Hello, my name is Munehiro Niwano from Rissho Kosei-kai, a lay Buddhist organization based in Japan. I am currently working as the President of Gakurin、 which is the educational department of our organization.
As expressed in the title of this panel, the highlight of Assisi is in its “inter-religious dialogue.” Therefore, in my presentation, I would like to share with you, at first, the fundamental teaching of Rissho Kosei-kai’s attitude toward inter-religious dialogue, and second, a concrete examples of how we practice inter-religious dialogue. At the end, I will discuss some outcomes derived from its practice.
It is very important for us members of Rissho Kosei-kai to do the practice of recognizing the Buddha-nature in everyone, and revering his or her Buddha-nature.
The term “Buddha-nature” means that there is no life that is either greater or lesser than any other life, and that each one of our lives is the same precious life as the Buddha. According to this meaning, our lives can be thought of as the same as the great life of the universe. In the Lotus Sutra, Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva appears as a model of the practice of revering the Buddha-nature.
When this bodhisattva meets anyone, he always says, “I deeply respect you. I would never dare to be disrespectful or arrogant toward you. Why? Because all of you are practicing the bodhisattva way and surely will become buddhas.” (Reeves, 338) He placed the palms together and revered the Buddha-nature in them.
Since this bodhisattva approached everyone and treated them will equal respect regardless of their age or gender, some people were frustrated by him and tried to harm him with sticks and stones. In that dangerous situation, this bodhisattva immediately moved away from the area, but, from a distance, he continued to respect them and revere the Buddha-nature in them.
Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva continued the practice of revering the Buddha-nature in all people who met him throughout his life. This narrative tells us that even though he continued an easy bodhisattva practice like revering the Buddha-nature, by practicing it thoroughly he was able to reach an extraordinary state of being and to understand the true spirit of the Lotus Sutra. In so doing, he was able to lead many people to the true happiness.
The founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, also did this Buddhist practice, which is inspired by the spirit of this Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva. In turn, we, as his followers, also do practices of discovering the Buddha-nature in others and to revere the Buddha-nature in them. However, while it is easy to do these practices with people whom we like or feel close to, it is not as easy to do the same with those whom we dislike or think of as enemies.
It is not enough that we can revere the Buddha-nature in one person but cannot in another. As Never Disrespectful Bodhisattva does, we should engage in this practice with everyone equally. This is the great aim of this practice. In this practice, there is no distinction between people of different religions.
In Rissho Kosei-kai, there is another important teaching called the teaching of “one-vehicle” or eka-yana in Sanskrit.
The teaching of one-vehicle teaches that the world is full of the Buddha’s wish for all living beings to achieve true liberation, and that all living beings are caused to live as a part of a great, unified whole of life itself. One-vehicle also teaches us that all beings are precious and irreplaceable. We are all called to be encouraged to attain self-awareness of this, placing our hands together in prayer, revering and respecting each other. As one way of interpreting this teaching, even though there are various religions, complete great harmony can be realized as long as these religions are working in accordance with the great universal principle.
For the members of Rissho Kosei-kai, working toward a deep understanding of the teaching of one-vehicle through the practice of revering the Buddha-nature is an important base for seriously dedicating oneself to inter-religious dialogue.
That said, please let me share with you the work of our current President, Rev. Nichiko Niwano, in Bosnia as an actual example of the teaching of “one vehicle” and the practice of revering the Buddha-nature of self and others.
President Niwano visited Bosnia-Herzegovina for the first time from September 30th through October 3rd in 1997. Although the peace agreement in Bosnia and Herzegovina had finally been reached in 1995 after three and half years of civil war, there was still deep-rooted hostility among ethnic groups. During his visit as the President of the organization “Religions for Peace,” also known as the “World Conference of Religion and Peace (WCRP)”, he visited local religious leaders, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and those who are involved in the WCRP in order to constructively exchange opinions and ideas and to make an appeal for the importance of reconciliation and cooperation.
The highlight of his visit was on October 1st and 2nd when he was given an opportunity to meet senior leaders of four religions of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On October 1st, he met Archpriest Dusan Jovanovic of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the morning and, in the afternoon, he met Imam Mustafa Ceric, the supreme leader of the Islamic Community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cardinal Vinko Puljic, chairman of the Bonsnia-Herzegovina Council of Bishops. On the 2nd, he met Rabbi Jacob Finch, the chairman of Jewish Community.
In the meetings, he listened to the stories of the difficult situation that each religion faced moving forward after the war. While listening, he showed deep respect for each one of the leaders who, despite the difficult conditions, continued their ministry work and other religious activities, and promised to contribute all that he could to the official establishment of the Inter-Religious Council of Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the same time, he encouraged the leaders to make further efforts toward reconciliation.
On the evening of the 1st, President Niwano hosted a dinner to provide an opportunity to bring the leaders from the four religions together at the same table, something that, for various reasons, had not previously been possible.
Because of this event, it was possible at the WCRP International Supervising Committee meeting that was held in the following year in Japan for the leaders from each of the four religions to meet once again at the same table and generate mutual trust through conversation.
After he returned to Japan, President Niwano said in an interview, “Buddhism does not take a standpoint by which one person is absolute, but rather values the idea that all living beings necessarily have Buddha-nature; that is, all living beings are all precious. […] We ourselves should practice this spirit well and simultaneously develop a method to present Buddhism’s approach to peace to people of the west.”
In every encounter in Bosnia, it can be said that President Niwano practiced revering Buddha-nature of those whom he met. Furthermore, I believe that it could be said that he was revering the “life” of religious leaders who were dedicated to continue their ministry even at the potential cost of their lives, and that he was revering “life” itself as a single unified life existing as the Buddha-nature of all beings. This was all expressed in his reverence of the precious lives of the religious leaders.
I believe also that, because the Buddha-nature of President Niwano, who dedicated himself to revering others to the fullest, and the Buddha-nature of the leaders of four religions responded to one another, the mutual trust among all of them was restored. In short, could it be said that, through the practice of revering “life” by one person as President Niwano did, the Buddha-nature of each one of the Bosnian religious leaders was brought out?
As can be imagined, I think the leaders from Christianity, Islam, Serbian Orthodox Church, and Judaism were offering their prayers to their God when they met President Niwano. Thus, for them, meeting with President Niwano became a practice of the love of God. Through encountering with President Niwano, their love mutually started to be poured out again and to eventually reach their Buddha-nature.
I cannot help but to feel the love of God in Bosnia which overcame the hostilities among religions, built up trust, and, as with today’s event, has accepted religious leaders from all over the world. While respecting one another, we people of religion are directly experiencing the true peace achieved through the practice of each faith even at the potential cost of believer’s lives. Today, their Buddha-nature has started to touch upon the Buddha-nature of us Buddhists. Their joy of “life” blesses our “life” with joy.
We have been able to learn of merits extended by faith of the Bosnian religious leaders through the occasion of President Niwano’s visiting Bosnia. As that meeting of President Niwano with Bosnian religious leaders exemplifies, we members of Rissho Kosei-kai pledge to continue to practice revering the “life” of religious leaders who devote their lives to faith in order to continue to build trust and walk through life together in our joint efforts to create a peaceful world.
I would like to end my speech by expressing my wish that Bosnia become an important symbol of this vision.