Rossum’s Universal Robots

The struggle between the Buddha and the Devil, or our movement to realise kosen-rufu, is a win-or-lose battle between those who respect human beings and those who despise and look down on human beings. It is a battle between those who revere people as human beings and those who view human beings as robot and use them as means to gain their own ends.

‘R.U.R.’ (Rossum’s Universal Robot) is a play written by Karel Čapek (1890-1932), a Czech author. It was published in 1920 and is also known as ‘Robot’. The word ‘Robot’ was first used in this play and it consequently spread to the rest of the world. The play is considered to be a classic of science fiction.

In the play, a genius invents a ‘robot’ exactly like a human being. This is not the mechanically assembled ‘robot’ but an ‘artificial man’ possessing living flesh and blood.

Human beings mass-produce these ‘artificial man’ and delegate all strenuous and grueling labour to them. Human beings buy and sell these robots and drive and sweat them, destroy them as they please.

The president of the robot manufacturing company bluffs and boasts saying: ‘Those robots are worse than weeds growing in the yards. They have no passionate feelings, no history or tradition, no soul or spirit.’ The robots were looked down on with such scorn and contempt.

Then, a representative of the ‘Federation of Humanitarianism’ visits the robot factory to negotiate the liberation of robots but is easily cajoled to give up such an idea.

Humanity could no longer live without these ‘artificial man’ whom they looked down on with such contempt as robots. Of course, mankind had to face such problems as unemployment but they could not give up the ‘easy life’ that they had become so accustomed to.

Human beings made money from selling and buying robots and made the robots fight their internal strife on their behalf (so human beings won’t get hurt) and tried to mobilise the robots for selfish, megalomaniac ideals, which were nothing but mad sophism.

These robots, however, who were said to have no soul or spirit had actually possessed the same kinds of feelings and emotions as human beings. Yet, because they were taught from birth that ‘human beings’ were their masters, they had obediently listened to whatever demands which were made by them.

Things began to change gradually though. And, finally, the robots revolted.

From then on, things moved very quickly. The robots were far more superior in terms of their abilities as well as in total numbers.

The leader of the revolution declares: ‘We won’t work for you anymore, because you are not as competent as us robots. In reality, it is the robots who are doing everything. All you human beings do are give out orders. All you are doing is chattering nonsense.’  The robots rose to action. They said, ‘We are far more advanced than human beings. We have more brains, we are much stronger. Human beings are nothing but our parasites.’

Human beings began to panic. They did not realise that those robots they considered to be mere worms could behave just like human beings and possess such anger. ‘Those robots ceased to be machines,’ they said. Human beings ran about in utter confusion and trying to suppress, placate and bribe the robots.

With collapse eminent in front of them, mankind scream: ‘It was truly great to have been a human being. It was something absurdly grand.’

But, there were no longer any authentic ‘human beings’ left on earth. Human beings had despised, scorn and arrogantly ordered around the people who had actually worked for them, calling them robots. This arrogance of the human beings actually made them into robots themselves. They were literally changed into ‘soulless’ or ‘heartless’ machines. And, conversely, the ‘robots’ become more humanlike.

The play ends with the success of the revolution and the ‘robots’ starting out as ‘new humanity’ after various trials and errors.

There are many ways to look at this play. Since it was published in 1920, the impact of the Russian Revolution in 1917 cannot altogether ignored. Those who live by the sweat of the brows are the true masters of society. This ideal holds an eternal truth.

Excerpts from President Ikeda’s speech, 10 July, 1991, SGI 1st world youth division meeting, Kosen Kaikan, Shinanomachi, Tokyo [Flow 30, PP/10/4/91]


2 thoughts on “Rossum’s Universal Robots

  1. Lord Shakyamuni and Nichiren Daishonin teaches that all human beings are potential of Buddha. Enlightened, one see oneself and others as Buddha. But when deluded, one will never see oneself as Buddha, but, only a follower. A follower can only follow blindly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Joe,
      The teachings of the Daishonin is to enable each of us to open our eyes. Hence, the Opening of the Eyes, one of the key gosho. If we cannot see ourselves as Buddha, then, we cannot even be a follower. Because this is the gist of the Daishonin’s Buddhism. From what I understand. Following blindly do not lead one to the Buddha land. It goes the opposite direction.


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