I would like to begin my speech by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Holy See for dispatching His Eminence John Cardinal Tong Hon as the “Personal Envoy” of His Holiness Pope Francis to the 30th Anniversary of the Religious Summit on Mt. Hiei, the Gathering of Prayer for World Peace that was held last month on Mt. Hiei, Japan. In addition to our prayers together for world peace we heard valuable suggestions and opinions from world religious leaders participating in the summit. Thanks to this, our mutual understanding has deepened.
Now, I will talk about the theme of this panel, “Religions in Asia: the Dignity of Life in the Time of the Global Market.”
The rapid development of Information Technology, followed by the acceleration of communication and transportation, brought about globalization in every corner of the world. However, it also accelerated the disparity of wealth, which eventually became an indirect cause of destruction of the global environment and of local cultures around the world.
We may be experiencing an opposite trend now as many countries in the world seem to be moving toward exclusion, and giving top priority to their own country. “Global perspectives” are now being replaced by “local perspectives”. These brings about friction and divisions in the world and concerns me greatly.
Buddhism is not Asia’s only religion. Asia is flooded with many different religions. In addition, major world religions have developed uniquely in Asia, in combination with local cultures and traditions. In my opinion, this diversity, or “in-homogeneity” or “un-uniformity” is vital for the people of Asia.
Absolute poverty, remains deeply rooted in Asia. Absolute poverty is defined as the absence of sufficient resources to secure basic life necessities such as shelter, safe drinking water, nutrition, clothing, health care and education. There are 1.2 billion people who live on less than one dollar a day. Those who live on less than two dollars a day number 3 billion, which is half of the world population.
Poverty is not the only problem in Asia. We have many other serious problems such as population growth, income disparity, food shortages, insufficient drainage, resource shortages, and more.
As a result of all these problems, individual human lives are devalued and people are treated poorly. I heard that in one country in Asia, compensation for a dead person is usually 200,000 yen, which in Japan is about the price of a moped, a small motorcycle that can be pedaled like a bicycle. How can a human life be as cheap as a moped! The disparity of wealth and discrimination, which is more severe than in developed countries, must be at the root of the terrorism and conflicts that now involve the whole world.
The lack of a foundation for living, namely local infrastructure, is critical. Infrastructure such as energy, roads, harbors, water and sewage, communication, public transportation, housing, schools, hospitals, etc. have not yet been provided in many areas in Asia. The Tendai Buddhist Denomination has been providing financial support aimed at improving this situation if even a little.
In developed countries in Asia, on the other hand, dignity of life seems to have entered into a different dimension in recent years, taking advantage of genetics. In “Hieizan’s Meesage of 2017”, declared at the Ceremony of Prayer for World Peace on Mt. Hiei in August, 2017, we stated that,
“We must acknowledge the systemic political and economic problems indirectly jeopardizing our precious lives today. In recent years, in combination with economic mechanisms, science and technology have fueled people’s desires. Profits and market gains have been given priority over human welfare. For example, with advances in genetic modification come serious concerns about how it may alter our species. Our ethical consciousness has not caught up with developments in science and technology. This has become even more true in the post-nuclear world. Thus, because priorities are with profits, directing science and technology toward the welfare or benefit of the human race has become even more difficult. We demand the development of science and technology be in accord with the ethics and wisdom of world religions.”
Our intention here was to express our apprehension concerning the development of humans daring to invade the Divine domain with science and technology.
Lastly, I must mention one more great concern in East Asia. Even as we speak, a military confrontation, could take many innocent lives. This must be avoided. I would like to suggest a preemptive action. We, as Tendai priests, uphold the teaching of Dengyo-Daisih-Saicho, the founder of the Tendai Buddhist Denomination in Japan, that states, “selfless devotion to the service of others is the utmost compassion”. We will continue to tell every person in the world that it is “mutual understanding and solidarity” which will usher in peace and prosperity on earth, not “exclusion and isolation”.
Thank you for your kind attention.