I would like to begin by expressing my deepest condolence to those who have lost their lives due to the recent major earthquakes that struck central Italy. Japan is also a country with a large number of major earthquakes, so I deeply sympathize with those who have been affected by this disaster.
(1) The Second Vatican Council as the Foundation for Interreligious Dialogue
As all of you may be aware, the Second Vatican Council took place from 1962 to 1965, which has led to the promulgation of the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. In the statement, the Church urged “her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religious … while witnessing to their own faith and way of life … so as to acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non¬-Christians also their social life and culture.” This has opened the pathway for members of the Catholic Church to have dialogues and interactions with members of non-Christian religions. I believe this occasion has also allowed other religious groups to have dialogues with one another.
(2) The East-West Spiritual Exchange
In 1979, when there was a growing interest in Zen Buddhism in Western countries, we launched what we call the East-West Spiritual Exchange with the collaboration with the Catholic Church in Japan. In this program, Zen Buddhist monks stayed in a Catholic meditation monastery in Europe. This exchange has been taking place every four years since then in Europe and Japan, and there is always a symposium at the end of each exchange event. In the first few years, participants visited the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Holy See and discussed their experiences. The Secretary of this council is Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, whom we have here in this panel today. When we made a report of the 1st East-West Spiritual Exchange to His Holiness John Paul II, he encouraged us to continue holding this event. This has further stimulated our efforts of holding this dialogue, in which we practice each other’s religious training at a Zen Temple and a Benedictine monastery and share experiences thereof.
(3) Prayer for Peace in Assisi as a Pioneering Initiative
In 1986, His Holiness John Paul II invited about 100 religious leaders to Assisi to pray for peace. About the half of the 100 leaders were from religious traditions aside from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. From Japan, leaders of Shinto, Buddhist, and New Religions were invited. It was perhaps the first-ever major event in which people from different religious traditions come together to pray in the same place.
(4) The Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei
In 1987, the year after the first meeting in Assisi, the Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei was launched based on the awareness of the importance for leaders of different religious traditions to deepen mutual understanding and work together in the spirit of Assisi. This event has been held every year since then.
(5) The Community of Sant’Egidio and Its Activities
As all of you may be aware, the Community of Sant’Egidio has been hosting the dialogue since 1987 in the spirit of Assisi. The first meeting that was organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio took place in Rome, but as we had only received the invitation letter a week before the event we were unable to attend. When the second meeting was held in Rome in 1988, I was able to attend the meeting as one of the three participants from Japan.
I can never forget the meeting that was held in Warsaw in 1989. As far as I could see, the venue was packed with a large number of participants, who stood still while praying together.
Since then, I have attended the meetings that were held in such cities as Milan, Munich, Sarajevo, Malta, Brussel, Bari, Bucharest.
(6) Interreligious Dialogue Research Centre
These experiences have led me to establish an Interreligious Dialogue Research Centre in my temple ten years ago. I felt the need to learn from the wisdom of our predecessors and reflect it in our society as a way to respond to the need of promoting interreligious dialogue. The center was therefore not established at the request of a particular organization. My aim is to correct a commonly held misconception that the difference of religion is one of the underlying causes of conflicts as well as to promote ways to prevent conflicts that are triggered by the misunderstanding between different religions.
Our main activity is the seminar that we hold once a month in Tokyo. From June 2007 to August this year, we have held a total of 101 seminars. The seminar runs for two hours each time, and it features a lecture about interreligious dialogue and a Q-and-A session. From the Community of Sant’Egidio, we have previously received Professor Agostino Giovagnoli and Secretary General Alberto Quattrucci as lecturers.
(7) Anti-religiosity within Religion
I decided to hold this monthly seminar because of a critical question I had in myself. My question was that religion may have within itself an anti-religious function that divides believers from non-believers. In a Catholic mass, for example, the reading of the New Testament follows that of the Old Testament. To my knowledge, this is based on a historical view that God’s promises as prescribed in the Old Testament are realized in the New Testament. It follows, then, that in theory Christianity has an element that does not tolerate other religions. Earlier this year, Pope Francis told journalists on his return flight from Mexico that “a person who thinks only about building walls … and not building bridges is not Christian.” It is indeed a very inspiring comment. If, however, we define Christians as those who believe in Jesus Christ as the savior, it then follows that Christianity divides believers of Jesus Christ from non-believers. In other words, an act of believing inherently involves a function that builds dividing walls between people. Similarly, all other religions have an anti-religious function that divides people rather than unite them, which should be the very nature of religion. I believe it is religious leaders who should take the initiative to underscore this issue and find ways to address it.
(8) As a Friend of Christians
It is not my intention to give critical comments only to Christianity. I have always been a Buddhist practitioner, but I studied Western Philosophy for seven years at a Jesuit-affiliated university, learned theology at the University of Munich, and specialized in Western monastic systems at a Benedictine monastery called St. Ottilien Archabby. Also, I have taught courses on Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy at a Franciscan seminary in Tokyo, and three of my former students are now ordained priests. I define myself as a friend of Christians. In Japan, we have a saying that a sumo wrestler can grow stronger by practicing with his superior. That is why I am asking questions openly and squarely, and if I am wrong I would like to ask my friends to correct me.
It is just that if I like someone, I would certainly like to understand the person correctly, and I would in turn like them to understand me correctly.
I also hope to become good friends with Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. In our research center, we have so far held dialogues with Muslims for a total of 16 times as well as six consecutive lectures on Judaism.
(9) Mother Teresa
On 27 October 1986, I sat near Mother Teresa in this open space in Assisi. I assume many of you know that she brought dying people to her hospice and then wrote down their names on a notebook. She then visited the place of their faith. People who were brought to the home died in about a week. When they died, she held funerals according to the rituals of their faith. I do not think, however, that she did what she did to those with different religious background from a perspective of interreligious exchange or dialogue. To use her words, she served the role to praise the “glory of God”. This means that living for the glory of God naturally entails an interreligious dialogue, I believe.
In this sense, we can never say that we have had enough interreligious dialogues, because act of dialogue is an act of loving other people. We can never say that it is enough to love someone for three days. Just as there is no end to love and our meditation practice, we need to have dialogues as long as we live.
(11) What Religions Should Be
I would now like to introduce a Japanese word for greeting, which is aisatsu. This word has a meaning of “approaching someone with an open heart.” Approaching someone with an open heart is a prerequisite for having a genuine dialogue. We live our everyday lives with a necessity to greet all the people that we come across including those from other religions by approaching them with an open heart. It is precisely by opening up our heart to others that we can cultivate our human nature. The Japanese word for peace consists of two characters, and the second character, which reads wa, signifies sharing food with others. An act of sharing never arises without paying attention to others. The development of technologies has enabled us to have a convenient lifestyle, but at the same time we are facing the disempowerment of humanity and the threat of annihilation. I would like to emphasize, therefore, that opening up ourselves to others is the foundation for establishing the peace we are thirst for. The Second Vatican Council introduced a beautiful phrase, that is, “the people of God during its sojourn on earth”. As this phrase emphasizes, it is important to have a kind of dialogue in which we repeatedly seek to approach others by opening up our heart, deepen our mutual understanding, and thereby gain deeper understanding of ourselves. I believe this is one of the main tasks that religions and religious leaders are expected to do in our contemporary society.
Before concluding my speech, I would like to acknowledge my friends (or brothers and sisters) in the Community of Sant’Egidio and the earnest efforts they have been making to create a space for interaction and mutual understanding. I understand it is an extremely challenging task to organize such a large-scale three-day long event while fulfilling other duties. I truly appreciate your passion and hospitality in organizing this event, and I would like to express my deepest respect for your work.
If I may be allowed to make some personal comments, it was my great pleasure to experience the spirit of Assisi and get to know many people when I attended the meeting of prayer in 1986. My encounter with my fellow participants as well as my participation in that event has indeed allowed me to work even harder in the cause of interreligious dialogue. Thirty years have passed very quickly. My sincere hope is that we will start walking on the path of dialogue from this holy land of St. Francis as “instruments for peace” with a fresh and renewed sense of conviction.
In addition, I would like to dedicate my speech to the late Giovanni Masayuki Shirieda, who was the assistant secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the late President Rossano of Laterano University, who had provided warm guidance to the cause of interreligious dialogue organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.