemphasis on interdependence can submerge the individual and reduce one’s capacity for positive engagement in the world. Passivity, in fact, has been a pronounced historical tendency in Buddhist-influenced cultures. The deeper essence of Buddhism, however, goes beyond passivity to offer a level of interrelatedness that is uniquely dynamic, holistic and generated from within.
We have noted that encounters between different cultures are not always amicable. The reality of opposing interests and even hostility must be acknowledged. What can be done to promote harmonious relationships? An episode from the life of Shakyamuni may help. Shakyamuni was once asked the following question: “We are told that life is precious. And yet all people live by killing and eating other living beings. Which living beings may we kill and which living beings must we not kill?” To this simple expression of doubt, Shakyamuni replied, “It is enough to kill the will to kill.”
Shakyamuni’s response is neither evasion nor deception but is based on the concept of dependent origination. He is saying that, in seeking the kind of harmonious relationship expressed by respect for the sanctity of life, we must not limit ourselves to the phenomenal level where hostility and conflict (in this case, which living beings it is acceptable to kill and which not) undeniably exist. We must seek harmony on a deeper level—a level where it is truly possible to “kill the will to kill.” More than objective awareness, we must achieve a state of compassion transcending distinctions between self and other. We need to feel the compassionate energy that beats within the depths of all people’s subjective lives, where the individual and the universal are merged. This is not the simplistic denial or abnegation of the individual self that Bergson and Whitehead criticize. It is the fusion of self and other. At the same time, it is an expansion of the limited, ego-shackled self toward a greater self whose scale is as limitless and unbounded as the universe (pp. 129–30).