It’s a great pleasure to meet you. I’m Koichi Kawamoto from Rissho Kosei-kai, a Buddhist organization in Japan.
Today, I appreciate being invited by the Community of Sant’Egidio and having the opportunity to attend this meeting under the general theme “Peace is the Future.” Our President Nichiko Niwano was supposed to give a speech here today, but he couldn’t come for compelling reasons, so I am taking his place.
The Community of Sant’Egidio has worked concretely for a long time in the practice of love based on Christian faith. Its wide range of activities have expanded to all countries of the world. I have learned a lot from the community’s serious approach about how to save people.
As members of a Buddhist movement, we of Rissho Kosei-kai honor Shakyamuni Buddha, who attained supreme enlightenment and self-perfection. We cherish his teachings and practice them concretely in daily life. We also work to solve various social problems and think daily about how as Buddhists we should approach and deal with those problems. Furthermore, we are positively engaged in interreligious dialogue and interreligious cooperation to improve society.
The world is always in peril of war. Many countries cannot overcome distrust of their neighbors, some of whom they see as rivals, and believe that further armament enhances their national security. If their rival neighbors build up arsenals, so do they. They believe this will deter their neighbors from going to war with them. This theory of deterrence has been discussed widely. It is based on the assumption that a potential rival is basically bad.
World War I, which started on July 28th in1914 and ended in 1918, caused 10 million military casualties and killed many civilians. Later, World War II broke out. Since then, because so many people had experienced the horrors of war, Europe avoided another major conflict. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europeans have promoted economic and political stability by organizing the European Community and then the European Union. Europe seems to have maintained its security through political union without any country losing its identity.
Even I, who belong to a generation with no memory of war, have learned through encounters with people that we Japanese inflicted a heavy sacrifice and great suffering on other countries. Japan itself also took a high toll. We always need to rethink our remorse for war and make new resolutions for peace.
The Buddhist Concept of Peace
The five precepts are among the primary teachings in the Buddhist Pali scriptures. One of them is “not to kill,” which means total disapproval of war. The concept of not to kill, termed ahimsa in Sanskrit, is common to a number of Indian religions. What Western languages call “peace” is “santi” in Sanskrit. In the Chinese translations of Buddhist scriptures, it is termed jijing (??).
According to early Buddhism, the Buddha banned monks from seeing military parades. Similarly, early Buddhism taught that politics’ highest ideal is the achievement of peace and the elimination of conflict. This was the pacifism of early Buddhists, which arose from their dislike and renunciation of war. In early Buddhism, the first requisite was to avoid or end conflict. We understand that early Buddhism required efforts to keep the peace.
However, throughout history, wars and other conflicts have killed and injured many people. Some people have lost their limbs, or paid the ultimate price because of unpredictable bullets and shells. Every day, people lament war or other conflicts.
Today, under the theme of “The Believer: a Person Who Experiences Friendship,” I would like to describe some people who have engaged in confidence-building through centering on a peace activity in which Rissho Kosei-kai is involved, called the Donate-a-Meal Movement.
Rissho Kosei-kai and the Donate-a-Meal Movement
We have promoted the Donate-a-Meal Movement since 1975. This movement was first advocated by a Japanese religious organization named Shoroku Shinto Yamatoyama. This movement is a practice of faith to learn about other people’s pain and to pray for their happiness, and to cultivate one’s heart and mind to help others. We pray that everyone in the world will be happy, and we skip meals to feel the pain of those afflicted by poverty and conflict in many parts of the world, and to share in their suffering and hunger. We put in collection boxes the money we save by skipping meals. Our donations support people around the world with various projects, like providing food, blankets, education, and afforestation.
The Donate-a-Meal Movement has a threefold spirit, as follows. 1. Sympathy, in skipping a meal and feeling hungry, to share the pain of people afflicted by poverty and conflict. 2. Prayer, for people who are facing hardship. We also look at life and pray that we will do all we can to contribute to world peace. 3. Donation, which means donating what we save by skipping a meal to give economic support people in difficulty. We also reflect on our cravings and try to deepen our wisdom of being satisfied with little.
We had 25 main projects and supported 32 countries and regions in 2012 and supported 28 countries and regions in 2013. The amount of assistance in 2012 and 2013 totaled $42 million (about ¥4.4 million). Grants are used for the relief of poverty and hunger, education, development of human resources, emergency and reconstruction assistance, environmental protection, refugee relief, public health care, and welfare.
We have a joint assistance project with the Community of Sant’Egidio that is a concrete example of the work of the Donate-a-Meal Movement. More than 30 years have passed since the first AIDS patient was reported in 1981, and since then more than 30 million people have died of AIDS. Our Donate-a-Meal Fund for Peace has been associated with the Community of Sant’Egidio since 2010 and we’ve worked on free health care for HIV reactors and AIDS patients in Malawi, and this is called the Dream Program. A woman named Amina Vinari, age 46, is a Dream Program volunteer. There is still discrimination and prejudice against AIDS patients. She also has AIDS. She encourages people with AIDs to get medical care, and her heart goes out to them. At first she was unwilling to volunteer, but she did so because she was keen to share the sadness of people who were in the same situation as she was and to share their hopes of staying alive. She is proud of her life of giving comfort to patients and protecting people’s lives. Through this assistance project, we can encounter people who live positively to open ways to the future.
Next, I would like to explain how we expand our activities and obtain the funding necessary for peace activities.
After an eight-year-old girl named Yuka Yamashita saw a DVD about the Donate-a-Meal Movement, she said, “It made me sad to know there are a lot of people who have nothing to eat. Every day I eat meals and snacks. I would like to help starving people who can’t have any meals.”
She thought about what she could do and came up with the idea of skipping her favorite snack. Since then, instead of having snacks, on every weekend of the school term and every day of summer vacation she donates some money from what she received as a New Year’s gift and from what she has saved from her allowance. When she saw that she had less money in her purse, she no longer felt like skipping snacks. However, she realized that though she was losing money, she was helpful to people in faraway countries and making them happy. The heavier her collection box became, the more she felt a surge of pleasure and the enjoyment of donation.
After enrolling in a new class at school, she spoke positively with her new classmates and made a lot of new friends. Every time she watches news about terrorism and conflict on TV, she wonders why people can’t get along with each other. She said, “By taking part in the Donate-a-Meal Movement, I could understand the feelings of people in difficulty. To end people’s suffering and sadness and to help them live with a smile, I would like to think about how everyone can get along with each other, while I take part in the Donate-a-Meal Movement as much as I can.”
Even a small child thinks about people in faraway countries and works to help them while hoping for their peace of mind. We would like to cherish this kind of heart and mind.
The Activities of the Chuo Academic Research Institute
Next I would like to describe an example of interreligious dialogue. The Chuo Academic Research Institute is affiliated with Rissho Kosei-kai and has been involved in holding ICRP (International Peace Corps of Religions) International Seminars every year since 2009 under the central theme of building a peace community in Northeast Asia, with such subthemes as “The role of the international community and the role played by religion.”
The goals of the seminars is to arrange for people of faith, scholars, and NGO and NPO representatives from Japan, South Korea, and China to meet and pool their wisdom to form networks for peace. We hope that this area of the world will never again experience a time of war and violence and will continue to test modest approaches to create peace.
One of the organizers said, “Unfortunately, in Northeast Asia, building an international order of peace can’t move beyond the framework that deterrence requires further armament. We can’t leave all the decisions about building peace to our own countries and be satisfied with the results. Local governments, civil society, people of faith, and NGOs in Northeast Asia need to develop mutual trust between the countries of the region and rebuild and strengthen a network for peace.”
Sometimes at meetings, people exchange harsh words about responsibility for wars. Grudges about the past don’t easily go away. At such times, we try to sympathize with others’ feelings and understand their sufferings. When we try to listen carefully during encounters with people, we can feel and understand that they also desire peace. No one wants war. Everyone hopes to live in harmony and peace.
Through accumulated encounters, we can develop friendships with each other and we can forgive each other despite a very bitter history.
Besides assisting ICRP activities, Rissho Kosei-kai strives to promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation throughout the world, primarily through Religions for Peace, formerly known as the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
President Niwano’s Ideas
Since I have come here on behalf of our president, Rev. Nichiko Niwano, I would like to share his message on how we should build a world where there are no more conflicts, although it may take me some time.
I will now quote several passages from his writings and speeches on peace.
He said, “In the Dhammapada, the Buddha said, ‘Not by enmity are enmities quelled, whatever the occasion here. By the absence of enmity are they quelled.’ It may be difficult, but now, as we enter the 21st century, is the time that we need to seek a response with religious wisdom, beyond reprisal or revenge.”
“If we oppose power against power, it results in the creation of an endless chain of mistrust and conflict.”
“Not to respond to enmity with enmity, not to respond to violence with violence, is seemingly regarded as a negative attitude. . . . To reflect on oneself and to find ways to live in harmony would rather require much patience, effort, gentleness, and perseverance. I believe that this is the most positive attitude.”
“We might go so far as to say that we need to become aware that each one of us is a malefactor who disturbs the peace. That is to say, a malefactor who disturbs the peace means someone who sows seeds of violence in people’s hearts and minds by being judgmental in discriminating against them. This leads to self-centered ideas and action to exclude others.”
“Each one of us is an ordinary person, so we may blame others if we don’t consider carefully that we might have been the cause of others’ anger. I think we can avoid conflict if we are humble enough to realize that we ourselves are the malefactors who disturb the peace.”
“Beyond the heart and mind of hatred, enmity, or anger, we need to build inner peace and that becomes the key to build world peace as well as more peaceful families and societies.”
Those are some of the things Rev. Niwano said and wrote.
We people of faith have different values based on our own religions. I believe that all religions teach respect for others. Again, we have to reflect in our hearts and minds whether we desire to harm others and are consumed by greed. We need to promote confidence-building broad-mindedly and perseveringly in a step-by-step fashion in an effort to create an era of peace by reflecting on ourselves.
Thank you for your kind attention.