Prof. Vicki Squire reflects on the power of sincerity and guidance from Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda.
“Nothing is more powerful than sincerity”. This guidance from the Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda is an important reference point for me when I struggle to speak out in challenging situations.
Speaking out and acting with sincerity is not easy. We live at a time where cynicism and distrust are rife. Cynicism can be reassuring when we feel threatened and, in the unequal world within which we live, some of us can feel that way more easily than others.
The problem is that cynicism also breeds distrust and closes down opportunities to meaningfully connect with others. Even when there is good reason to be cautious, cynicism rarely leads to positive change.
So, what is the power of sincerity?
Ikeda recognises that the effects of sincere actions may not become evident immediately, yet highlights how “persevering in dialogue with great sincerity will break through any animosity or prejudice”. He also suggests that speaking with sincerity is not a burden to bear, but an opportunity to create good fortune for ourselves and for others.
I have to confess that I don’t always see it this way, particularly when I am forced into difficult situations or when my capacity to speak out is compromised. However, Soka Gakkai Buddhism is based on a principle called “three thousand realms in a single moment of life”. This means that a single action can have much greater effect than we can predict or fully comprehend, due to the interconnected nature of all things. Ikeda’s guidance is important here, because he highlights how the power of sincerity can intensify the power of our actions as a force for positive change.
Ikeda has directly demonstrated the power of sincerity in his various dialogues over the years. For example, in 1974 he visited China and witnessed the fear of ordinary people who were building underground shelters in fear of Soviet attack. He subsequently visited the Soviet Union and conveyed what he had seen to Premier Aleksy N. Kosygin and asked openly whether an attack on China was planned. The Premier responded that the Soviet Union had no such intention and Ikeda was able to convey this to Premier Zhou Enlai when he visited China again later in the year. Ikeda perceived in these dialogues an easing of tensions between the two countries, which followed soon after.
When he met Premier Zhou Enlai, Ikeda also discussed the importance of China and Japan working together for peace. The Premier’s openness to this idea was something that Ikeda went on to convey to the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissenger, as well as the Japanese Finance Minster in 1975. Several years later, in August 1978, the Sino-Japanese Peace and Friendship Treaty was officially concluded.
We might not all have the opportunity to speak with world leaders, but Buddhism teaches that every dialogue has the power to transform the world in profound ways. Ikeda encourages us to “focus on that one action we can take now and carry it out sincerely and enthusiastically – [because] that is something everyone can do, just as they are”. It takes courage to speak out with sincerity in challenging situations – but this is not something to fear or resent. I have found that, when I decide to engage the power of sincerity, someone is always there to have dialogue with, there is always a new friend to be made and there is always value to create.
Vicki Squire is Professor of International Politics in department of Politics and International Studies at University of Warwick. She practices Nichiren Buddhism as part of the socially-engaged lay organisation, Soka Gakkai International. Follow Prof Vicki Squire on Twitter @vidkowiaksquire.
Follow Prof Vicki Squire on Twitter @vidkowiaksquire.