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On Being Human

Daisaku Ikeda
René Simard
Guy Bourgeault


Daisaku Ikeda

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  • 1 Epictetus: The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, Book I, Chapter 15. Tr. W.A. Oldfather. Cambridge (...)

Each man’s own life is the subject-matter of the art of living.

1Health is one of humankind’s greatest preoccupations as we enter the twenty-first century, and I have often had occasion to speak of health in the light of Buddhist perspectives on life. In On Being Human, I am pleased to present the views of the eminent medical scientist René Simard, rector of the University of Montreal from 1993 to 1998, and the outstanding bioethicist Guy Bourgeault, professor of ethics at the same institution.

2Rapid scientific and technological breakthroughs have enabled modern civilization to make great strides toward what could be termed “happiness.” We have eradicated many of the ills that have long afflicted humankind, including numerous infectious diseases. Highly specialized techniques in other areas, particularly surgery, now enable us to heal pathological conditions once considered incurable.

3The twenty-first century has been hailed as an age of biotechnology. Treatments for cancer, aids, cardiac disorders, and other intractable diseases will advance steadily, buoyed by the fruits of the latest medical technology designed for application to cells and genes and encroaching on the functions of the brain itself. Biotechnology has already opened up serious and wide-ranging medical ethics issues. We find ourselves facing questions dealing with brain death, dignified death, prenatal identification of genetic conditions associated with certain disorders, and in-vitro fertilization, to name only a few. Because of its effects on birth, aging, sickness and death, technology has entered the fundamental domain of life.

4The ever-accelerating pace of social change imposes intense mental stress on us as human beings, sapping our inner spiritual strength and leading to depression and other mental disorders—including what could be called “sickness of the soul.”

5Spiritual torpor sets in as people separate themselves from nature—losing their place of refuge and retreat—and as physical aggression becomes more commonplace. Given the combination of negative and positive consequences of modern technological civilization, it is perhaps natural for people of our time to become increasingly concerned about health, one of the keys to happiness.

6As a Buddhist, I have long pondered ways to promote the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the human race. My encounters with Dr. Simard and Dr. Bourgeault have provided an excellent opportunity to probe this question more deeply. Dr. Simard is a world-renowned authority on cancer, and Dr. Bourgeault is an expert not only on ethics and education, but also on Christian theology.

7Relying on Dr. Simard’s specialized knowledge of current research, we plunge immediately into a medical discussion of cancer and aids. But discrimination against the sick exacerbates the problem of illness, as do human rights issues. Here, Dr. Bourgeault and I have much to contribute from the standpoint of ethics and the Buddhist view of life.

8Next we consider the fundamental issue of nature and harmonious coexistence, moving on to deal with the specific issues of brain death, dignified death, and the ethical dilemmas of fertility and childbirth. Discussions of life itself—its origins, evolution, and the birth of humankind—and where we go from here bring us to the final chapter, “Dawn of the Century of Life.” We ask the reader to envisage a century in which life is supreme. To bring humankind to such a century, how must we protect ourselves from the pathological character of modern society? What new conceptions of humanity, what new cosmologies can guide us in the new millennium?

9All three of us hope that the twenty-first century will be a “Century of Life,” a time when science and spirituality resonate together to create a sound, balanced, and wholesome civilization.

10Finally, I hope that our thoughts here will arouse echoes in the reader’s mind, serve as a rich source of material for reflection, and contribute to the building of a wholesome, humane civilization, where spirituality illumines every life.


1 Epictetus: The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, Book I, Chapter 15. Tr. W.A. Oldfather. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1925.

© Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 2002

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