Ikeda: In a society like that of today, so exposed to stress and anxiety, how can we learn to live with more optimism and hope? The time has arrived to ask how we can improve our psychological health, to live in a way that is more fulfilling and human.
What values can philosophy and psychology contribute to this epoch? From this point of view of practical philosophy, you have said that Freud and the psychoanalysts underestimated the strengths and the positive aspects of human nature and they concentrated, in turn, on the weaknesses and the negative aspects. Your observation is very relevant.
Doctor Martin Seligman, the recognized proponent of positive psychology and ex President of the American Psychological Association, commented something similar to this. In a dialogue that we had in Tokyo, he said: “Optimism is hope. It is not the absence of suffering. It does not mean always having to be happy or satisfied, but being convinced that despite having a failure or a bad experience one can change things through one’s own intervention”.
Marinoff: Since you have prolonged this conversation alluding to psychology, specifically the positive psychology of Seligman, permit me to respond in the same way. The psychologists have discovered that optimism is fundamental for shipwreck survivors that sometimes spend days in rafts adrift in the middle of the ocean, exposed to the elements and other dangers. It is frequent that they suffer a shortage of food and water. Those that maintain a positive attitude and believe that sooner or later they will be rescued have the greatest possibilities to survive this hard test compared to those who despair and give up all hope.
This principle is not only valid in extreme circumstances but also in daily life. We all know people that usually emphasize the positive aspects of a situation and others that accentuate the negative. In common situations emphasizing the positive aspects almost always produces better results than highlighting the negative. In serious situations, it can mean the difference between life and death.
Ikeda: What you have been mentioning is another important point. In front of the same reality the psychological response from people is distinct; for this reason, the paths in life are different from one another. In the Soka Gakkai*, we call this subjective disposition of the individual a “state of living” or a “tendency”.
Nichiren** teaches: “It is like the example of the river Ganges. The hungry entities perceive the waters of the river as a fire; the human beings see it as water, and the celestial beings, as amrita [immortal nectar]. The waters are the same, in all cases, but each type of being sees them differently, depending on the effect of their karma”.
The way in which each one sees the world and responds emotionally to it is related with his state or condition of life. Judging by your wide experience in philosophical comprehension, I imagine that you have had many opportunities to prove this.
Marinoff: Yes, my experience has repeatedly confirmed it to me. Moods can be influenced by factors such as brain chemistry, selective memory, the psychological conditioning and the concept that one has of oneself.
However, we can elevate our mood and generate good results whatever the circumstances; the force of the will can serve us, for example this is untapped in the West.
Aristotle wrote: “ If each man is in a certain way responsible for his state of mind, he will also in a certain way be responsible for the appearance of things”. He puts an emphasis on the virtuous habits of thought that can lead the mind to be happier.
A dialogue between the secular Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda (President of the Soka Gakkai) and the philosopher Lou Marinoff, President of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association and one of the promoters of the way that philosophy can be path to resolve life’s daily challenges. Extract from the book The Inner Philosopher: Conversations on Philosophy’s Transformative Power. USA: Dialogue Path Press. 2012. (Translation from the spanish edition from Leaves of Inspiration)
* A worldwide association of secular Buddhism dedicated to the promotion of peace, culture, education and social work, by the means of an inner transformation.
** A Buddhist monk from the XII century in Japan. He was the founder of Nichiren Buddhism, a branch of Japanese Buddhism.