This resource collects excerpts from Daisaku Ikeda's university addresses that shed light on the Mahayana Buddhist concept of the greater self. In these short pieces, Ikeda explains the relationship between the greater and the lesser, ego-driven self. Also explored: the value of the greater self in our quest for personal, social, and global well-being. All excerpts from A New Humanism: The University Addresses of Daisaku Ikeda (London and New York: I. B. Taurus, 2010).
From "The Enduring Self," a speech delivered at the University of California, Los Angeles, April 1, 1974
To live for the greater self does not mean abandoning the lesser self, for the lesser self is able to act only because of the existence of the greater self. The effect of that relationship is to motivate the desires and attachments common to all human beings to stimulate the advancement of civilization. If wealth were not attractive, economic growth would not take place. If humans had not struggled to overcome the natural elements, science could not have flourished. Without the mutual attachment and conflicts characteristic of relationships between the sexes, literature would have been deprived of one of its most lyrical and enduring themes. ...
Desire and sorrow are essential aspects of life; they cannot be eliminated. Desire and all it implies constitutes a generative, driving force. Nevertheless, desire (and the lesser self which it affects) must be correctly oriented. In striving to discover the greater self, the genuine Buddhist approach is not to try to suppress or wipe out the lesser self, but to control and direct it so as to help lift civilization to better, higher levels.
From "Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First Century Civilisation," a speech delivered at Harvard University, September 24, 1993
The Buddhist emphasis on relatedness and interdependence may seem to suggest that individual identity is obscured. Buddhist scripture addresses this in the following passage:
"You are your own master. Could anyone else be your master? When you have gained control over your self, you have found a master of rare value."
A second passage reads:
"Be lamps unto yourselves. Rely on yourselves. Hold fast to the Law as a lamp, do not rely on anything else."
Both passages urge us to live independently, true to ourselves and unswayed by others. The "self" referred to here, however, is not what Buddhism terms the "lesser self" (Jpn. shoga), caught up in the snares of egoism. Rather, it is the "greater self" (Jpn. taiga) fused with the life of the universe through which cause and effect intertwine over the infinite reaches of space and time.
This greater, cosmic self is related to the unifying and integrating "self" that Jung perceived in the depths of the ego. It is also similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson's "universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One."
I am firmly convinced that a wide-scale awakening to this greater self will give rise to a world of creative coexistence in the coming century. Recall the lines of Walt Whitman, in which he sings the praises of the human spirit:
But that I, turning, call to thee O soul, thou actual Me,
And lo, thou gently masterest the orbs,
Thou matest Time, smilest content at Death,
And fillest, swellest full the vastness of Space.
The "greater self" of Mahayana Buddhism is another way of expressing the openness and expansiveness of character that embraces the sufferings of all people as one's own. This self always seeks ways of alleviating the pain, and augmenting the happiness, of others, here, amid the realities of everyday life. Only the solidarity brought about by such natural human nobility will break down the isolation of the modern self and lead to the dawning of new hope for civilization. Furthermore, it is the dynamic, vital awakening of the greater self that will enable each of us, as individuals, to experience both life and death with equal delight.
From "Peace and Human Security: A Buddhist Perspective for the Twenty-First Century," a speech deliverd at the East-West Center, January 26, 1995
The wisdom of Buddhism enables us to break the confines of the "lesser self" (Jpn. shoga), the private and isolated self held prisoner to its own desires, passions and hatreds. It further enables us to contextualize the deep-rooted psychology of collective identity as we expand our lives, with overflowing exuberance, toward the "greater self" (Jpn. taiga), which is coexistent with the living essence of the universe.
This wisdom is not to be sought in some distant place, but can be found within ourselves, beneath our very feet as it were. It resides in the living microcosm within and wells forth in limitless profusion when we devote ourselves to courageous and compassionate action for the sake of humanity, society, and the future. Through this kind of "Bodhisattva practice," we develop the wisdom to sever the shackles of the ego, and the spheres of our disparate knowledge will begin to turn with vibrant balance toward a prosperous human future.