The greatest of all contemporary problems is finding answers to
two vital, unresolved questions: how to stave off the impending
disaster incurred as a result of what has been -- perhaps mistakenly
-- called technological progress and how to find values to replace
the trust in technology that has prevailed till now.
The first question, which involves the basic nature of civilization,
ultimately concerns the behavior of the individual human being in
everyday life since it is the sum of individuals lives that constitute
the total human consciousness of which civilization is the manifestation.
The salvation of civilization from imminent disaster must depend
on whether individual beings and social organizations within that
civilization live in accordance with the fundamental laws of life.
Similarly, the basic values of a civilization must derive from the
values of individual human beings composing the civilization. In
short, life and the way it ought to be lived are the key to both
of these questions. The only way to solve the issues is for individual
human beings and organizations to deepen their understanding of
the basic laws of life in order to make possible vital living in
accordance with those laws.
A Japanese man who was taken prisoner by the British during World
War II relates the following story. He says that of all the unpleasant
things experienced by the prisoners, the most intolerable was work
piling bricks. When told by their captors to pile bricks in a certain
place and in a certain way, the prisoners set about their task with
determination and eagerness. Though they of course had no idea why
they were doing the work or what they were building, they felt sure
that the job had some meaning. And this made it possible for them
to complete their work. But, on the following day, the prisoners
would be ordered to dismantle the pile of bricks they had made and
repile them in another place and in another shape. Their belief
that the task they were performing had some meaning was completely
betrayed. Ordered to execute the same futile task time in time out
the men became very disheartened. It was not the work itself that
the men found difficult to accept; it was its meaninglessness that
sickened their spirits.
Of course human beings need not be conscious of a clear meaning
in everything they do. We perform many acts, like unconscious habits,
without considering their meanings; and in some cases, meaningless
actions are necessary since they relieve tensions. But human beings
need to be able to recognize the significance of undertakings involving
suffering and effort, because meaning is the only thing that makes
the suffering and effort worthwhile.
As long as human beings are conscious of the meaning of what they
are doing, they can withstand almost unimaginable hardships. In
both the East and the West there have been martyrs who happily embraced
suffering because they believed in the supreme meaning of the faith
for which they sacrificed themselves. But for people who do not
perceive meaning, suffering, no matter how slight, is difficult
to bear because it is pointless. For them meaninglessness itself
From their own ideals and from a sense of relation with a larger
set of circumstances, human beings are able to assign meaning to
their individual actions and situations. In the final analysis,
however, all of man's attempts to assign significances to things
are for the sake of life itself. Life is the absolute condition
regulating and giving meaning to everything.
Sometimes, however, people question the very reason for living
and the meaning of life. Doubts of this kind inevitably arise when
people realize the uncertainty and transience of human life. When
it is recognized as fragile and brittle, human life can no longer
serve as an absolute basis for the meanings of human activities
The higher religions developed to provide human life with a basis
for immutable meaning. For this reason, some of them establish an
absolute being transcending the realities of human life and teach
that this absolute being illuminates all things and thus clarifies
the meaning and order existing in the universe.
Before the emergence of higher religions primitive man devised
gods that were symbolizations of the forces of nature. After the
agricultural revolution made possible settled group living, nature
gods were transformed into protective deities of groups of people
or embodiments of the life force of those groups. For example, Amaterasu,
the ancient Japanese goddess of the sun, later became the ancestral
goddess of the Japanese people. The chief deity of the Grecian pantheon,
Zeus, was originally the god of thunder. This shift in the nature
of deities occurred in conformity with changes in living styles
of the people worshipping them. In the hunting and gathering stage,
mankind had no recourse but to trust in the forces of nature; therefore,
gods were personifications of those forces. But in the agricultural
stage of his development, man found that by combining human forces
into a group he was able to build a basis for a way of life that
is not totally dependent on the powers of nature. When this happened,
the gods themselves became symbols of the life force of the group
or the communal body.
For many centuries, the individual remained submerged in the powers
of nature and the undertakings of the group. Only when the struggle
to remain alive became less demanding, when human thought became
more profound, and when the individual assumed a more important
place in the world, did it become possible to devote attention to
examining the meanings of single human lives.
A god who can serve as a source of authority directly related to
man's inner nature can be neither a concrete representation of natural
forces nor a symbol of isolated groups: such a divinity must be
fundamental, transcendent, unique, absolute, omniscient, and omnipotent.
The Jehovah of the Old Testament, the god of Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam, is a divinity of this kind and as such represents a great
spiritual step forward for mankind. It is said, however, that originally
Jehovah, like the Grecian Zeus, the Teutonic Odin, and the Indian
Indra, was a god of thunder and volcanos. Certainly he was not a
god with a very wide following in his earliest stage. He was first
the god of the nomadic Israelites and later, at about the time of
Isaiah, came to be considered an omniscient, omnipotent, unique,
and absolute divinity.
Through Jesus, the Son of God, and Mohammed, God's Prophet, Jehovah
transcended the bounds of the Jewish people to develop into the
god of a worldwide religion. The salvation offered mankind by a
transcendent god gave significance to life on the basis of a universal
principle. It was believed that, by the grace of a god who surpasses
actual phenomena, people themselves attained eternal life and thus
surpassed the transience of actuality. Furthermore, since the Judaic
God is omniscient and omnipotent, the very actualities of life were
considered significant as manifestations of God's will.
European history, from medieval to modern times and to the present,
is a fabric woven of human spiritual light and darkness. It is fundamentally
based on the belief in an absolute god. The light parts of the design
are represented by the glories of European art and the progress
of European science and technology. The dark areas are the religious
wars and social struggles that have resulted in the spilling of
vast amounts of human blood. Art was born as a hymn of praise to
the glory of God, and the beauty art pursues is thought of as an
innate characteristic of God. This immutable divinity, who is also
thought of as truth, blessed man by giving him the faculty of reason.
Art and science are not a reaction against religion - though of
course at times they have assumed this aspect - but have instead
developed in hand-to-hand cooperation with religious faith.
But human ardor in the belief in one absolute god has sometimes
resulted in misery. At first the spirit of religious intolerance
was purely a matter of faith emerging from the battle with heresy.
Later, however, it reflected vividly in race and class struggles
and converted Europe into a jumbled sphere of disunity unlike anything
to be found anywhere else on earth. Basically the two global conflicts
that have taken place in the twentieth century are eruptions of
this pathological European tendency. Tragically, the wars extended
beyond Europe to envelop the whole world. The present threat of
a third world war, too, may be traced to the same psychological
illness. Currently the sickness introduced by faith in absolutes
has expanded to its ultimate limits and threatens to engulf the
fate of all mankind. To make the situation ironically grave, the
faith in God that formerly inspired creative activity has been lost.
One reason for the loss is the fact that science and technology,
originally developed on the basis of faith, have encroached upon
the very territory of that faith and in doing so have become so
repugnant and the source of such misery that man now finds it difficult
to believe that the actualities of the world are manifestations
of the will of God. But a more basic reason for the situation is
man's current inability to believe in the existence of God as an
unconditional prerequisite to all aspects of human life.
Abandoning the Bible ideas that God created man, human beings today
tend to think that man created god. One symbol of this shift in
attitude is the philosophy of the nineteenth-century materialist
Ludwig Feuerbach, who modified the Hegelian dialectic by replacing
the god-man nucleus of philosophy with a man-matter principle. The
initial steps of the shift from a god-oriented to a man-oriented
philosophy may be traced to the Renaissance, but it required long
ages and many complicated vicissitudes for the idea to penetrate
to the consciousness of the ordinary people. It probably did not
reach the level of the masses until the development of the astonishing
technological innovations accompanying World War II.
These technological advances enable the common people to satisfy
the desires of everyday life easily and with little effort. But
the desires themselves produce a narcotic-like, habit-forming phenomenon
in which the satisfaction of one desire inevitably produces new
desires, which multiply into a huge flame that scorches the very
spirit of man.
Nor is it merely material desires that consume man, block his field
of spiritual vision, and submit him to fiery sufferings. The desires
for power and glory produce an identical effect. The modern devotion
to large organizations gives the masses a chance to pursue power.
The nature of the information-communications age seduces man into
the desire for fame. In the pursuits of power, wealth, and fame,
man is on the verge of losing his humanity. Though living a superficially
full life in material terms, spiritually he stands at the edge of
a gaping pit of anxiety and despair.
It would be wrong to reverse the psychological shift in emphasis
from god to man because the change itself is in the right direction.
After many trial-and-error attempts to establish it and after overcoming
enormous obstacles, human beings have at last arrived at the indisputable
need to recognize the dignity of mankind.
(from the book's introduction)
Fatalism sees the whole universe, including man, as directed by
supernatural forces. In the face of the mighty powers of nature,
man often feels frail. At such times he is likely to imagine the
existence of a power -- fate -- that he cannot control. Unfortunate
human beings living in unhappiness in spite of all their desperate
efforts provoke an awareness of fate. But, without more evidence
than we can possess, it is illogical to attribute the cause to a
volitional, supernatural being controlling the universe.
The fatalist is prone to resignation and escapism. Yet the highest
human aspiration is to cut a path through the intricacies of fate.
To submit unresistingly to fate is to forfeit one's value as a human
being. The point of man's existence lies in deflecting fate into
different paths and creating a worthwhile life.
The Buddhist theory of causation sees the present self as an accumulation
of actions from the past. All past causes contribute to present
effect. As Buddhism sees it, fate is the continuous working of cause
and effect in life; it is a stream of strict cause-and-effect relations
extending back into a limitless past and forward into a limitless
future. Buddhism teaches that, by revising one's view of life in
each present moment, one can gradually change the course of fate.
Buddhism is not escapism masquerading as resignation or a religion
of impotent idealism, but a philosophy of life that seeks energetically
to change the self for the better and to influence the course of
Though it is a powerful system of thought taking into account the
possibility of human destiny, there are still some people who look
on Buddhism as a religion that prepares the individual for death
or as a kind of tranquilizer that helps the individual escape from
reality. In the views of such critics, Buddhism fails to come to
serious grips with the grave problems of life and society and seeks
instead to run away from them by concentrating on preparation for
death or on means of escape. In truth, however, Buddhism is above
all a religion of life.
...The great physicist Albert Einstein...used the term universal
religion, and historian Arnold Toynbee looks forward hopefully
to the emergence of what he calls a "higher religion."
But neither gives concrete details about the nature of the religion,
though both agree that it ought to be logical and scientific in
accordance with the requirements of the space age; that it ought
to penetrate to the very roots of life; and that it ought to afford
the leadership needed to bring about rebirth in the individual,
society, and all mankind. The needed modern religion cannot be at
odds with the bewilderingly rapid developments of modern science.
At the same time, beliefs must have the power to effect a reform
of man living in the actual world. Both Einstein and Toynbee point
to Buddhism as a religion that potentially fulfills these conditions.
...Buddhism, which originated in India nearly three thousand years
ago and which reached its finest flowering seven hundred years ago
in Japan in the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, is the living religion
for which mankind is thirsting.
(from Chapter 2)