In spite of the more imposing achievements of other people of religion throughout the world, you have bestowed on me the distinguished Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion. I am deeply humbled by this great honour; but I sincerely believe that the prize is not mine alone, for it belongs to all the people who have supported the World Conferences on Religion and Peace over the past 10 years.
I very much regret that I am unable to address you in English but I had no opportunity to study English in my youth and have not had the leisure to do so as an adult. May I, therefore, beg your indulgence while my remarks are interpreted.
I am not a scholar, but simply a Buddhist attempting to live in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha. My efforts on behalf of human happiness and world peace are born of attitudes implanted in my mind in childhood. I was born and raised in northern Japan, in a small, isolated village that is snowbound almost half the year. My paternal grandfather made an especially strong impression on me and had an important influence on my later life. He took fond care of me when I was a child and tried to instill in me a sense of the duties inherent in being human. He would often say that, although the smallest insect knows enough to feed itself, as human beings with broader sensibilities, it is our duty not only to care for ourselves, but also to be people who do good for others. My grandfather’s example did not stop at mere words, for in his practice of traditional Oriental medicine he frequently went to great lengths to alleviate the pain and suffering of people in our village. His admonitions and actions stayed in the back of my mind during my youth and undoubtedly played a major role in guiding me to the world of religion.
The foundation of my spiritual life are the teachings of the Buddha and the compassionate practice of the way of the bodhisattva — one who devotes himself to attaining enlightenment not only for himself but for all sentient begins. At the heart of the Buddha’s teachings are the three great truths known as the Seal of the Three Laws: first, ‘All things are impermanent’ that is, all things and phenomena in this world constantly change; second, ‘Nothing has an ego’ which is to say, all things in the universe exist in interrelationship with one another; and third, ‘Nirvana is quiescence’ that is, the ultimate freedom is to be rid of greed, aggression and self- delusion.
The law, or truth, ‘All things are impermanent’ refers to the unceasing changes occurring in our minds, in all phenomena, and in such apparently solid, physical manifestations of matter as trees and stones. Modern science has proved that movement and change are continuous even within the atom, which was at one time considered the ultimate particle to which matter could be reduced. It is unnecessary to point out the unending changes taking place in our own bodies. The Buddha explained the transience inherent in existence, the inevitability of aging and death; but he did not stop there. Instead, he taught that, since all things are constantly altering, man must exert his best efforts in every instant of life. Indeed, such striving lies at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, for knowing that all things are impermanent subdues the proud and give hope to the wretched, encouraging them both to make spiritual progress.
The second of the three laws, ‘Nothing has an ego’, is an affirmation of the interdependence of all things. Nothing exists in complete isolation. For example, to come from Tokyo to London to be with you today, I flew on an aircraft, the production and operation of which involve a worldwide spectrum of interrelations. My trip would have been impossible without the pilot, the flight crew, the ground communications staff constantly on the lookout for our safety, the fueling crew, the people who pumped out of the earth the crude oil from which the fuel was made, the miners who unearthed the ores from which the construction materials of the plane were produced, the aircraft designer and countless others.
Moreover, the oil and the minerals are not man made, but are products of nature that man has simply discovered and devised uses for. But, in their arrogance, human beings forget their debt to nature and their relations with other phenomena and beings and act entirely in their own interests. This failing deserves the most serious consideration, especially since it has led mankind to neglect harmony with the natural world in his attempt to conquer his environment. The result has been crises of environmental pollution and a world-wide shortage of natural resources. In creating these untenable situations, man is destroying himself. And his suicidal dilemma is born of a refusal to recognize the interdependence binding man and every other thing in this universe.
In connection with the truth ‘Nothing has an ego’ that is, all things are interrelated, I should like to touch on another basic Buddhist tenet: the teaching that everything is the effect of a cause. The clothes you and I wear and the food we eat are the effects of other people’s labour. My mind, like yours, has been formed through encounters with everything in the world around us, through experiences and acquired knowledge. We all live in a maze of cause-and-effect situations; and human society is an unseen, indivisible network of interrelations in which each strand, or fibre, is of great importance to every other strand and to the net as a whole. We cannot afford to permit ourselves to be so caught up in material pursuits that we fail to pay attention to this world of cause and effect, this indivisible network.
It is tragically ironic that man, whose knowledge extends to the heavenly bodies, should remain ignorant of that which supports the very basis of his own existence and should allow his ignorance to blind him to the inter- dependence and true brotherhood of mankind. It is indeed foolish that nations should, in the cause of ‘independence’ oppose each other on the basis of ideologies, which are, at best, no more than methods of conveying, or expressing, ultimate, absolute values but are by no means absolute values in themselves.
In our times, when few, if any, states are truly independent, that is, fully self-sustaining, the folly of opposition is emphasized by a food situation in which nations like Japan and even the Soviet Union must import foodstuffs from such other nations as the United States. There are some who say that, in the long current of human history, ideologies are only the adornments of individual ages. Human beings cannot live, let alone be happy, on the basis of adornments alone.
Especially in modern times, most ideologies develop through opposition and antagonism and exhibit concern in only their own advantages and advancements. We cannot hope to escape from hatred and conflict as long as we remain bound to ideologies of this kind. Man’s history is one of repeated collisions between the self-interests of individuals, clashes between narrow nationalisms, imperialistic contests, and the so-called class struggle between labour and capital. All this antagonism originates in prejudiced self-righteousness and short- sighted forgetfulness of that which makes all our lives possible.
Conflicts still persist; yet, for the continued existence of the human race, we must advance from our present, limited nationalistic views to thinking in broad, regional terms and then to the establishment of a global community. Today, the idea of the whole family of man embarked together in the single vessel that we call the earth is beginning to take root in many places. Religions must encourage such thinking and must set as their highest goals the happiness and spiritual growth of humanity and the peace of the world. If they are to do this, however, they must never allow themselves to be riven by such minor issues as religious terminology and ritual forms.
When I met the late Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council, he emphasized the importance of an awareness of our mutual interdependence when he said that the only way for religion to make a contribution to the well-being of humanity was through an ecumenical sense of communion in which, in his words, ‘Buddhists must pray for Christians and Christians must pray for Buddhists.’ He added that today the words human being have come to be synonymous with neighbour. I was deeply moved by those remarks and decided to work to demolish the wall of prejudice and misunderstanding that has stood between peoples of different religions and to use the stones of that wall to fill in the gap separating one group from another. To do this and to help bring peace to the world, we must not only put self-centred politics behind us but also bring about a religious renaissance, a revolution within the spirit of man.
In a spirit of co-operation, not competition, giving, not grasping, people of good will from many religions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Shinto among them — have been able to work together with joy in the organization and endeavours of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, which is devoted to eliminating obstructions on the way to a peaceful world. I believe we are so well able to accomplish our tasks because we are all, on some level, aware of the truth that all things in the universe exist in interrelationship with one another.
Human beings tend to forget that all things are impermanent and to become deeply attached to things as if they had permanent value in themselves. Human beings also often overlook the truth that nothing has an ego, that everything is part of a total, interdependent network in which each element is vitally important to every other element; hence we human beings too often fail to appreciate the fact that our very existence depends on the existences of all other things in the universe. As an outcome of our forgetfulness of our oneness with the universe, we grumble, lose our tempers, and behave greedily.
The Buddha referred to these kinds of ignorant behaviour as the fires of delusion and taught that their extinction — and the resultant freedom from delusion — is the tranquillity of the state called Nirvana. This is the third of the great truths: ‘Nirvana is quiescence’. Attaining this state is one of the major aims of Buddhists. More than 25 centuries ago, the Buddha sounded a bell to warn man of the danger of self-immolation in the fires of delusion. But as a Buddhist one must always realize that individual attainment of Nirvana is insufficient. We must all labour to improve the whole world around us.
Though as a man of religion, my voice is small and weak, I have attempted to speak out for the sake of such improvement. In June, last year, on the occasion of the United Nations special session on disarmament, I asked especially of President Carter and First Secretary Brezhnev that their nations take major risks for peace and disarmament, instead of taking risks with arms. But armed conflict is not the only area providing us with more than ample room for improvement. One might, for example, point to the world food crisis. It is said that about six million people perish of hunger each year. It cannot be right that one-third of the world’s population lives at the edge of starvation and another third is malnourished while the last third enjoys an over- abundance of food. Illiteracy, though still a problem in many parts of the world, cannot compare with the gravity of lack of food.
My fellow members of Rissho Kosei-Kai and I have attempted to do what we can to improve the conditions of suffering human beings in many parts of the world. In Cambodia, we built a school and sponsored an agricultural programme. In Laos, we assisted in the restoration of the temple That Laung, which is both a national treasure and the centre of religious faith for the Laotian people. But, in both cases, war and political upheaval hindered our efforts. We have sheltered Vietnamese refugees; we have sent food for the children of Bangladesh; and at our nursing school we have trained nurses from Nepal. Though we lack the strength to bring about far-reaching improvements in world conditions, we continue our efforts in the belief that it is our obligation to our fellow human beings if we are to practice our belief earnestly and honestly.
During the Second World Conference on Religion and Peace, which, with the support of Cardinal Suenens, of Belgium, was convened in Louvain in 1974, a British newspaper correspondent put this question to me: ‘You expend great efforts for the sake of peace; but don’t you think that, so far, you have achieved very little?’ My reply to him was: ‘I keep working as hard as I can precisely because results have not yet been satisfactory’.
It is true that, in the course of my efforts to discover what people of religion ought to do to bring peace to the world, I have moved slowly and have often erred. But I believe that the person of religion is bound to abandon considerations of appearances or of personal gain and loss and to make just such efforts as these.
Working alone, I may fail. Working alone, you may fail. But success is open to both of us if we work together. Believing this, I have participated in movements to unite people of religion from all over the world for the sake of peace. I interpret the awarding of the Templeton Prize to me as encouragement from God and the Buddha to continue on the path I have followed thus far. With profound gratitude and with the vow to continue my work, I accept the Award and thank you.