Into Full Flower

Conversation Fifteen: The Two-Hundred-Year Present

By Elise Boulding and Daisaku Ikeda

The Andalusian Example

IKEDA: Some thirty years ago, I asked Toynbee what historical period and place he would most like to have been born in. He replied Xinjiang (now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China) soon after the start of the Common Era, because Central Asia at that time was a meeting point for Buddhist, Indian, Greek, Iranian, and Chinese cultures. How would you answer the same question?

BOULDING: I am drawn to many historical periods but for a long time have been especially fascinated by Andalusia, Spain, in the fourteenth century, when Arab culture was arriving and coming into contact with the culture of the Roman Empire. Several great forces came together. Though the period was not free of conflict, the Arab court culture of Andalusia witnessed a great philosophical and scientific flowering.

IKEDA: You previously mentioned Spain as a model twenty-first-century society (see Conversation Fourteen). So Spain also interests you as a place of historic encounters among civilizations. In the period you mention, students from across Europe went to study at the Islamic universities of Andalusia.

BOULDING: People from all areas of society came together and were constantly engaged in lively discussion. New participants from various ethnic groups joined in to learn one another’s languages and engage in dialogue, which they chose in preference to warfare. This cultural situation lasted until the appearance of Ferdinand II and Isabella I in the fifteenth century.

IKEDA: They united Spain and completed the reconquista, or reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula by destroying the Moorish kingdom of Granada in 1492.

BOULDING: Up until that time, Spain had a vigorous culture from which we have inherited a great deal of our intellectual wealth. I would have found it very exciting to live then and to witness how discussion propelled things along.

IKEDA: In our global age, the fourteenth-century Andalusian spirit of dialogue and tolerance has much to teach us about avoiding cultural standardization and maintaining our individual identities while still stimulating and influencing one another.

You have said, again, that peace culture is not just a way of resolving conflicts—it is a way of creatively managing differences. Defined in this way, a peace culture can be said to have existed in Islamic Andalusia. The theory of the clash of civilizations paints a picture of self-contained, isolated development, but civilizations grow and develop through ceaseless exchange, mutual stimulation, and unending dialogue.

Many Sources of Wisdom

BOULDING: In Europe and North America, history has been taught as a series of civilizations, culminating in Western civilization as the pinnacle. This very false picture suggests that all other civilizations are merely a buildup to the civilization of the West. Actually, however, long predating even literacy in Europe, ancient civilizations in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa produced sacred writings and great documents about humanity, art, music, and so on. Western civilization does not become an important actor on the world stage until recent times.

IKEDA: Several thinkers, including Franz Fanon, Edward Said, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, have penetratingly analyzed and, in fact, criticized the West-centric view of history. But their views are still far from the mainstream in the nations forming the core of today’s world order. As Said points out in Orientalism, the West-centric approach is more than a philosophy of history—it seeks control over non-Western politics, economics, culture, and education. This worldview is interrelated with the widening gap between rich and poor, the loss of cultural diversity, and other related problems generated by globalization.

BOULDING: I want children growing up in all countries—especially in the United States—to realize that they are recipients of the wisdom many civilizations have evolved over thousands of years. It is terribly important for people in the West to understand
how much harm colonialism did by imposing cultural boundaries. In addition, they must understand the integrity of other peoples who have their own languages, histories, and cultural achievements. Understanding that the 191 nation-states on earth embody “ten thousand societies,” we must encourage respect for the incredible diversity of human creativity.

A History More Complex

IKEDA: Transcending national boundaries and the narrow nationalism that separates people must begin with research into, as you describe, the incredible diversity of human creativity and education that respects that diversity. The Austria-born philosopher Ivan Illich had some interesting things to say on this topic. First, he believed that the meaning of the word peace differs depending on the age and culture. For example, the meanings of the Latin pax, Hebrew shalom, and Hindi shanti all differ slightly. Illich believed that we need a history of peace, which would undoubtedly be much richer and more complex than our history of war, and that a history consisting of nothing but conflict oversimplifies the past.

BOULDING: In a book I wrote titled Cultures of Peace, the Hidden Side of History (2000), I argued that history is thought of as the history of war, when actually true human history describes how people have coped with the various issues that came their way. Although some interactions were violent, far more were nonviolent. But this rarely appears in history books. We need a new approach to history because too many people believe that humans are basically war-making animals and that the more weapons we have, the safer we are.

IKEDA: The belief that humans are fundamentally warlike inevitably becomes justification for war and violence. This notion itself inflames the cycle of hatred and violence, thus spreading mistrust and prejudice among people.

Buddhism regards violence as a manifestation of the destructive impulse within human life. Although it cannot be entirely eliminated, this impulse can be controlled. I am convinced that we have the wisdom to adjust and alter our social systems to prevent violent outbreaks.

Exactly as you say, it is dangerous to conclude that human history is synonymous with a record of war. Several writers, including Erich Neumann in The Great Mother, Marija Gimbutas in Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, and Riane Eisler in The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future, have clearly identified war-free periods of history. For instance, a matriarchal, peace-loving society flourished in Neolithic Europe but was replaced by a patriarchal culture when, in the Bronze Age, Proto-Indo-Europeans invaded and the spread of Indo-European languages began.

BOULDING: We need to tell the women’s story. When men go to war, women and children are left at home. European history shows that hospitals were originated by women as ways of organizing care both for children and the wounded. Women created institutions and schools because they had the time to teach their children. Since they were home and were not off fighting wars, women, especially nuns, developed educational systems and hospitals in the midst of wartime. Instead of always just describing how the Crusaders battled all the way to Constantinople and the Holy Land, it would be very interesting to write a history of the Crusades from the perspective of women.

Ordinary People As Leaders

IKEDA: The Crusaders offer a striking example of how the meaning of history changes vastly depending on how you interpret events. No doubt the Crusades would look very different from the standpoint of women.

Toda insisted that truly studying history entails developing your own perspective on it. He instructed me to always view history from the standpoint of ordinary people. The simple fact that war has caused the greatest suffering to ordinary people enrages me. History is certainly much more than the exploits and triumphs of heroes.

BOULDING: From time to time, social movements generate eloquent leaders like Gandhi or King. But what is really important is that social movements develop in ordinary people a new awareness of what the world can be like. Great religious figures like Abraham, Mohammed, Jesus, and Shakyamuni ultimately articulated new forms of popular understanding that emerged in their times.

IKEDA: The lives of nonviolent heroes like Gandhi and King suggest superhuman courage and leadership abilities. Both of them, however, continually emphasized the mission of each and every individual.

This was Shakyamuni’s message, too, as is clear from the “Expedient Means” chapter of the Lotus Sutra, where he states his goal to “make all persons equal to me, without any distinction between us.” Everyone is endowed with limitless wisdom, courage, and good fortune, he believed. His intent was to develop these qualities in all his disciples to the degree to which he himself had manifested them. In India, Buddhism died out largely because it started to set Shakyamuni apart as someone special, someone isolated from ordinary people.

BOULDING: Too often, leaders with great charisma have seized power. I am interested in social movements that enable leaders to emerge who, while still charismatic, do not grab power.

As an example, when Norway was invaded during World War II, you could say no charismatic leaders emerged. Instead, a widespread resistance movement created a complete, silent system of underground communication and self-governance. Nobody needed to make loud declarations.

The movement arose from interpersonal relationships that evolved during the Nazi occupation. Of course, this had a lot to do with qualities inherent in Norwegian society. They are the qualities of sharing responsibility, being responsible for one another, and not seeking to be the spokesperson or the leader.

Change comes from creative movements by the people. In a creative society, spokespersons, no matter how eloquent, are not power-grabbers of the kind that can very quickly lead society astray.

All Equally Worthy

IKEDA: History and our own times, too, offer examples of movements—religious and political—that have, after starting as social reformations embodying popular hopes, become authoritarian, ossified, and alienated from ordinary people. In contrast to such movements, the SGI remains and must forever remain a great hope for the people. To maintain this, we rely on the mentor-disciple relationship.

When a movement imagines it can assume absolute, inviolable authority, it has stagnated. Then, though some of the original ideals may linger, the movement no longer has the vibrant power to realize them.

Some people incorrectly interpret the mentor-disciple relationship as one of formalized superiority and submission. But, according to the Buddhist teachings, this should not be the case. The Buddhist philosophy that all are equally worthy of respect is no abstract doctrine. It must become the core of one’s own way of life.

To truly achieve this in Buddhist practice, the disciple needs a mentor who is both a great teacher and a fellow pursuer of self-improvement. Herein lies the true mentor-disciple way. In the simplest terms, it is a relationship of equality between companions who share the will for self-improvement.

BOULDING: The sharing is very important. With members in many countries, the SGI can make truly important contributions to the international peace community. In addition, because of the spiritual depth it helps provide, the SGI’s peace movement is more than political in nature. An exclusively political peace movement cannot attain the stage of mutual inspiration essential to pacifist efforts. Similarly, we Quakers, too, work as a peace-creating spiritual community across national borders.

IKEDA: Always on behalf of the ordinary people, I am determined in the coming years to uphold the voice of ethics, the power of culture, and the spirit of innovation in education.

As our dialogue draws to its conclusion, may I ask you to send one more message to young people working for peace in the twenty-first century?

BOULDING: I think in terms of what I call the two-hundred-year present when considering ways in which humanity can approach the ideal of being true global citizens. The two hundred years consist of the century that has passed since the birth of people who are one hundred today and the century that will pass before infants born today are centenarians.

We have and will come into contact with people living through those two centuries across the planet. Each person, from the oldest to the youngest, is part of a greater community. Our contact with them means that we do not live in the present only. If the present moment were all, its occurrences would crush us. But if we think of ourselves as existing in a greater span of time—the two-hundred-year present—what a multitude of partners each of us will have in our particular lifetime, from youth to old age!

IKEDA: A profound, thought-provoking idea. Buddhism teaches:

If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present.

A brilliant future begins here and now with our first bold step forward. I hope that you and I can continue to work together to expand a network of friendship in years to come. By devoting ourselves completely to the cause of peace, we can make recompense to the victims of past wars and create a world in which the people of tomorrow indeed live in happiness.



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