In Japan, many things have continued to change since the Tohoku Disaster of 11th March.
In the Tohoku Disaster, the tsunami caused more serious damage and claimed more victims than the earthquake. In the Tohoku region, along 561 km of the Pacific coastline, more than 20,000 people are dead or missing. In that area, many people have lost many things: family members and houses, fishing harbors and ships, agricultural lands and crops, factories and jobs, and hope for the future. The majority of survivors are still displaced and experiencing discomfort as compared to their lives before the disaster, and they are anxious and fearful about the impact of the nuclear accident on their future.
Japan changed because of this disaster, and many people still feel that they have to continue to change themselves even more in order to escape from their present circumstances, in other words, in order to overcome the sense of loss and fear, and to gain hope for the future and the joy of life.
Not only those who are directly affected by disaster, but also those of us who are indirectly affected feel the need to change ourselves in order to ensure that not even one victims died in vain and to add to human progress by learning something from this disaster. Especially we Japanese need to change ourselves in order to live peacefully with all the world’s people.
How should we change?
In Buddhism, “dependent origination” is one of the central teachings stemming from the Buddha’s enlightenment. There are many modes of expressing this teaching, which is a simple principle.
Here let me show some good verses demonstrating that, from the viewpoint of the existence of things, “When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.61)
From this point of view, we can understand that the present moment is a consequence of previous moments that were intricately intertwined. Therefore “now” is the answer that stems from intricately intertwined questions that arose in the past.
According to this teaching, we can say that the Tohoku disaster is one answer about the relationship of Japanese human life to the crustal activity of that area. This is what we can learn from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident called the Tohoku disaster.
Here I am not saying that Japan’ s bad deeds caused this disaster. Rather, I want to ask myself what we can learn from this disaster.
Obviously, since the earthquake and tsunami were a natural disaster, people could not completely escape them, because we human beings cannot exercise complete control over all natural forces. On the other hand, do you think that since the nuclear accident was not a natural disaster, human beings could completely escape its affects? I do not think so. Human beings are not even capable of completely controlling nuclear power plants. Even if human beings apply all their wisdom and skill, they have no chance against the full force of nature. Although someone may ask whether we could avoid that disaster if we had known immediately after the quake struck what we know now, the answer still cannot be “yes,” because it was a natural disaster. Before the might of nature, we all are powerless.
Many people around the world, not only religious people, must have been praying as they watched the live TV broadcast of the tsunami striking the Tohoku area. They must have prayed that there were no people caught in the tsunami. At that time, I prayed not only to God and the Buddha for the safety of the affected people, but also prayed due to my own powerlessness. Although I wanted to go help the people of that area, all I could do was pray for them. I strongly felt my own powerlessness in such an extreme situation.
We do not need to ask about the causes of this disaster. But we need to accept them as part of the answer for us to start again to learn about our powerlessness. We need to have consciousness of the powerlessness of ourselves. Therefore we can earnestly pray when facing this disaster. The consciousness of powerlessness, at the same time, invokes a consciousness of reverence for others, for nature, and for life and death.
We should understand this disaster as a call to change ourselves. We Japanese have to recognize our arrogance or overconfidence. Then we have to change to more humbly accept our powerlessness and revere the life and death of both ourselves and other people (including nature), in order to make a more earnest effort to attain fulfillment of our personalities and to establish peace of the world.
Once we positively accept that the Tohoku Disaster is an answer, we will surely be able to change ourselves. This change will start from the viewpoint of our consciousness of powerlessness. If we begin from this point, revering others’ lives occurs in our heart and mind. Then there is nothing to worry about in our future.
Wherever people who have consciousness of powerlessness join together, they have the power to do something for the benefit of others.
Although each us is powerless alone, when we join our wishes to help other people, we can become something powerful for the sake of others.
For that reason, Rissho Kosei-kai started the “Kokoro Hitotuni” project.
The aim of this project is, “not only to address relief/reconstruction activities by uniting our members in One Mind, (based on faith in the Lotus Sutra,) but also by cooperating with people or organizations related to RK.” While we made the self-recovery of those affected by disaster as another major goal, the main pillar of our activities is “by participating in construction activities, to grow ourselves and others into “bright, kind, and warm” persons though our encounters.”
With the stated purpose of “making redoubled cares and run necessary and possible activities quickly and properly for those who would most likely be put in the most difficult situations when at the time of disaster,” the focus has been upon three areas of action: (1) contributing to local communities, (2) independence support for members, (3) reconstruction of dharma centers.
Regarding the first goal, “contributing to local communities,” we have sent volunteer members to two prefectures—Miyagi and Iwate. These volunteers, from all over the country, numbered about 5,300 people as of August 31st.
They are called Zenyu-tai Volunteers, which means a team of goods friends. The term “zenyu” appears in the Lotus Sutra and indicates one who helped Gautama Buddha attain enlightenment. So zenyu means a good friend who helps others find salvation. We gave our volunteer team this name because its members have firm faith in the Lotus Sutra and in the Eternal Buddha, and have real consciousness as bodhisattvas who want to help benefit others.
We members of RK learn about the Bodhisattva Never Disrespectful, who in every situation revered the Buddha-nature in every person he encountered. For RK members, he is the best model of religious practice in daily life. The members of the volunteer team also apply this practice during their volunteer activities, namely, not looking down on any of the victims affected by the disaster and revering their lives. Moreover, they worked carefully at removing the mountain of debris, searching for objects filled with happy memories for the people who lost so much in the disaster. They seem to be applying the true spirit of zenyu and the bodhisattva Never Disrespectful in their volunteer activities.
On the other hand, some Japanese religious leaders, members of the Japanese Committee of the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP / Japan), are interested in how people can bind together lives from past to present and to the future through the reconstruction campaign responding to the Tohoku disaster. Their work relates lives lost in past and the lives of those living now and in the future.
They began thinking about how they could best express their mourning for victims of this disaster, which became the starting point for them to assist in the reconstruction efforts. And then they thought about how to bind together the lives of people who are living in the present after the disaster, especially people affected by the disaster and those dedicated to reconstruction and restoration efforts.
But it is not enough to only live for now, as we are responsible for the future. This disaster is a sign of the fragility of contemporary luxury lifestyle in Japan and a lack of conscience and responsibility for the global perspective of interdependence and relationships with others. We have to promote solidarity among people, and at the same time, we have to change our selves and our lifestyles for the future.
This disaster gives us the task of binding together lives of the past, present and future, which is also one of the points of RK’s “One Mind” project.
I would like to say once more again, we Japanese need to have greater consciousness of our powerlessness before nature and before the Buddha and God. This consciousness must be a starting point, namely, it must become the great power to do something for human progress.
In the end, I believe that if not only members of RK but also people of other faiths and people who are conscious of their own powerlessness all cooperate to bind together people’s lives in the past, present and the future because they are working together for the reconstruction of the disaster-stricken Tohoku region, they will form a powerful wave that will continue to influence people in the future, not only in Japan but all over the world.