1996 Keynote Speech: Equality and Peace


Distinguished Guests and Members of the Buddha's Light International Association, first, let me welcome all of you to the 5th General Conference of the Buddha's Light International Association held here in this wonderful city. Paris is a symbol of peace and civilization. I am deeply grateful that so many of us have gathered here to take part in this very important convocation. Lasting peace has been the dream of civilizations throughout human history. In this violent and troubled century, which has produced so much war and fear, the dream of forging a lasting peace in the world has grown even more urgent. Our tragedy has been that those of us who are alive today continue to "use war to stop war." War does not stop war; it only brings more violence and pain into the world.

There are many problems in the world today: the strong exploit the weak, some people are wealthy while others are poor, the world's races and religions are often at odds with each other, and throughout most of the world, both men and women are not treated equally. These conditions only lead to strife. That is why we say, "Discord arises out of unfair treatment." When people are not treated equally, there will always be complaints and conflict between them.

For this reason, we have chosen "equality and peace" as the theme of this conference. I hope that everyone gathered here will take the twin ideals of equality and peace back to their communities with them. Through our concerted efforts, I am certain that we can succeed in helping all people of the world understand and appreciate the importance of these profound ideals.

Let's begin by talking about equality. From ancient times, people have pondered the meaning and importance of equality, but when it comes to actually implementing this ideal in the real world, their efforts have often failed. There are several Buddhist principles that can help us to better understand the deep meaning of equality and how to practice it in daily life. Buddhists often say "All sentient beings and Buddhas are equal," "Essence and form are equal," "Self and others are equal," "Phenomena and principles are equal," and "Being and nonbeing are equal." These basic principles of Buddhism help to elucidate the following four points:

Equality among people completely depends on their having mutual respect for one another. Confucius said, "He who respects others will be respected himself, and he who loves others will be loved by them." Equality among people can never be attained through the use of force. When there is full, mutual respect among people, then we will be able to create a world in which equality prevails. Like the former division between East and West Germany and the current division between North and South Korea, and also in the Balkans, as long as weapons and anger are employed to solve these sorts of problems, peace can never be attained. When people are respectful and caring of one another, miracles can happen. In 1989, the Berlin Wall crumbled. Even more importantly, at that time, the invisible walls within people's hearts also gave way. With this wall destroyed, the German people discovered a level of mutual respect and mutual concern that helped them to effect a reunification, which has been largely peaceable and equitable for everyone.

If only the peoples of the Korean peninsula, of the Balkan Peninsula, in Taiwan, in China, in Israel and in the Arab states could rise to that level of mutual respect and selflessness, then how could peace in this world not be far behind?

A fundamental Buddhist principal is that we all should respect and treat one another equally. Buddhists are enjoined to respect all nations of the world, all races, social classes, genders, and ages among people. Two thousand five hundred years ago in India, the Buddha said, "When the rivers run into the sea, they all lose their separate names; when the four castes enter into Buddhism, they lose all distinctions among them." Because of this inherent equality in Buddhism, monastics and believers during and after the time of the Buddha were able to unite and carry the teachings of the Buddha to every corner of India. From India, Buddhism has spread easily and quickly throughout the world. Because Buddhists believe in the fundamental equality of all cultures, they are able to respect and adapt readily to the ways of other people. In all of human history, there never has been a war fought over Buddhism. Buddhism teaches very clearly that when there is first respect and a sense of equality among people, there will never be war among them. This is the prescription for peace and progress.

People often say, "Perfect equality does not exist in this world." It is true that equality among all worldly occurrences is difficult to establish, yet we can start by strengthening our appreciation and understanding of equality within our hearts A mother teaches her child how to eat by opening her own mouth first and acting as a model to her child. In this way, the milk of human love flows easily between them. A father lets his body be used like a horse by his children. When they ride on him and play with him, a bond of caring and affection forms solidly between them. Can anyone anywhere find any absolute standard of the great, the insignificant, the superior and the inferior? There is no such standard. If all of us would once and for all abandon our judgmental illusions of human differences, then we would all be able to live together in an atmosphere of peace and equality.

After the Buddha became enlightened, his first words were, "All sentient beings have Buddha nature!" Sentient beings have different forms, different abilities, and different conditions because of karmic effects. Beneath these outer differences, however, the essential nature of all sentient beings is the same. This situation reminds me of a story in a sutra: An elephant, a horse, and a rabbit are crossing a river. For the rabbit the river is very deep, for the horse it is somewhat deep, and for the elephant it is not deep at all. The conditions for each of these animals are different, yet the river is the same. It is the same with three birds mentioned in another sutra─an eagle, a pigeon, and a sparrow. The eagle flies very high, the pigeon not so high, and the sparrow not very high at all. The conditions among them are not the same, and yet the sky itself never changes because of them.

We should look upon the suffering of others with greatest concern and compassion, and we should embrace the ideals of equality and respect whenever we encounter differences. With this kind of thinking, we will surely succeed in bringing a lasting peace into this world.

Equality among people depends on their being able to understand each others' points of view. How are we to establish an enduring concept of equality among people? The Buddha answered this question by telling us to treat others as we would have them treat us and to love others as much as we love ourselves. The Buddha himself treated others the same as he treated his own son, Rahula.

How are we to increase our compassion and caring for others? According to the Buddhist sutras, we need to put ourselves in others' positions and ask ourselves the following: If they were in our situation or if we were in theirs, what would we do? By doing this, we then can treat others with equality. If all of us were to treat one another with equality, this world would surely move closer to lasting peace? Suppose we see someone with a physical disability and assume an attitude of superiority, how can we achieve respect through equality? That could never happen. We must instead imagine that we are the one with the disability; then we could begin to cultivate the compassion needed to overcome any sense of difference between us.

When we are able to see social problems as part of ourselves, naturally we will not abandon or ignore them. Instead, we will be able to treat all problems with compassion and equality. When we are truly able to imagine that the conditions of others are our own, and that all of us are truly equal, then a lasting peace will slowly but surely find its way into this world.

Devadatta tried to harm the Buddha many times, but the Buddha never considered his attacks to be calamities; instead, the Buddha used them as opportunities to inspire Devadatta to reach higher levels of consciousness and caring. Angulimalika wanted to kill the Buddha, but the Buddha treated him with great compassion and kindness. In the end, Angulimalika was won over to the path of virtue himself.

In the Lotus Sutra, there is a story about a burning house. By helping each other, a blind man and a man who could not walk were able to save themselves from the flames. In the same house, however, there was also a snake that was physically healthy, but since the tail was proud, it would not cooperate with the head. In the end, the snake was burned to death in the fire.

Though shapes and sizes are different, the essential nature of all sentient beings is the same. Though our shapes and sizes may be different, if we place ourselves in others' positions and benefit them accordingly, then we can succeed in promoting equality and in helping others as we help ourselves. If we cultivate this thought in a flash, our lives will be greatly changed, because we will treat others with equality and respect at all times. Peace will certainly follow.

Equality comes out of causes and conditions. Everything in the universe is a phenomenon created out of mutually interconnected and interdependent causes and conditions. If causes and conditions are not present, nothing exists. For example, a person becomes a person because of the actions and the consciousness of the parents. Once the person is born, he or she depends on the learned people for education, farmers to grow food for sustenance, workers to make everyday goods, and businessmen to sell the goods. Another example is a flower, which needs sunlight, air, water, and earth in order to grow, mature, and blossom. A building requires metal, wood, cement, bricks, and engineers for it to be completed.

A manufacturing industry first requires capital, market survey, quality improvement, and promoting before the final product can be sold in the store. Nothing comes into being by itself, and nothing exists by itself or is independent of other things. Our parents raise us because they feel their connection to us; our teachers teach us because they understand our need to have an education; the things we use in our daily lives exist because someone sees the value of them and then produces them so that we can use them. No one can escape these conditions, and were anyone to try, he or she would find that it is impossible to live without others.

We are all mutually interdependent because all things in the universe have come into being only through their interconnectedness, and they continue to exist solely through their interconnectedness. The Buddhist concept of cause and effect and mutual interconnectedness is the truth that explains humankind's place in this universe. For example, when we speak of time, we must conceptualize a past and a present before we can conceptualize a future. When we speak of space, we must conceptualize a north, south, east and west before we can conceptualize a center. When we speak of human life, we must understand that our own existence depends on the existence of other beings. Without them we could not exist. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the fruit on the tree have nothing to do with the seed in the ground? The Buddha said, “This exists and therefore that exists; this was born and therefore that was born; this does not exist and therefore that does not exist; this has been extinguished and therefore that has been extinguished.”

The entire system of the universe depends on results arising out of causes; phenomena arise out of principles; being depends on emptiness; forms arise out of conditions; many are produced from one; the Buddha himself arose out of a man. In this same way, we all are dependent on one another for our birth and for our continued existence. In you there is me, and in me there is you. Conditions give birth to things, and conditions extinguish things. All things, in their essence, are equally interdependent. If we can comprehend the conditional interdependence of all things, then we will be able to understand the equality which underlies all apparent differences. We will be able to find unity among contradictions. In the end, we will be able to find the original form which lies behind all things.

All things in the world have differences in form, appearance, energy, and function. If we look deeply into their fundamental nature, however, we will see that they all truly equal and understand the process of cause and effect, which produces forms and appearances. Then we will understand that all of us are inexorably part of this huge process. Once we comprehend this truth, we will see the importance of always planting "good causal seeds" so that we will always reap the "good causal effects" which grow from them. When we create good causes everywhere, nothing is beyond our power, and we constantly benefit from the good effects we have generated.

Do not think there is anything anywhere that has no connection to you. Everything does. A blade of grass, a tree, a person, and even a drop of water in the ocean are connected to you. All of them are truly a bounty and a blessing in our lives. Everything is important, and we should be grateful for everything and feel that it is incumbent upon us to repay the world for all the beauty and wonder it offers us. If we can find within us a deep sense of equality with all the things in this world, and if we can truly understand the significance of the seeds we are always planting, then how can peace in this world be far away.

The deepest significance of equality lies in the truth that there is no difference between one and many. Most people desire abundance and dislike scarcity. This leads them to be constantly comparing themselves with others and making plans for the acquisition of wealth and power. Being carried deeper and deeper into delusion by their desires, they create bad karma and much misery for themselves. With so many people like this, suffering, turbulence, and woe in the world will continue.

On the other hand, when we look from the Buddhist perspective, we soon realize that one is many, and many are one? The basic nature of everything is entirely complete and fulfilled. All things are created in the same way, and all things partake of the same underlying reality. When a leader from a small country like Luxembourg or Singapore visits a large country like France or the United States, he is treated with the same respect that a leader from a large country would be accorded. When nations want to get along with one another, it does not matter if one nation is large or small or whether it has a large population or not. Each has intrinsic worth. Each is valuable. This is true equality, because there is no difference between one and many.

The rain forests in Brazil have largely been protected through the efforts of the United Nations and other organizations. Those forests are part of Brazil, but since they profoundly affect the climate and health of our entire planet, they really are a concern for all of us in the world.

In the news, we often hear about large political demonstrations involving thousands of people. Sometimes these demonstrations can become quite heated and emotional, but at the single word of a respected leader, they usually dissipate almost immediately. In contrast, a cruel dictator with thousands of troops on his side can be overthrown if the will of the people is strong. The one cannot be separated from the many, nor the many from the one.

The "four little dragons" (Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore) of Asia are examples of nations with comparatively small populations and little land. They have stepped fully onto the world stage and received recognition and respect from much larger nations. The seeds of the banyan tree lie in the ground. When properly watered and nourished they will produce thousands of valuable fruits. Taoism says, "The one gives birth to two; two give birth to three; and three give birth to all things." One word, a single event, a single person, and a single book, even a single thought are capable of changing the course of a person's entire life. This is because one may have many contributing factors, and one may also be the cause of many consequences. That is why we cannot simply ignore a small fire. It may quickly rage out of control. Nor can we serenely ignore the needs and hopes of minority groups for they, too, may one day rise up in anger. When the prince is a small child, do not think you can overlook him. One day he will grow up, and at that time, he may have power over you. All these are examples, illustrating that many arise out of one, and that one and many are not different.

Real equality must be based on the larger respecting the small, the many respecting the few, the strong respecting the weak, and the rich respecting the poor. A sense of equality towards all things can become a natural habit for all of us if we try. Under the concept of equality, the world will certainly have peace.

So far, I've spoken at length about how peace is founded on equality. Now, I want to talk about how equality is founded on peace.

In the past, when talking about world peace, some believed in using the balance of power among nations, while others advocated the use of weapons and intimidation to prevent war. This kind of thinking will never lead to a lasting peace in the world. Only mutual respect among all nations of the world can ever lead to full and lasting peace.

Chu-Ko Kiang tried seven times to win over Meng Huo, but never once did he use force in doing so. King Dighiti released King Brahmadatta from prison many times, and in the end, he gave up his throne to avoid war. The Buddha himself once sat in the hot sun to block the way of King Virudhaka's troops who were on their way to war. The Buddha also taught minister Varsakara that those who practice aggression will fail in the end.

Today, because of great ideological differences, our world is scarred by the unequal distribution of wealth, separatist movements, terrorism, and vendettas born in times long passed. Iraq invaded Kuwait and caused so much destruction and suffering. There is fighting in Bosnia, Sri Lanka, and the former states of the Soviet Union. How much hatred and anger and how many deaths have these wars generated? In Africa there is terrible strife; a militarized line runs through the heart of Korea; and an evil cloud hangs over the Straits of Taiwan.

Should we ignore these dangers? Should we close our eyes and shut away our consciences? Can we stand that there is none of the good but only evil? Can we stand that there is no peace but hatred? We cannot do this. We must try instead to bring the world closer and closer to a lasting peace.

Equality and peace are two sides of the same profound truth. True equality is not based simply on appearances or words, nor can it be achieved solely by intimidation, arms control, or nuclear weapon ban measures. To achieve the goal of true peace, we must also emphasize the purification of our hearts and minds, the commonality of our thinking, and the reassessment of our ideas. How can we establish peace in this world?

Compassion will help us to create peace. In Chinese, the word for compassion is tz'u bei. Tz'u means that we give others happiness, and bei means that we give others happiness, and eradicate their suffering. Through her compassion, Kuan-yin Bodhisattva is able to enter the hearts of all who believe in her. She is able to enter their homes, and if we want her to, she will also enter every nation in this world. Even if we are not capable of bestowing wealth and glory on others, we still must make ourselves responsible for helping to eradicate the suffering of others.

When King Asoka conquered many small states in India, he caused immense suffering and generated resentment among the people. Only after he changed to a compassionate approach, were the people finally won over and became peaceful. It is only through compassion that we will finally overcome the cruel and violent tendencies of the human heart.

During the Northern and Southern dynasties in China (420-589 CE), Shih-le and Shih-hu were deeply influenced by Venerable Fot'u-ch'eng and accordingly put down their weapons. In the 16th Century, the Spaniard, B. de Las Casas, in order to protect the native peoples in Mexico, persuaded Charles V to stop his plans for invasion. Only a victory through the Dharma is a perfect victory. The greatest force in the world is not to be found in guns and bullets; it is to be found in compassion and patience. Only through compassion and patience can we achieve true victory.

With regard to compassion, we need to be compassionate, not only to those with whom we feel a close bond, but also to those with whom we feel no bond at all. We must not only refrain from doing evil but also positively look for opportunities to do good deeds. We must not talk about compassion for a short time; we must be steadfast in our kindness and continuous in our caring. We must never look for or expect rewards for our goodness, but always selflessly behave with compassion, without any attachment or desire of profit for ourselves. The only way to achieve splendor and peace in the world is through equality and compassion.

We must rid ourselves of selfishness and self-grasping to truly promote peace in this world. In Chinese, the word for "I" contains two radicals of which one means spear. The connotation of this is that most of our troubles stem from our own selves. In English, the word for "I" is a single capital letter. The connotation of this is that the self is egotistic! The truth is that because we have such strong senses of self, we always think in terms of our wealth, our opinion, our profit, and our social standing. From this we generate untold suffering and bad karma. When we are locked into our sense of self, we see the whole world through a kind of prejudice. The Warring States and Southern and Northern dynasties in China, the American Civil War, the conflicts in South Africa, and the religious wars in Europe were caused fundamentally by people who grasped too tightly to their sense of self. Lao-Tzu said, "The great calamities of life are caused by a grasping sense of self. " The Buddha said, "Endless troubles result from the self. "

If two people live together and both have a strong sense of self, they will not be peaceful for long. If each member of a family always expects everything to go his own way, that family will experience many problems and upsets. If nations and societies all act in the same way, there will never be peace.

During the Period of Warring States in China (403-222 BCE), Queen Chao questioned a minister from the state of Ch'i. First she asked him about the common people. Then she asked him about the collection of taxes. Lastly, she asked him about the king. The minister of Ch'i was not pleased with the order of her concerns, but the Queen had done it just right! She was not so concerned about herself or the king of Ch'i, but she was first concerned about the common people and their welfare. This is an effective foundation of a nation by the people, of the people, and for the people. The grasping self must learn to expand itself from the little self to the large self and from the selfish self to the selfless self.

Near the end of World War II, President Roosevelt asked Master T'ai Hsu, "How can we attain world peace?" Master T'ai Hsu answered "Through compassion and selflessness!" If we want peace, the best way to get it is to eradicate first the selfishness in our hearts. When selfishness is eradicated, and we feel no attachment to things of the world, how can there ever be another war?

We must use broad-mindedness and tolerance to promote peace. Broad-mindedness enables us to become tolerant. Through tolerance, we will succeed in being in harmony with others, and thereby achieve peace. If we have a large piece of land, we can construct great buildings. The ocean is broad and deep, beneath its surface it holds immense variety and splendor. If one If one can tolerate an entire nation, then he or she will be able to lead the nation. If we can tolerate the great absolute, which permeates all things, then we will become the kings of the Dharma! The world we live in is only as big as our hearts.

Some people say that wars start over bread, and others say that they start over land. The truth is that bread and land are just contingent manifestations of our inner selves. If we can purify our hearts and rid ourselves of selfishness, then we will be fit to enjoy the endless expanses of the absolute. The great ocean is able to contain all the streams in the world, and because of this, the ocean is large. Space is able to contain all the things in the universe, and because of this it is limitless. Because we can tolerate all things that come in through our senses, we are able to employ them. Because we can tolerate our parents and relatives, we can have a family. If we can succeed in tolerating all the races and religions in the world, then we will have everlasting peace.

Today our world is full of disputes and deception because people's capacities to tolerate normal human differences have been shackled by the desire for wealth and fame. We need to take a broader view of time and a wider view of space. We need to use these to enlarge our hearts. We need to learn to appreciate others' points of view, and tolerate those who are different from ourselves.

We must increase our sense of community to bring peace into the world. Modern sciences have brought us many advances and benefits, but they also have tempted us with greed and competition due to an emphasis on utilitarianism. People use all kinds of tricks and ploys to get ahead, but they end up bringing suffering onto themselves and chaos into society. We have polluted the world with waste and garbage. We have squandered our resources and destroyed too many forms of life. This wastefulness and thoughtlessness already has engendered a kind of dialectical tension between humans and the rest of the material world. All things in this world are intimately interconnected, and we need to save this world from our own destructive tendencies.

We should be very grateful that this world has so many races and nations. These differences help teach us to accept one another, and to form harmonious friendships. There are many religions in the world, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Taoism, among others. These various religions provide a home for the human spirit and a resting-place for all types of beliefs. Each part of the world has different resources, different plants, and different animals. Different foods are served in different countries. There are flavors and sentiments for everyone. This world provides us with all that we need in abundance and in immense variety. How can we work together so that all of us can share in this vast gift and live contentedly and peacefully?

Red flowers are beautiful, but they need green leaves to enhance their beauty. Our facial features may be attractive, but we need to have healthy bodies to enhance our overall appearance. A grand structure is more impressive when mountains and streams surround it. In today's world we all want peace, but peace, too, must be supported by compassion, by a sense of equality among all of us, and by a strong sense of integration and coexistence. With all these fundamental conditions we can successfully create a peaceful and harmonious world for all of us.

If we can overcome our greed and ignorance, we will be able to expand our hearts until they are filled with compassion and caring. Mencius said, "To be happy alone is not as wonderful as to be happy in the company of others." Individual happiness is limited. If we can learn to expand our happiness to include the rest of the world, then we will learn a true and lasting happiness that will abide with us forever. The Six Harmonies advocated by the Buddha can help us in this effort. The Six Harmonies are as follows:

●The Harmony of Views. This means we try to be united in our thoughts and beliefs. We try to have the same understanding of the Dharma, take the Dharma to be the standard for all our behavior, and abandon egocentric thinking.

●The Harmony of Precepts. This means that we all should obey the law and that no one should have special privileges before it.

●The Harmony of Benefit. This means that wealthy people should actively seek to help those who are experiencing hardship, and that those who are socially powerful should look for opportunities to aid the powerless.

●The Harmony of Intention. This asks us to open our hearts. In our daily lives, all of us should open our hearts and expand our thinking as much as possible. Do not waste time calculating who is getting what and who has more than whom.

●The Harmony of Speech. This reminds us to be very careful with our speech. We need to use our speech to get along with others and not to cause any disagreement.

●The Harmony of the Community. This reminds us to help one another through our actions. We must show respect for one another at all times.

Many nations in the world today are actively implementing very productive policies on which a better future can be built. Material aid is being given to third world countries, scientific and industrial skills are being shared around the world, religions are carrying on active dialogues with one another, and policies that protect the environment are being implemented in many countries. Europe has formed the European Economic Community; North America has created NAFTA; Asian nations are cooperating with one another economically. International monetary organizations are advocating greater political and economic cooperation among nations. Private business, too, has begun to realize the importance of doing things that are good for society. In all, these tendencies are bringing into the world a climate of civilized responsibility and caring that can only be of great benefit to the welfare of everyone.

In the long history of humanity, these efforts are just a beginning, we are just starting to step out of our narrow circles of self-interest into the much wider circles of compassion for all living beings. Nonetheless, we must persist in our efforts, and with determination, promote compassion and tolerance through education. We can promote the virtue of mutual respect and thinking of others through cultural developments. In society we should spread the truth of our inherent interconnectedness and interdependency and the truth that many and one are the same. In dealing with others we should give up any lingering sense of self-righteousness, and cooperate with others. Let us learn from the universality of space and the breadth of time to create tolerance and universalism here in this world. If we can do that, we will succeed in making this world a place of equality and tolerance for all to live in peace!

Now let us pray that the Buddha's light may shine on us all. I wish all of you health and well being, and I hope this international conference will be a great success for everyone!