for sustainable development
Special to The Japan Times
will mark the start of the United Nations Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development. The Decade offers a vital opportunity to
make real progress toward putting human society on the path to
sustainability. More than one-fourth of humankind lives in
conditions of chronic poverty. Famine, military conflict,
human-rights abuses, environmental degradation and climate change
all threaten human dignity -- indeed, survival. The challenges
facing us are clear and inescapable.
Sustainable development has been defined as development that
meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs. It includes such diverse
aspects as peace, ecological integrity and human rights, and
requires us to reassess our concept of "progress." Education for
sustainable development must find a central place across the full
spectrum of educational endeavors if it is to provide the
opportunity for all people to learn the values, behavior and
lifestyles required for positive societal transformation.
Because sustainable development is such a comprehensive concept,
it can provide the links across otherwise nonconversant bodies of
knowledge, opening up exciting new possibilities for
multidisciplinary collaboration and cross-fertilization. But it is
especially vital that we focus on children and young people. At the
same time, education for sustainable development must actively
engage traditional bodies of knowledge and informal sites of
learning -- in the family, the factory and the local community.
To achieve sustainability, we will have to draw from the richest
veins of wisdom from humanity's diverse past and present, enlisting
these for the sake of the future we all must share. The Earth
Charter, a statement of shared values and principles refined and
formulated through a process of sustained dialogue involving
representatives of the world's cultural and spiritual traditions,
gives succinct expression to the challenge: "We must join together
to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for
nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of
peace. Toward this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of
Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater
community of life, and to future generations."
Most fundamentally, our survival hinges on realizing a profound
change within human beings themselves; only a reorientation in the
inner life of humanity will enable us to meet the daunting
challenges that face us. On a previous occasion I proposed the
following three attributes for global citizenship:
The wisdom to perceive the inter-connectedness of all life and
The courage not to fear or deny difference; but to respect and
strive to understand people of different cultures, and to grow from
encounters with them.
The compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches
beyond one's immediate surroundings and extends to those suffering
in distant places.
I believe that the process of developing and strengthening these
qualities is at the heart of education for sustainable development.
From the Buddhist perspective, our most pressing task is to
understand the inner forces within the human heart that drive people
to engage in the ultimately self-destructive act of disrupting and
undermining harmony with the natural environment and other people.
Buddhism regards the inability to recognize the reality of
interconnection as "fundamental darkness" or ignorance. This means
ignorance of the web of interdependence that supports our existence
in the world. It is the inability or refusal to perceive the chains
of cause and effect by which our actions influence our surroundings
-- in ways that ultimately impact our own lives. It is the cold
brutality and folly that imagines that the misery of others can be
the basis for our own happiness. This attitude is sadly reflected in
patterns of resource consumption that are undermining the very
life-systems of the planet on which we live.
A reawakening to the reality of our interconnection and
interdependence must take concrete form in efforts to extend
solidarity and concern toward all those with whom we share this
brief moment in the history of our planet. We must learn to act
today with responsibility toward the generations who will follow us.
And we must never surrender to the forces of hatred and division
raging in the world -- and the poisoned sense of futility and
powerlessness they implant.
Within the great, interconnected web of being, each person has a
unique purpose to fulfill, a contribution only he or she can make.
Even if people are engaged in problematic behavior, we should not
give in to the temptation to regard people as a problem. We should
instead learn to regard each individual as a resource of truly
limitless potential, remembering that the wisdom and insight to
resolve humanity's most pressing challenges already exists as a
hidden, untapped possibility in the hearts of people alive today --
and most especially in the hearts and minds of the young. To be
effective, education for sustainability must be rooted in a deep
faith in humanity -- the determination to awaken human agency
through the interlocking processes of learning, reflection and
The founder of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, was an
educator whose first work, "The Geography of Human Life," written in
1903, offers a detailed exploration of the interrelationship between
humanity and our natural environment. At the start of this book,
Makiguchi describes the objects in his study, the various
accouterments of daily life, noting that these are in fact results
of the labors of people in other lands. In his work, we can feel the
common pulse and hear the shared breathing of self and other, of the
unseen people near and far whose lives are linked to ours in
relationships of mutual support. His efforts as an educator were
focused on enabling children to develop a concrete appreciation for
the relationships that connect us to each other, to the natural
environment and to the world.
Makiguchi noted the fact that while humans cannot create matter,
they can create value. He saw the development of wisdom as the key
to enhancing children's ability to make the world a healthier, more
beautiful, better place. I think this insight -- that our capacity
to create value is not intrinsically constrained by the physical
resources we have available to us -- points to a core aspect of
sustainability: Where do we find the wisdom to do more with less?
How do we create limitless value from a finite natural resource base
so that all people -- now and in the future -- may enjoy lives of
dignity, comfort and fulfillment?
Key to this challenge is confronting the nature of human desire:
whether we control our desires or are controlled by them, whether,
in the words of one Sutra, we are the masters of our minds or our
minds are our masters.
Buddhism teaches that desires can be transformed. The thirst for
justice is a desire. So is the desire to free the world from
needless suffering. The qualities of courage, wisdom and compassion
I mentioned earlier can act to unleash these most elevated forms of
desire, encouraging reflection, action and transformation. The
success of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development will
depend on whether it can touch people's lives at this deepest level.
Efforts for the future that come straight from the heart have the
power to change the world.
Daisaku Ikeda is president of Soka Gakkai International and
founder of Soka University. A longer version of this article will
appear in the Development Education Journal of February 2005 ( www.dea.org.uk).
The Japan Times: Nov. 22, 2004