Release the Universal Human Capacity for Empathy DAISAKU IKEDA We live in a high-pressure, high-stress society. In Japan, the symptoms of extreme levels of stress are seen in the "death from overwork" syndrome and a tragically high suicide rate. Also vicious bullying among children. Martin Seligman, renowned for his research into the psycho-logy of hope, expresses concern about what he calls "big I and small we"— a distended self-centredness and an increasingly attenuated sense of connection with others. This tendency must be confronted if we are to prevent our lives from growing even more stressful. The ability to deal with stress varies from person to person. Stress also affects the same person differently on different occasions. Telling someone that their problem is no big deal, even with the intention of encouraging them, might deepen and intensify their experience of stress. The reactions of the human heart are not mechanical and predictable. From one perspective, core sources of stress can be traced to our contemporary ideas about the nature of the self. While we are each expected as "free individuals", to be able to deal unaided with any situation, society treats us as components and cogs, powerless to shape fate or move things in a better direction. Torn between excessive expectations and power-lessness, people become susceptible to the impact of stress. Coping successfully with stress requires that we see ourselves in a different light. We need a deeper understanding of our truly limitless potential as well as our vulnerabilities. Hans Selye, pioneer in stress research, advised: First, establish and maintain goals in life. Second, live so as to be necessary to others. The following Buddhist parable is instructive: One day, Shakyamuni was approached by a woman wracked by grief at the loss of her child. She begged him to bring her baby back to life. Shakyamuni comforted her and offered to prepare a medicine that would revive her child. To make this he would need a mustard seed, which he instructed her to find in a nearby village. This mustard seed, however, would have to come from a home that had never experienced the death of a family member. The woman set out from house to house, but nowhere could she find a home that had never known death. As she continued her quest, the woman began to realise her suffering was something shared by all people. She then determined not to be overwhelmed by grief. Physical and mental training transform our experience of things. The same steep slope that for the unskilled skier provokes only terror is, for the expert, a source of excitement and joy. Physical training can bring forth the unseen capacities of our bodies while intellectual training develops our minds. Our hearts too can be trained and strengthened. Through the process of overcoming grief, for example, it becomes possible for us to look beyond our own concerns and develop a more expansive and robust sense of self. It seems unlikely that the sources of stress we face will decrease; indeed, it seems highly probable that they will increase. Now, more than ever, we need to develop the qualities of strength, wisdom and hope as we forge expanding networks of mutual support. The key to coping in a stress-filled society lies in feeling the suffering of others as our own — in releasing the universal human capacity for empathy. There is no need to carry the burden of a heavy heart, alone. The writer is president, Soka Gakkai International.