Last year, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of “International Prayer Gathering for World Peace” in Assisi and in August this year, Mt. Hiei Religious Summit also celebrated 30th anniversary, which started following the Assisi spirit by Japanese religious leaders. Today, we are gathering here for its 31st prayer meeting, the place where the great change from conflict to dialogue was made. I would sincerely like to express my deepest respect and gratitude to you all for providing us with this very auspicious opportunity.
The message of the first Mt. Hiei Prayer Gathering says, “Our mission is so enormous, but our power is so small. Therefore, we have to start with our prayer.” As was stated in this phrase, prayers for peace by various religions has been offered in many parts of the world for last 30 years.
There were many forerunners who promoted dialogue among different religions. For example, by Pope John 23rd who convened the Second Vatican Council and his successor Pope Paul 6th, religions that had been in a state of conflict up to that time, changed direction to dialogue.
2,500 years ago, Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, said, “What some people call the truth, others call falsehood. This is how people start to argue, based on biases. Why cannot people who pursue the way of faith talk to each other about one and the same thing?”
My grandfather Nikkyo Niwano was one of the religious leaders who humbly dedicated and committed to the efforts of realizing world peace through inter-religious dialogue. In 1965, he was invited to the Second Vatican Council and was deeply moved and inspired by Pope Paul 6th’s words and determined that “religious leaders cannot fulfill their mission by thinking solely of the religious faith or the denomination. From now on, I will become a bridge spanning all religions.”
He was ridiculed by those who said that “inter-religious cooperation was nonsense”. However, he had a conviction that “there can be no world peace without inter-religious dialogue cooperation. I have to make a platform for dialogue.” In 1970, with his fellow religious leaders, he finally convened the first World Conference on Religion and Peace in Kyoto.
As I was grown up seeing my grandfather, religions is to cooperate with each other and inter-religious dialogue means concrete actions for peace.
Since then religious leaders has had so many dialogues sincerely and diligently by respecting each other’s religions and denominations. Now, dialogue among religions has become a main stream in the world.
However, our present world ceaselessly advances towards conflict, divided by ignorance, doubt and fear against each other. We have to inherit our forerunner’s step, reexamine what the dialogue is, being required at this time, and we have to upgrade OS (operation system) of dialogue.
Dialogue is not mere a “chatting”. It is to interact with being different from us and an interaction with “a will of overcoming contradiction and conflict” which are born and generated by encountering different values, through approving difference among ourselves.
Upgrading dialogue is to re-recognize the already existing borders and move these borders, as well as to look at the “originality” of each religious tradition, identify common good and re-edit the world for bringing about changes in the world. It means that we will make changes from cultures for ourselves to cultures for others.
I have a wish to upgrade dialogue. My powerful partner, Secretary-General of Community of Sant’Egidio, Mr. Alberto Quattrucci says that “dialogue should become ‘matured’. It’s not enough just to forgive and respect others. We have to take common action for building peace.”
We are in the process of putting these words into practice. Last November, Community of Sant’Egidio and Rissho Kosei-kai held a signing ceremony of common actions for the peace and happiness of new generations in Africa.
Although we have differences in origin of country, religion, its foundation and history, such differences never become barriers. Because the ultimate purpose of humanity is one. We overcame borders which seemed dividing ourselves, and have upgraded dialogue to culture for others as well as to dialogue for humanity.
In Malawi, we have started DREAM project which aims at improving health condition of HIV infected people and AIDS patients, supporting the prevention of mother-to-child infection of AIDS virus, BRAVO project aiming at promoting birth registration which enable people to access to social security and insurance as well as to educational system, and other supports which protect children from child soldier, child marriage and organ trafficking etc.
At present, many people think that “tradition” has lost its power, and “innovation” is too risky. But the place where we have dialogue and act exists neither at “tradition” nor “innovation”, but in- between them. The space exists in-between “tradition” and “innovation”, “ideal” and “reality”, “giving up” and “passion”. We don’t have to be bound by “tradition”, nor be “radical”. We are being questioned how we could re-edit the small space which exists in-between them. There exists “a small space” with “width”, not a border “line” in-between them. It is just like a rice nursery where rice grows before being planted in the paddy field.
If our history repeated mistakes, let us start re-spelling our history from this moment. It’s not someone who spells a new history. It is I who stands here. Of course, the world will not change easily. Therefore, let us make together a small space of dialogue (nursery) in our living societies. That nursery will surely nurture and raise fresh rice seedlings and become a mother of rich harvest which will lead humanity to peace.
My grandfather said that “an ideal is not something that is realized at the time that the goal is completely reached, it is something that we start to realize it from the moment we take the first step toward it.”
Upgrading dialogue is an editing which starts with re-questioning already existing border. It is a hypothesis and possibility of the world. From this small rice nursery which we could edit, “Paths of Peace” shall begin, I believe.