THE executive-committee meetings of the World Conference on Religion and Peace were scheduled to take place in New York from November 2 through November 4, 1971. Discussions at the meetings were to deal with the second world conference. Representatives from eight nations plus observers were to attend. I was to represent Japan.
A large group of well-wishers gathered at Tokyo International Airport to see me off on the afternoon of October 27. At two fifty, not long before takeoff, the administrative director of Kosei Hospital approached me. He had a pained look on his face as he whispered in my ear, "Mr. Izumida has just passed away." "Kazuo? Dead?" I was unprepared. My voice trembled.
"Yes. About ten minutes ago. Doctors from Kosei Hospital rushed to him. They did what they could, but it was too late."
The director of the hospital bit his lip and hung his head. At that moment, the loudspeaker announced the departure of my plane. The people who had accompanied me to the airport wished me well and urged me to take care of myself. None of them knew of the death of my son-in-law. I tried to keep my usual smile on my face as I bade them farewell, but my heart was heavy with the thought of my third daughter, Yoshiko, and the grief she must be suffering at the loss of her husband.
With a roar, the jet plane climbed into the late fall sky. Soon the streets and buildings of Tokyo receded into the distance. The capes and offshore islands became miniatures edged with narrow strips of white breakers.
"Excuse me, Mr. Niwano, but I'm a member of Kosei-kai. Before I joined I was scarcely worthy to be alive. But becoming a member has changed everything for me."
Quite by coincidence, the woman seated next to me on the plane was a Kosei-kai member. She had married an American military man who had died. A widow, living in a foreign country, she had lost all incentive to go on. Fearing that death might be near, she began to be anxious. "But once I came into contact with the teachings of Kosei-kai, I found courage and hope."
"No matter what the circumstances or environment," I said to her, "each human being has a mission to perform. Until spiritual enlightenment occurs, however, the person may not recognize his mission. The fundamental importance of the teachings of Kosei-kai is to awaken the individual to his role in life and the road that he must travel to fulfill it."
The woman thanked me, brought her hands together in a prayerful attitude, and finally fell silent. As I looked at the cloudless blue sky, deep blue sea, and pale yellow horizon, my mind went back to my daughter Yoshiko.
She had married Kazuo Izumida in December, 1962. My two elder daughters had both been married in Niigata while my family and I were living apart. But Yoshiko was married in Tokyo. At the time, I was saving money to give her a wedding present. But I decided that I ought to donate the money to the building fund for the Great Sacred Hall. People from all over the country were sending in their contributions, and construction was rushing ahead in order to meet the target completion date of 1964.
When the family had been sent to Suganuma, in Niigata, my eldest son, Nichiko (whose name was changed from Koichi in 1970), had been in the first year and Yoshiko in the third year of primary school. She was a sensitive girl who always made good grades. The virtual exile of living away from me in the country awakened simple, childish, but strong doubts in her mind.
Day by day, the family worked in the fields. There was no way of knowing how long this life would continue. Furthermore, there were few letters from me. "Father is a religious leader who saves other people. But why doesn't he live with us? Why does he inflict hardships on mother? Can religious leaders save the masses if they can't save their own families?"
These doubts, coupled with her concern for her mother, made Yoshiko distrustful of me and of Myoko Sensei. Though some people might criticize her as narrow and selfish, actually she was merely unable at the time to understand Rissho Kosei-kai's teachings and the Truth. Her distrust was born of her great sympathy for her mother's plight and of her belief that her father had been taken away from the family. I could not blame her.
When Yoshiko was in the second year of high school, she and her classmates went on a school trip to Kyoto and Nara. On the way back to Niigata, she and one of her friends called at the Kosei-kai headquarters. Myoko Sensei was sincerely happy to see them. She prepared food and went so far as to buy souvenirs. Some time later I received letters from Yoshiko and her friend thanking me, but no one wrote to Myoko Sensei. I wrote the following letter to my daughter.
"I imagine that you are going ahead with your studies. I asked you to write a letter of thanks to Myoko Sensei. Have you done it? I received a letter from your friend. Has she written to Myoko Sensei?
"I know that you consider our way of life unreasonable and that you find emotional conditions extremely complicated. But as I have said to you often in the past, gratitude is gratitude; and you must try to view all issues from both sides.
"You graduate next year. If you are to go on to a women's college, you must prepare yourself by studying very hard. There is no point in discussing things with outsiders. Rely on what I have to say, on your own efforts and talents, and on fate.
"But since the gods and the buddhas determine fate, your true mental and spiritual state will depend on whether you are in harmony with them. I don't have to tell you that the proper attitude to have is to give each issue the significance it deserves and strive always for self-improvement. Everything taken into consideration, you probably are fated to be as happy as anyone else. The discipline you will have to undergo, however, may not be easy.
"You do not have to give thought to your school grades. The important thing is to develop what is good in yourself and gradually to correct what is bad. Reveal your own character, even to the extent of looking foolish if it is honest to do so. Listen to the criticisms of other people, and do the best you can to correct your faults as fast as possible. Always have the perfection of your own personality in mind. Self-perfection, not school grades, is the important thing. Be sincerely devoted. Live a life in which honest words are matched by honest deeds. Live a life of religious faith and good conscience. It doesn't matter if you follow others. Help people to go ahead first, then think of yourself. Always remember that what you do for the sake of others is more for your own sake than anything else can be. Work to make maximum spiritual progress without forgetting to be grateful to the gods and buddhas."
At about the time that I sent this letter, Yoshiko, who had no idea when our family would be reunited in Tokyo, made up her mind to become a schoolteacher and to care for her mother herself. The older girls were already mature. They had some understanding of the situation. The younger boys, Kinjiro and Hiroshi, were still too young to be concerned. The children who suffered most throughout the ten years in which we lived apart were Nichiko and Yoshiko. Nichiko kept his sorrows to himself. But Yoshiko did not fail to tell me how she felt. That, combined with the fact that she was my youngest daughter, made her especially conspicuous in my thoughts.
Years later, when she was dressed for her wedding, she knelt in the traditional fashion, putting both hands on the tatami in sign of humility, and lowered her head as she uttered the words that most Japanese brides say to their fathers: "In many ways, you have cared for me for a long time." I still recall the deep emotional feeling I experienced on hearing those words.
Kazuo Izumida, who had graduated from Keio university, at first knew nothing about Kosei-kai. There was something very pure about his personality, and he and my daughter Yoshiko were very close. When he visited my house, he made himself perfectly at home. He had no religious faith; but after a while, he came to study the Lotus Sutra and became a fervent member of Rissho Kosei-kai. The married life of the young couple was perfectly harmonious; they had three sons. I felt completely at ease about their lives.
Two days before my departure for the executive committee meeting in New York, we held a small family party at my house. Kazuo politely poured sake for all of our relatives. Before going home, lowering his head in a bow, he courteously wished me a safe journey. I thought that it was strange that he should do so since I was certain that he would come to the airport on the twenty-seventh to see me off. Still, I smiled and nodded in response to his words. But those words were to be our final exchange in this life. The following day, Kazuo drove his car to work and collapsed when he arrived there.
When I heard the sad news of his death, just before I was to board my plane for New York, I could see Yoshiko's grieving, sorrowing face in my mind's eye. I wanted to cancel my trip and remain by her side. But then I realized that it would be impossible for me to do so. Although, as a father, I wanted to be with my stricken child, I was myself a child of the Buddha. As such I was embarking on a mission dedicated to the attainment of peace for the whole world. Carrying out my task was the best way for me to demonstrate love for my wife and children.
On the plane, I straightened up in my seat, looked for a moment at the distant sky, then closed my eyes and recited the Daimoku.
At the airport in San Francisco, local Kosei-kai members greeted me; and I returned their greetings with a smiling face. One Japanese woman of about forty years of age turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, "My husband is a Negro. For years I have harbored a nagging feeling that I would be happier if he were not black. That feeling vanished when I first began studying the teachings of Kosei-kai. Recently, my husband has begun telling me that he thinks we are a very happy couple."
I congratulated her on her happiness; and she went on to say, "In the past I have had experiences that were too bitter to describe. I had no one to whom I could talk about my troubles. I felt as if I stood alone in a deserted field extending all the way to the horizon. But after I came into contact with the Buddha's Law, everything changed. As my husband says, we are living a truly happy life. I flew all the way here to thank you."
The woman began sobbing again. She had flown to San Francisco from Chicago. I said to her, "The Buddha is protecting you. Make spiritual progress and treasure the happiness you now enjoy." Her face seemed to light up when she heard this. Although the Law of the Lotus Sutra knows no national boundaries, this Kosei-kai member was isolated in a foreign country, in a place where she had few fellow believers and only rare opportunities to hear sermons on the sutras. Nonetheless, her faith was all the stronger. The tears in her eyes seemed very beautiful to me.
I smiled when I talked to this woman as I had smiled earlier in speaking with the Kosei-kai member on the airplane. But when I was alone in my hotel room, a tremendous burden of grief settled on my heart. Although in this life it is impossible to predict the coming of the end, I felt my breast torn with grief over the sudden death of a man as young as Kazuo Izumida. On the following morning, I awakened earlier than usual.
No matter where I am, whether I am traveling in Japan or in foreign countries, I never fail to have incense and a small focus of devotion with me. On that morning, I lighted the incense and read from the Lotus Sutra. Usually I observe these small services with whoever is accompanying me on my journey. But on this occasion, I performed them before anyone could come to my room. They were prayers for the repose of Kazuo Izumida. I sent the following letter to my daughter.
"I am at a loss to know how to express my grief and sorrow at this sudden tragedy. Because it happened at the moment of my departure, I was unable to do anything but rely on the doctors and pray. All of this emphasizes the truth of the Buddhist belief that there is no constancy in this world. Nonetheless, your father was profoundly shocked. I was worried, of course, all the way to the airport; but when I heard the news from the hospital director, I was beside myself. I still seemed to hear Kazuo wishing me a safe journey, just as he had done at the party on the night of the twenty-fifth.
"Though I realize that there is no constancy in this world, I still regret what has happened. I feel that we might have taken better care of him earlier. But now it is too late. Your responsibility becomes very great. It is important that you brace yourself and try to grow spiritually stronger.
"In my hotel room in San Francisco, I read excerpts from the Lotus Sutra and the entire twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-fifth, and twenty-eighth chapters as a prayer for the repose of his spirit.
"Only a few days ago, in the Bouquet of Life, by Professor Daigaku Hanaoka, I read a passage about Ejo, the second patriarch of the temple Eihei-ji. While Ejo was studying under Dogen, his mother fell gravely ill. According to the rules established by Dogen, priests could visit their homes for a period of three days, twice a month. Apart from this visit, they were not allowed to absent themselves from the temple. Ejo's fifty colleagues urged him to obtain the head priest's permission and to return home, since it seemed his mother was about to depart this life. They argued that it would be highly unfilial of him not to be with her at such a time. Dogen, who was listening to this, remained silent. After a while, Ejo shook his head and said, 'The precepts of Buddhism are more important. It would be more unfilial of me to break the ancient precepts in order to follow a personal inclination in connection with my suffering mother. If I broke the Buddhist precepts for a personal feeling, I would cause my mother to commit a final sin that would win eternal ruin for her.' After this, Ejo went unfalteringly about his religious study and training.
"I hope that this illustration will help you to understand my feelings and the way I had to force back my tears when I learned of the death of a son. I shall try to calm my heart while carrying out my duty before returning home. What I have said may seem clumsy, but please accept my deepest sympathies."
The executive committee meeting held in New York was highly eventful. First, we discussed the results of the first World Conference on Religion and Peace, heard reports from various participating nations, and then saw from the increasing effects of the conference that the seeds we had sown were taking root. But the major topic of interest was the second world conference.
Feeling that for the sake of maximum participation it would be wise to hold the conference in Europe, I made the following remarks: "Since Japan is a nation with a peace-oriented constitution, a nation that has forever renounced war, it was a suitable place for the first world conference. Happily, that first meeting has produced great results. But we must not stand still. For the next conference, we must make preparations for a policy that will stimulate greater participation on the parts of socialist nations."
Many of the members of the executive council saw eye to eye with my proposal. After debate and discussion, it was decided to hold the second world conference in 1973 in a suitable European country. Further, for the sake of greater harmonious cooperation between the United States and Japan, it was decided to hold a joint religious council meeting.
The Inter-Religious Consultation on Japanese-American Relations took place in June, 1972, in Honolulu. It was attended by forty representatives of the Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, and Jewish faiths and by specialists in the fields of politics and economics. Adopting the common stand that there should never be a recurrence of tragedies like Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki, and Hiroshima, those of us present exchanged thoughts and opinions fervently from early in the morning until late at night. At the time, the American government was adopting a protect-the-dollar policy that was breeding discord in economic relations with Japan. But for five days, we carried out our religious conference in a totally harmonious mood of affection and friendship.
This joint meeting promoted friendly relations among people of religion from both nations. Furthermore, it was an important step toward the realization of plans for the second World Conference on Religion and Peace. One of the important concrete results of the meeting was the massive "Honolulu Declaration," copies of which were sent to the governments of both countries. The keynote of the declaration and of the entire conference is contained in the following quotation: "A mutual interpenetration of the religious communities in many parts of the world is growing in intensity as communication becomes more readily available. We are compelled by various religious imperatives to work to make this encounter result in human helpfulness rather than competitive self-assertion."
At the conclusion of the executive-committee meetings in New York, we attended a meeting of the United Nations. Unfortunately, owing to his illness, we were unable to carry out our plans for a meeting with U Thant. We did see Adam Malik, however; and he listened eagerly to our explanations of the nature and purpose of the World Conference on Religion and Peace. He said that speaking from the standpoint of the entire United Nations he wanted to cooperate with us, especially since the activities of religious people were gaining in importance and were winning increasing confidence throughout the world. Listening to his words of intense interest, I had the feeling that we were truly on the way to the realization of the second conference.
The sky was dove gray when I arrived at Tokyo International Airport. I was stricken with a new pang of grief when I noticed the absence of Yoshiko Izumida among the group of people who came to greet me. Because of the tragic news I had received at my departure, the trip had been a gloomy one for me; but I could not let my personal suffering show. Fulfilling my duty with as good grace as possible seemed to be the least I could do in the way of a parting gift for the spirit of my son-in-law.
I am certain that other leaders of Kosei-kai have suppressed personal feelings and family distress in order to fulfill their tasks. It is because it has leaders willing to make this kind of sacrifice that Kosei-kai continues to flourish. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those leaders.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.