Friday, June 26, 2009

The Leap (Half) Year

My last post was in November 2008.

From then, changes have swiped across the entire globe with ever-increasing speed. Stocks crumbled and Wall Street rumbled. Millionaires dug their own graves and committed suicide, while the powerful danced to their own tunes and committed grave mistakes. Bloodshed was again seen in India when terrorists stormed Taj hotel on 26th November 2008 and left 183 dead, a strikingly similar event as what Pakistan experienced in September 2008 when a dump truck filled with explosives detonated in front of Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing at least 56. Iraq continued their civilian unrests till this day, with a series of recent attacks leaving nearly 200 people dead ahead of a U.S. military withdrawal next week, while Iran, as of this moment, experienced one of the most vocal and democratic street protests. Afghanistan is currently gearing up for its Presidential election in August, while North Korea defiantly ignored world concerns and protests, and proceeded to conduct its own missile activity.

In the midst of all these, and more, virus H5N1 and H1N1 have silently arrived at humanity's shores. Before we could breathe a gasp of air of tranquility, environmental issues, coupled with the shadows of bacterias and infections, have above all else come to remind us the limitations of human lives, as well as the interconnectedness of our lives with our surrounding.

How timely a well-packaged package, so to speak, would arrive at our doorstep to present to us a present of consciousness and awakening? It could not be a better time, when arrogance and greed, as rightly pointed out by Dr. Daisaku in his Peace Proposal 2009, surfaced as the root causes of this round of the world's financial breakdown. It injects a sense of realisation into us, the almost-almighty beings living on this planet, that beyond the borders of finances and achievements there lies a greater plain of endeavours, namely humility, responsibility and fragility.

Where one is struggling to find a standing spot on the ground to withstand the demoralising winds of restructuring, retrenchment and unemployment, it may well be worthwhile to pause for a moment and assess all events, happened and happening still, the meaning of all these phenomenas. "WHEN it comes to studying the teachings of Buddhism, one must first learn to understand the time" (The Selection of Time, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin - Page 538), so says Nichiren, the founder of Buddhism that forms the underlying religious foundation of Soka Gakkai International's activities. True to these words, it can be readily seen that in this time of 'worst depression' since 1930, it is in fact the best time for one to reflect the true meaning of our existence and worth.

A man of wealth can never come to grasp the pain of poverty and loss. It is only in the time of recession and depression, marked by financial and material losses that he/ she can come to comprehend mutual sentiments. It is only in such a time that he/ she is compelled to step out of the long-lived shells and be connected with what another person might experience, and what the world-at-large transits through, when losses, separations and even deaths occur. It is perhaps also in such a time that he/ she would come to reflect internally and be enlightened to the truth that what one person is, after all, not much of a different from another when anxiety, sadness, misery and pain are concerned. On this platform of inner cosmos, we are in fact all standing on the same plateau, breathing the same air, facing the same moon, feeling the same wind.

The world has for a moment paused, due to this economic breakdown and recessive motions. Thanks to this moment of stoppage, the visions of humanity can for once be drawn onto the urgently-pressing yet highly-ignored environmental degradations. It is no surprise that one can easily detect the unusual heat and temperature-rise, as Singapore, a country located near the Equator, proceeds into the mid-band of 2009. Singapore is not alone; the whole world IS experiencing a temperature rise, and the fastest and most direct effect on our planet would be a meltdown of icebergs at both our planet's poles. In a matter of decades, if not years, a sea-level rise will be inevitable. Humans will be forced to relocate uphills as our coastal shorelines ascend drastically, savagely consuming large portion of agricultural lands. Resources will be made limited, when a congregation of immensely huge number of people living on a decreasing amount of land, with fresh water, fisheries, forests and other food supplies either controlled by the minority or contaminated by soil erosion and air degradation. The end result, as Homer-Dixon (1994) hypothesized in his theory of 'environmental scarcity', is the generation of 'human acute conflicts', where 'interstate wars for renewable resources, group identity conflicts due to large population movements, and deprivation conflicts such as civil strife and insurgency' would destabilise humanity's very existence.

Dr. Daisaku sets out in his far-sighted proposals the reclamation of humanity's consciousness as a group of beings borned with the capacity to be enlightened and and living together in harmony and peace. He challenged us in building a culture of 'peaceful competitions', borned out of fervent the wish of channeling humanity's unlimited wellspring of energy and creativity into positive undertakings, amongst us and between nations. In it he described the value of 'humanitarian competition', a term first set out by the first president of Soka Gakkai Tsunesaburo Makiguchi in his 1903 work The Geography of Human Life, where he envisioned from nations and nations to civilisation and civilisation competing each other for the purpose of contributing to the positive changes to societies and the world. Makiguchi had observed the changing tides of human history and concluded that as human beings began their civilisation from warring and conquering, which marked a Civilisation of Military, the settlements and tranquility brought on a Civilisation of Politics, where humans proceeded to deal with each other on the platform of rules and laws, rather than on the military's. With the political elements set in placed, humanity began to search again for a greater meaning beyond the frameworks of politics, and thus the Civilisation of Economics came in. It was in his time that Economics, and more so after the two World Wars, became the pillar of humanity's progress and flourishment. From then on we are born into this frantic world of ever-changing and ever-chasing, constantly building our wealth and elevating our statuses, all for the sole purpose of achieving 'happiness'. In a nutshell, and certianly without our realisation, 'happiness' has long been equated with wealth, social standing and certainly financial influentiality.

In his very words, Dr. Daisaku said in his 2009 peace proposal, "I am fully convinced that the time has now arrived, a hundred years after it was originally proposed, for us to turn our attention to humanitarian competition as a guiding principle for the new era." Indeed, as we now witness the unfolding dramatic events of the world, day by day, we may come to realise that it is in the worst of time that the best of all resides. In exact accordance with the Buddhist principle of Law of Causality, it is right in the muddiest pond that the lotus flower blooms the fiercest, and while the flower manifests the glorious beauty and fragrance, the unseen and uninviting seed is already found within it. Life supports life, while birth and death are one single entity. Dr. Daisaku's calling for the seizure of time to act decisively and wisely is in all sense a calling to our own consciousness to reflect and re-direct. From deep within humanity will find her own path of future to walk ahead and out of this forest of confusion and chaos, and into the magnificent garden of humanitarianism and social-volunteerism. It is from there that peace between nations can be forged, and harmony between humans and nature can be achieved.

As we leap into the next half of 2009, may our thoughts go out to all those who are struggling in this turbulent world still.


Homer-Dixon, T.F. (1994). Environmental Scarcities and Violent Conflict: Evidence from Cases. Retrieved on 10/01/2008, from the Universtiy of Toronto Libraries website