Thinking globally, acting locally in Croydon: a peaceful world for all

By - Wednesday 17th January, 2018

International Buddhist movement holds annual peace event in Croydon

Mayor Toni Letts and the General Director of SGI-UK, Robert Harrap.
Photo author’s own.

I have the great privilege of being one of the many local members of Soka Gakkai International (SGI-UK), who organised a local event that took place on 16th December 2017 called ‘For the Sake of Peace’. SGI is a socially engaged Buddhist organisation that has members in 192 countries. We were honoured that the Mayor of Croydon, Toni Letts, was able to attend to participate in our discussions on the theme of ‘being a global citizen and the role of youth in opening a new era for humanity’. The event attracted some 150 members and guests, most of whom knew very little about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ peacebuilding activities consistently undertaken by SGI on the international stage – more on that later.

This theme is derived from the 2017 Peace Proposal submitted to the United Nations on 26th January each year by Dr Daisaku Ikeda, renowned Buddhist philosopher and head of SGI. Every year since 1983, Dr Ikeda has submitted a peace proposal that sets out moral and pragmatic considerations to address many global challenges, including the refugee crisis and environmental degradation. Importantly, each peace proposal sets out moral arguments addressing the intolerability of nuclear weapons, premised on the belief of the inviolable right of human beings to live in a world free of the menace and the ever-present threat of annihilation.

Many readers of the Citizen will not have heard about SGI. The General Director of SGI-UK, Robert Harrap, is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 2 broadcast, Pause For Thought. In his December 2017 contribution, Robert celebrated the award of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Since its founding in 2007, SGI has been an active contributor to ICAN’s work and “will continue to do so in the long struggle towards the abolition of the most inhumane weapons”. For example, in September 2017, SGI made an animated film to highlight the importance of the Treaty To Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. Executive Director of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn, acknowledged the instrumental role of SGI and other “faith-based perspectives” in foregrounding the moral imperatives behind the continuing fight to turn the tide of history against any justification for the existence of a nuclear deterrence.

There was an incredibly diverse range of people in attendance

Our local event introduced our guests to the thought-provoking, intellectually and emotionally engaging ideas contained in the peace proposal; and a moving experience of changing the course of one’s destiny through living based on Buddhist principles. An often-made comment by guests was on the incredibly diverse range of people in attendance. This diversity symbolises a core tenet of our socially engaged Buddhist movement. We strive to realise the fundamental belief that heart-to-heart connections and one-to-one interactions, founded on deeply respecting the perspective of others, is the foundation for constructing peaceful coexistence between global citizens.

The message of the peace proposal is expansive and inclusive. It oozes hope and conviction that young people, especially if their energies are harnessed, “represent the solutions to the global challenges we face”1. Being a socially engaged Buddhist movement means being tirelessly committed to engagement with people, irrespective of ethnicity, culture, class, creed or religion. Such engagement takes many different forms. The preeminent focus is on dialogue. We prove time and again that when dialogue emanates from the genuine concern for the wellbeing of others, this never fails to touch the human spirit and move people to empowered action. As Buddhists deeply committed to the wellbeing of our local community, with an intense desire to break down barriers, we intend to host an annual ‘dialogues for peace’ event. This is now the second year we have hosted the event in Croydon; our 2016 event was also supported by Mayor Toni Letts.

We are deeply appreciative to the Mayor for taking time out to share her experiences of supporting young people in danger of becoming marginalised. Our own movement has many such stories of lives being transformed by one person reaching across a perceived divide only to discover that there is more that unites us than divides us.

[1] 2017 Peace Proposal: The Global Solidarity of Youth: Ushering in a New Era of Hope

Yvonne Foster

Yvonne Foster

Dr Yvonne Foster is a Croydon based businesswoman and a Buddhist, volunteering in local initiatives which supports the development of young people and the wider community. Photograph taken by Denis Bourg.

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