In this international gathering in the presence of representatives of governments, religious leaders and prominent figures and of so many others who are troubled about the fate of the world and the future of mankind, the great honour falls to me of extolling the merits of one to whom the Judges have decided the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion should be awarded.
A moment ago I was wondering why I of all people have been invited to highlight the person and the work of Mr. Niwano and his great significance for the religious development of the human community, while, I, for my part, overwhelmed by what I know and feel, am inclined to remain mute. For there are things which so defy expression and to which no paraphrase can do justice.
Is it because I, convinced as I am of the fundamental values of Christianity, believe that Europe will have significance in the world and solid links will be forged between its constituent nations only when a deeper spiritual motivation serves as the foundation and the cement? Is it because from my experience I believe in the strength of examples? Or especially since my visit to Japan as Prime Minister, because I have gained a deeper insight into the immense values which the east has to offer us in the west? Or is it perhaps because I am convinced that the search for truth and the urge towards freedom are signs of our times? Perhaps I am better placed to appreciate the contribution of Buddhism in general, of the rules of life propounded in the Lotus Sutra and of the power which radiates from the Rissho Kosei-Kai movement through the charismatic personality of its founder and leader.
Surely it is also true that contacts and dialogue between religions and their faithful very often lead to a deeper knowledge of one’s own beliefs and hold the key to a more earnest faith. Whenever I read the biography of a great man, I am always pleased when I discover that the man is altogether of the same metal as his direct relations, his contemporaries and those who think and feel as he does. Then I get the feeling that perhaps I too can do the same as he and so I was particularly struck when in Mr. Niwano’s autobiography I read how he climbed Mount Hakki. Under the title — Things Learned Early — he says: ‘As I took in this panorama, I felt, courage welling up in my breast. I said to myself, “I can do, it”. I did not know precisely what it was that I could do, but I felt determined to do something on a big scale’. Mr. Niwano was still a youngster at the time. But great oaks often grow from little acorns. A great life is often planted in small memories. A mighty river starts as a laborious trickle in the rocks and crevices of rugged mountains. A great doctrine gradually evolves from a basic idea which is amplified and tested in the crucible of life. Grandfather’s advice to young Niwano was, ‘Shika, be a good boy. Don’t cause any trouble, and grow up to be a man who does good for others’.
Later on his father would say: ‘If we don’t help others when we can, nothing in the world will go right’. And his father’s parting words when young Niwano went to look for work in Tokyo were later to serve as the motto of his dedication: ‘look for a place of work where the salary is low, the hours long the work heavy’.
We can perhaps round off this glimpse of Mr. Niwano’s childhood and youth with the vows he made to himself as he went to make his way in the big city. ‘When I had joined the Village Youth Association, I had made and abided by three vows, never to lie, to work with all my strength, and to undertake tasks that others, find disagreeable. But as I drew closer to the great, unknown city, I began to suspect these vows alone were insufficient ’
‘As I drifted back and forth in the dim zone between waking and sleeping, the following three rules came into my head. Never to struggle with others: to work steadily and hard, no matter whether others are observing me. No matter how unpleasant the task, to see it through once I have undertaken it’. It is this man, formed in a spirit of devotion to peace, harmony and service to his fellow men and armed with boundless determination and endless perseverance, who was to present Buddha’s life and doctrine as salvation for mankind: ‘In my own vague way I constantly sought a rule that would save everyone. Listening to lectures on the Lotus Sutra I realized that I had found what I had been looking for physically and spiritually it could help both the individual and all of society’.
From his earliest days Mr. Niwano knew what human suffering was; his father and grandfather were known for their practical knowledge of medicine and their willingness to sacrifice themselves in seeking remedies for the ills of mankind. Nor did they confine their attention to diseases of the body. Their concern was with the whole man, the way he lived, his relationships.
Medical treatment was one side of their work, the other was peacemaking. And from the first Mr. Niwano was to follow in their footsteps. No wonder, then, that he was gripped by the philosophy and doctrine of the Buddha.
Now legends, despite their unreliability as objective historical records, are frequently our best guide in setting someone against the background of his ideals and ambitions. You all know the story of Buddha Gautama, the future Buddha, was a young Prince who lived amid luxury and pleasure, for his father had taken care that the Prince should never be aware of the existence of tribulation or suffering. But during three successive journeys the Prince came upon a sick person, an aged person and finally a corpse. He was told that these manifestations of suffering were the inescapable fate of all human beings. Some time afterwards the Prince came upon an ascetic. He was so awestruck by the aura of serenity surrounding this being that he fled the palace for the life of a wandering monk.
We can be sure that Gautama, born of royal blood about 563 B.C. in the Sakyas caste, renounced the worldly life at the age of 29, for the life of one who is ready to sacrifice all he has in order to set mankind free from suffering.
For many, many years he was to bear hardship and privation in his search for truth. At long last he reached the awakening the discovery of truth and salvation. He shared his revelation and the result of his reflection with others and thus gathered disciples around him whom he trained and more or less organised into communities. He died at the age of 80 and was named the Buddha, the enlightened one or awakened one because he was aroused from the slumber of ignorance and developed in himself the gift of discernment. He was also called the ‘Wise One’, the Wise Man of the Sakyas, Sakyamuni. His doctrine was subsequently set down in writing. When all kinds of difficulties arose concerning the interpretation of the book, (these provoked schisms and differing schools of thought), efforts were made to restore the pure doctrine. Thus the Lotus Sutra saw the light of day, eventually it reached Japan, where it exerted considerable influence. After an initial effort to revive practical application of the Lotus Sutra in the thirteenth century came Mr. Niwano’s revival with his return to the original source. On 5th March 1938 the Rissho Kosei-Kai was founded. A society organized by people of the same faith, who, through their religious interactions and unity of belief, strive to perfect the personality of man and realize a peaceful world according to the Buddha’s law. At that time the society was no more than 30 strong. Shortly after the second world war, despite all kinds of difficulties, the movement already embraced 25,000 families. Today Rissho Kosei-Kai has 4,700,000 members, the vast majority of them in Japan. But we cannot truly appreciate the work of Mr. Niwano simply in terms of numbers and growth rates. Its value lies more than anywhere else in the spirit and inspiration behind the whole development of Rissho Kosei-Kai, which still urges a sense of fresh venture in life. In the ‘Hoza’ or group counselling sessions people came together to experience the compassion that Buddha preached and to learn how to put that compassion into practice outside their own circle. This gives members the opportunity to share the trials and tribulations of others and become involved in them. Together they pray for those who are suffering and seek remedies from the doctrine of Buddha. Courses are arranged for all members at three levels so that the least advanced and the great intellectuals can be equally well served. Instructors impart the doctrine of Buddha, drawing on their own life experience.
Individual contact is also encouraged between members and non-members.
In 1970 the Fumon Hall was inaugurated in Tokyo. Fumon, ‘The Gate Open To All People’. A Hall intended to be both a place open to all regardless of race or creed and a place for members to share fellowship.
The inauguration of this hall at the same time exemplifies a new direction in the activities of Rissho Kosei-Kai. In fact, since the late sixties, increasing amounts of time, money, and effort have been devoted to the causes of social justice, inter-religious co-operation and world peace.
Thus the Brighter Society Movement was formed with the aim of combating indifference to human suffering and inspiring mankind with warmth of feeling and human sensibility. A movement of civic spirit calling on everyone, regardless of status or circumstances to make a tangible effort towards the attainment of true happiness and a better society for all, blood donations, fund raising campaigns for charity, clean-up operations in certain areas, instruction and seminars for older people and so on. Although these are social objectives, the movement is first and foremost a spiritual one whose aim is to awaken the spirit of compassion and provide an opportunity for putting it into practice.
Lastly, Rissho Kosei-Kai also works for religious co- operation. This is because the movement is convinced that believers are in a better position than anyone else to bridge the differences of race and nation and, in the pursuit of happiness which is a keynote of every religion, help to bring about peace. From this sprang the great initiative of the World Conference on Religion and Peace which Mr. Niwano undertook and which he himself elucidated at the last meeting of the second conference in the Church of St Peter in Louvain: ‘As spiritual brothers for peace, let us open the heavy door for peace’. It is these words which prompt me to glance back at the significance of Buddhism in and for the world. Buddhism offers a path of salvation and freedom for mankind as an answer to the dire straits in which man finds himself imprisoned in a succession of lives stamped by suffering, instability and illusion.
To set man free and provide him with an unfailing technique to achieve his own emancipation was the goal which Buddha set for his life and work. In so doing he found the way to Nirvana, a state of complete beatitude, immutable, free of suffering and pain.
Buddhism and Christianity are at once radically different and strikingly similar: the one does not preclude the other. Dialogue is possible and for it to bear fruit it must be rooted in a true understanding of both the differences and the similarities.
Theory comes in here, but theory sometimes sheds too little light. As Mr. Niwano himself writes: ‘Ivory tower scholars and critics may criticize the kind of activity we pursued, but their censure would be less severe if they left their studies to go into streets themselves to offer help where it is needed’. Tangible service rendered as a token of deep religious conviction is the best advertisement for a faith and the values on which it rests. That was the message of the Reverend Toyohiko Kagawa a well known Christian Japanese writer. As quoted by Mr. Niwano: ‘I was happy to learn that the true essence of the Lotus Sutra is found in the practice and realisation of its teachings. When I learned that the truest follower is one who reveres even the smallest beings, I discovered that I too might be called a follower of the Lotus Sutra’. ‘Believers in thus Sutra have no reason to fault Christ and his disciples. Indeed, the believer in the Lotus Sutra should rejoice that its predictions have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who humbly reveres even the smallest beings’.
I have in my mind’s eye a picture of Mr. Niwano, the dairy farmer, setting up the first headquarters of his new movement in two rooms over his dairy store. A man who got up at the crack of dawn and worked late into the night running his business and still found time to work for his movement. And who then often sacrificed the few hours left for sleep in order to look for sick people whom he might heal or comfort. Niwano, a poor, an ordinary man, who several decades later was the only Buddhist guest at the Second Vatican Council opened the way to a fruitful dialogue between east and west, between the world’s great religious families.
With the lesson of the dialogue, the lesson of peace. Taking an idea from Martin Buber: ‘Man is in crisis when he ceases to place his trust in dialogue having lost the confidence without which there can be no dialogue’. ‘There has long been an alternative to war, an alternative that rarely presents itself as such, but proceeds by stealth: dialogue, dialogue between men who understand one another and can come to an understanding’.
Mr. Templeton said in his address when the Prize was awarded for the first time in 1973 that ‘qualities sought in awarding the Prize are originality, inspiration, creativity, innovation and effectiveness’, and ‘such contribution may involve study, or life, or the inspiration of a new movement in religion’, I know I am right when with the Judges, I recognize these qualities in Mr. Niwano.
His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, then speaking of people who were eligible for such an honour, said: ‘they are ordinary flesh and blood, the difference is their motivation, their inspiration, the driving force within them . . . it is in the lives of such people that the nature and influence of God is to be recognized and it is there that it should be expected’.
Now perhaps I can mention a special quality of Mr. Niwano: he is a modern man. I really mean ahead of his time, there is no question here of innovation or a taste for publicity. It is entirely a matter of deeper sensitivity to the real needs of the world now.
Perhaps I may speak as someone who, here in the west, has been working for years for the future of Europe, and as someone takes from history that pregnant question whether many wars were not actually religious wars. Then again as a politician who always tries to select the way he can successfully go from the array of possibilities at any given moment.
I then think of the great importance Mr. Niwano attaches to upbringing and education, to his constant concern to care for people afflicted by misery and suffering. To his concern with hospitals and medical treatment. Relief and aid programmes in South East Asia, his concern for peace and his desire to mobilize all the religious forces of the world in order to secure peace. And then at the same time his tireless efforts to sustain all this by a well designed and demanding programme of training, development, self-denial and thought for others.
We have a need for moral re-armament and I am convinced that our world and society today stands in utmost need of truth, freedom and solidarity.
The stability of human society hinges on the degree of its solidarity. Solidarity really means a common responsibility. This in turn means that all of us know that we are responsible not just for our own actions but also for the actions of others. In other words, we are all to some degree involved in and answerable for conduct of affairs in the world. Only on the strength of such an idea of solidarity with the past, present and future, a solidarity which binds east to west and north to south, can truly original and durable work be done. But solidarity can thrive only if it is nourished by liberty and truth.
Our world has perhaps never before seen so much being done to advance learning and knowledge. Enormous sums are being spent on research. Scientific congresses and learned seminars are proliferating in number and objectives, and yet this kind of dialogue really gives only meagre results. Where no love of or genuine interest in truth prevails, men cannot achieve the kind of inner autonomy, sense of responsibility and resilience without which freedom degenerates into caprice, greed, licence and lust. Thus we arrive at the self-centered kind of personality that has no regard for others. We cannot speak of true liberation unless it is founded on truth. For the quest for truth the true reasoning process, means constantly thinking out in new ways and in greater depth. It also means looking beyond traditional concepts and questioning the obvious. However brightly a truth may shine, however alluring an idea may be, they will surely loose all their value if they are imposed at the cost of freedom. There must be inner concord, concord which emanates from man and society. For that we must have persuasion, communication, dialogue and deeper realization.
Since truth and freedom nourish each other and are inseparable, we can more clearly appreciate the power that can radiate from free acceptance and open religious truths or, to look at it another way, the strength of the values that religious freedom brings.
The word of God, as we read it in St John, chapter 8, verse 12, may help us here: ‘He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness’ and verses 31 and 32: ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed: and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free’.
With these words I shall close. May Mr. Niwano’s work continue to show even more clearly how vital it is for the world to be able to count on spiritual forces and how enriching it is for every one of us to draw on the free and genuine support of his neighbour.