THE SECOND World Conference on Religion and Peace was held in the city of Leuven, about thirty kilometers east of Brussels. The city, the name of which means "praise God," is surrounded by greenery. Of the sixty-four thousand people who live there, thirty-one thousand are students at the local university, which was founded in 1426 and is one of the world's leading Catholic institutes of higher learning. The large buildings of red brick that grace the town are for the most part university buildings or churches. The chimes of a clock tower announce each hour, and about fifteen minutes' walk from the center of the town are grassy fields and groves of chestnut trees.
The proprietor of a local shoe shop was very proud to announce to all comers that religious leaders from the whole world had come to hold a meeting in his beloved town. At the second world conference, fifty-three nations were represented. At the first conference, in Kyoto, there had been representatives from only thirty-nine nations. The second conference showed a heartening increase of fourteen nations.
That meeting marked an important turning point in the religious history of Europe and of the world. Although some of the increase in representation came from developing nations in Africa, a large percentage was from European nations. Europe has a long history of religious antagonism and warfare among the various branches of Christianity that have grown up there. The willingness of the leaders of those religious groups to abandon old prejudices and come together in one building for the sake of discussions of definite ways to promote peace suggests the initiation of an important new trend.
Many people contributed time and effort for the sake of the success of the meeting. Queen Fabiola of Belgium acted as head advisor. Leon Cardinal Suenens, also of Belgium, was chairman of the committee. Representatives of the Christian, Judaic, and Muslim faiths, as well as Jean Rey, former chairman of the European Economic Community; Pierre Harmel, of the French government; and Edward Massaux and Pieter De Somer, representatives selected by the president of the Catholic University of Leuven, formed the committee for the management of the conference. At the opening meeting, as the chairman of the Japanese Committee and the chairman of the first conference, I made the following remarks.
"I am deeply honored and privileged to be given this opportunity to speak to you at the very beginning of our second World Conference on Religion and Peace. As chairman of the Japanese Host Committee for the first world conference, I know the problems - and opportunities - involved and so I am glad to speak as we inaugurate this second conference.
"I remember with strong affection the historic first World Conference on Religion and Peace held in October, 1970, at Kyoto, Japan. We transcended our national boundaries and our religious boundaries. It was, I think, a great achievement in the history of world religions. At that conference, we discussed earnestly the problems that prevented peace and we talked with each other about what leaders of religion can and should do to ensure world peace with world justice. Through the conference, we deepened our mutual understanding, promoted friendship, and pledged to make further efforts for world peace by our continued cooperation.
"Time flies fast. It is already four years since we held the first world conference. During these years we, as members of the continuing World Conference on Religion and Peace, continued our works for peace. However, conflicts and regional wars have still occurred in some areas of the world and many of the difficult issues remain. Indeed, some of the issues have become more acute since last we met, especially such problems as pollution, population, and the shortage of such resources as oil and food. These are global issues demanding global solutions.
"We must, to face these fast-accumulating problems, reform our political and economic systems and structures. It is the mission of us leaders of religion to make people realize fully that we all belong to the human family and that we must all practice inner restraint to prevent social greediness.
"It seems to me that we should repent here that we have not been strong enough to realize the love of God and to practice the deeds of benevolence of the Buddha for the solution of various agonies that are facing mankind. Further, we should reconfirm and pledge to God and the Buddha our determination to make our best efforts at this conference."
As I spoke, I was aware of burning gazes and of a powerful tension in the air resulting from the passionate longing for peace and the deep sense of mission of the members of the audience.
In an article about our conference, one of the Japanese newspapers said: "Because they feel that religion and people of religious faith are powerless to do anything about the problems facing the world, the journalistic media have paid no attention to the announcement that at the end of this month the second World Conference on Religion and Peace will be held at Leuven, in the suburbs of Brussels.
"While speaking of the crisis of civilization and the end of the world, people continue to devote themselves to faith in reason and in the almighty material things of life. They insist that man must use his powers of reason to solve the problems that he has created. Controls must be applied to solve the population explosion; controls must be applied to consumption in order to prevent the exhaustion of the world's physical resources; limitations must be applied to nuclear weapons to prevent the threat of a nuclear war; social welfare policies must be adopted to ensure human happiness. At any rate, there is still time before the final cataclysm.
"People who argue in this way ask, 'What good can gods and buddhas do for the mind of man?' 'What value to practical politics is a meeting of people of religion who discuss peace?' This general view of the journalistic media toward our efforts indicates the powerful hold faith in scientific technology and reason still have on the minds of contemporary human beings.
"But it is the very faith in science and reason that has caused the current world crisis. In the relentless drive to satisfy human greed - mistakenly considered a good in its own right - man has come to regard everything other than himself as an object for his use. In a vehicle with the engine of greed open full, he is speeding down a highway called material progress. But he has not yet realized that the brake of reason is broken.
"Give no thought to death or tomorrow. Trust only in historical progress. This kind of Western rationalistic thought has guided the world until the present. But the man driving the vehicle is beginning to do odd and disturbing things with the steering wheel. At last, the person of religion, who until this point has remained asleep, has awakened. Religious people from the whole world have decided to overcome their differences and to come together in Leuven.
"Oppressed by material civilization, representatives of the established religions - Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and others - find in this meeting a chance to begin programs of reviving their teachings and of restoring their faith."
I have made this lengthy quotation because I think it is a comparatively accurate view of the conference. Believing firmly in technology and reason, man is racing along in a vehicle with the engine of instinctive greed open full. What can be at the end of the road? Even those people who realize that the destination is destruction rarely rise to take action. The World Conference on Religion and Peace serves as a stern warning bell.
Not all of the journalistic reactions to the Kyoto conference were positive. But the conference in Brussels could not be overlooked because of the topics it covered. The basic theme was "Religion and the Quality of Life." Four workshops were formed to deal with the subtopics: "Disarmament and Security," "Economic Development and Human Liberation," "Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms," and "Environment and Survival." Further energetic and passionate debates and discussions were held in five commission sessions.
Although the conference was to an extent covered by Japanese journalists, in Europe the proceedings of each day's meetings were carried in full in the newspapers. The proper evaluation of the significance of the conference as reflected in the articles in European journals made me happy. We had progressed a long way from the conditions that had prevailed at Kyoto. And as I read the daily articles, many scenes that had taken place during the four years of preparation for the conference flashed into my mind.
In April, 1972, the Japanese Committee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace was set up; until that time, activities in connection with the conference had been carried out by the Commission on International Affairs of the Japan Religions League. But as the conference developed, a separate organization became essential. That committee was referred to as a domestic Japanese ecumenical movement, in comparison with the ecumenical movement that was playing an important role in world Christianity at the time. When selected as the first chairman of the committee, I vowed we should perform our duties in a spirit of sincerity and respect and reverence for truth, humanity, and harmony. "Minimum peace means the absence of war. Maximum peace means a world in which all people respect each other and live in a spirit of harmonious mutual love and compassion. Although we have not yet succeeded in achieving even minimum peace, we must realize that our mission as people of religion is to define maximum peace." These words were spoken by Professor Yoshiaki Iisaka of Gakushuin University, in Tokyo, but they represent the goal toward which the Japanese Committee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace must strive.
The decision to hold the second conference in a "suitable" country in Europe was taken at an executive-committee meeting in New York, in 1971. Thereafter, no further progress was made. My trip to West Germany and three other European countries in the summer of 1972 was for the sake of preliminary preparations for the conference, the scheduled date for which was 1973. I felt that if the meeting was to take place in Europe, West Germany was the best place.
At Bonn, I discussed West German religious affairs with Dr. Maria Lucker, who had been a member of the executive committee for the Kyoto conference, and with the Reverend Norbert Hans Klein. I learned that there are important leaders of Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox groups in West Germany and that President Gustav Heinemann of West Germany had served as an officer in a Protestant organization.
The question of selecting a meeting place demanded careful consideration, but promptness too was important. My next step was to travel to Cologne for a discussion with Joseph Cardinal Hoffner, to whom I expressed my hope of holding the conference in West Germany. As the cardinal shook my hand and looked directly at me with his impressive, clear blue eyes, he expressed agreement with my wish. (As I mentioned earlier, Cardinal Hoffner visited Kosei-kai headquarters in Tokyo.) Then I and other representatives of the executive committee called on President Gustav Heinemann in the official residence. Together with me were Dr. Lucker, Dr. Greeley, and the Reverend Toshio Miyake of the Konko-kyo Church of Izuo. We explained the nature of the Kyoto conference and expressed our hope of holding the second one in West Germany. The president was enthusiastic and offered full cooperation because he felt that a peace movement on the part of people of religion was of the greatest importance. He added, "This is only a personal opinion, but it would be most meaningful if the second World Conference on Religion and Peace could be held in Berlin."
I was in full agreement with his sentiments. At the end of World War II, Berlin was divided into east and west zones. The scars of war remain in the city, and I hoped that a world conference for peace there would help heal them. Our interview with the president was scheduled for only twenty minutes, but the discussion was so vitally interesting that the time was extended until it had consumed a full hour. Even when it finally became necessary to leave the official residence, we still had many topics left to discuss.
In addition to meeting the president of West Germany, I had an interview with Metropolit Irenaus, the highest leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in Western Europe. I attended a meeting of the Catholic Committee for Justice and Peace, where I made a report on the Kyoto conference and explained the purpose of my visit to West Germany. At a dinner meeting of the West German Catholic Central Committee, I discussed many things with religious leaders. Later I met Bishop D. Hermann Kunst, who represented the Evangelische Kirche to the West German government, and Dr. Metz, executive secretary of MISEREOR, the Catholic organization for development and self-help. Both of these men promised to cooperate in plans for the conference.
Later I visited Switzerland and Holland. In both countries I was very busy listening to and sharing opinions about the conference with such people as Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, the top Catholic leader in all Europe, whom I met in Holland; and Dr. Joseph J. Spae, general secretary of SODEPAX (the Committee on Society, Development and Peace of the World Council of Churches together with the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace), whom I met in Switzerland. When I returned to Japan, I felt as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders, since we had advanced beyond the executive committee's vague "suitable" country to a definite location: Berlin.
But somewhat later, the tragic events at the Munich Olympics occurred. Understandably, the West German authorities were nervous about holding a large international conference, and it became necessary to seek another European location.
I traveled to Europe again, this time visiting religious leaders in Hungary and Romania. I called on a monastery in the outskirts of Cluj, in Romania. The monastery was located in much more remote mountains than I had expected; we still had not arrived after thirty minutes' driving. As I looked at the early summer landscape of Eastern Europe from the car window, I suddenly remembered that I had brought no gift. I make a custom of taking small presents to places that I visit for the first time. The gift itself is of no importance; it might be anything. It is only that offering something expresses the spirit in which I come. I consider it a matter of courtesy.
We arrived at the hilltop monastery just before noon, and the abbot kindly invited me to lunch. After the meal, I removed my pocket watch and offered it to the abbot as a token of my appreciation for the warm hospitality of his monastery. After I explained the meaning of the ideogram wa ("peace") engraved on the watch, the abbot with wide-open eyes, said that he was happy to accept the gift and that he would preserve it as one of the treasures of the monastery.
Finally, at the conclusion of this third trip to Europe, we decided definitely to hold the second World Conference on Religion and Peace in Belgium. My own part in the decision was small. It was the cooperation of many coworkers and the support of the more than four million members of Kosei-kai that made it possible for our discussions to prove convincing and to bear fruit. With the determination of a site for the conference, my mission was nearly accomplished. I suspect that I may be better suited to preliminary preparations of this kind than to appearing in the limelight.
The second World Conference on Religion and Peace was held during the week between August 28 and September 3, 1974. Debates, plenary sessions, commission sessions, executive committee meetings, and group councils took place day and night. It was not unusual for the day's proceedings to continue until ten in the evening. On one occasion, when discussions had lasted until one thirty in the morning, a delegate jokingly said, "Well, everyone, see you tomorrow - I mean today!"
For me, the conferences were only part of the schedule. There were meetings with the Japanese delegates, discussions with religious scholars, press conferences, and other meetings with people in the communications field. At the conclusion of a busy day, often someone would come unexpectedly and ask, "May I have a word with Mr. Niwano?" One German student who had been impressed with my book Heiwa e no Michi (A Buddhist Approach to Peace) followed me about and, whenever I had a moment's leisure, asked me to explain the teachings of Kosei-kai, about which she intended to write a paper. I was much busier at that conference than I had been at Kyoto.
The Kyoto conference had been held in the cool autumn, not in the summer. Moreover, I am accustomed to the Japanese climate and conditions. Further, Belgium is on a time schedule nine hours different from that of Japan. Brussels' day is Tokyo's night, and it was two or three days before my body adjusted to the difference. But I had no time to worry about such things. And in fact, I was so healthy and vigorous that I surprised myself.
Four months before the second world conference, at the invitation of the China-Japan Friendship Association and the Buddhist Association of China, I visited Beijing, arriving on April 20. By an odd coincidence, that was the day on which China and Japan signed an agreement relative to air travel. Liao Zhengzhi, president of the China-Japan Friendship Association, and Zhao Puchu, president of the Buddhist Association of China, greeted me with a remark about the strange fateful connections of such coincidences.
Much information is available on the industry and the people's communes of China, but the world of Chinese religion is virtually unknown. At the time of the Kyoto conference, I had wanted to invite representatives from China but had known no way to make contacts. My hope to learn more of the religious situation there and to invite representatives to the second conference was the major purpose of my visit.
At my request to be introduced to as many religious leaders as possible, Zhao Puchu convened a meeting of more than twenty people at the temple Guang-ji monastery, in Beijing. At the meeting I discussed the Chinese religious situation with representatives of the Buddhist, Moslem, Catholic, and Protestant faiths and learned that there are 800,000 Protestants and 10,000,000 Moslems in China. Religious freedom is guaranteed, and there are no restrictions on missionary activities. But the Chinese believe that Western Christianity is a tool of imperialistic aggression. Chinese Protestants have no connections with Protestants in other nations; they operate on the basis of what is called the three "selves": self-propagation, self-development, and self-regulation. All of the religious groups hold that the religions of the past were used for the benefit of imperialism and the exploitation of the people and feel that it will be some time before China is ready to take part in an international religious conference. Nonetheless, I am convinced that the way is being opened and that religious exchanges between China and Japan are the first step.
"In the West it is believed that daily life is a matter for the individual human being isolated from others. The Buddhist belief, however, is that all things are intimately related in that they all partake of the universal life-force. This surprises us but offers important suggestions for the way we ought to live in the future." This, of course, was embarrassing to us Japanese, who, after the end of World War II, have tended to abandon our tradition as old-fashioned and outmoded and to adopt wholesale Western rationalism and materialism. I am made especially aware of the rashness of the Japanese people when I see that people of the West are now beginning to assimilate as valuable many of the ideas that we have abandoned. Among these ideas is that the buddha-nature pervades all.
Another thing that impressed me about the Leuven conference was the lack of polarization into groups believing that we ought to act boldly to promote peace and groups feeling that, for such matters as development and disarmament, we must rely on specialists. In the second conference, the general attitude was that in connection with peace there must be no specialists and that everyone must do his part. Our actions must take the form of aid and compassion; but in addition, we must all remember the basic nature of religion and engage in prayers, spiritual purification, and other activities dedicated to spiritual improvement.
The belief that "dogma separates whereas service unites" symbolized another mood prevailing at the conference. In the history of man, perhaps nothing has tended to fall into exclusivism and self-righteousness as often as religion. At the second conference, we were all striving to concentrate on things we have in common and to deemphasize our differences. We wanted to break the barriers among us and to fill in the gaps separating us because we felt that this was the only way for man to survive and protect the limited resources of the earth.
The issue of violence or nonviolence sparked a heated debate in a commission on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Attending this meeting as a representative of Ghana was Bishop Peter Sarpong, who initiated a series of lively exchanges when he asked whether resistance to oppression was to be considered violence. He was speaking of the oppression suffered by the black peoples of Africa. American and European representatives stated that oppression is wicked but that to resist by means of violence is not the way of the person of religion. Indignant at this, Bishop Sarpong lashed out: "Nonviolence means death to us!"
Silence fell on the room. When he regained composure and resumed his talk, Bishop Sarpong was being closely observed by everyone in the place.
"Who took away Africa? Not only have the black people been robbed of their land, they are now being subjected to racial discrimination. To abolish discrimination and oppression and to win back their lands, the black people have no recourse but violence. Did you call it violence when you fought Nazi Germany? Must Christians deny violence to the black people?"
It is true that peace without justice is no peace; on the other hand, employing violence for the sake of justice constitutes a threat to peace. The pronouncement of Bishop Sarpong and his attitude toward political oppression reveal the gravity of the dilemma we face in connection with peace and violence.
The remarks of the Vietnamese representative provided topics for active discussion. He said, "A year and a half have passed since peace was supposedly established in Vietnam, but foreign nations continue to supply arms. Consequently, fighting has not ceased; and during this time, ten thousand people have lost their lives." He added his wish that foreign nations would discontinue supplies of arms, for, as long as they refused to do this, warfare would go on. His comments amounted to a severe criticism of the Vietnam peace pact. The issue aroused sharp debate between the representatives of the Soviet Union, which supported the pact, and the representatives of the United States, which maintained that the pact was only a deception. As I listened to them, I recalled the poem written and delivered at the opening plenary session of the conference by Thich Nhat Hanh, monk, poet, and representative of the Unified Buddhist Congregation of Vietnam:
"I walk on thorns,
as among flowers."
In discussions on "Disarmament and Security," a Japanese representative asked the Indian delegation what the people of India thought of the nuclear tests recently conducted by their government. To this, an Indian representative replied, "It is only natural for a nation like India, where development is still retarded, to conduct nuclear experiments for the sake of the peaceful application of nuclear power. Ninety-eight percent of the population of India was in favor of the experiments."
Another Japanese representative, astonished at this attitude, objected: "Japan was the first nation in the world to experience the horror and misery of an atomic attack. A nuclear tragedy of that kind must never again be permitted to occur."
In a stern tone of voice, Philip J. Noel-Baker, an English recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, replied, "Precisely. No nation should conduct nuclear experiments, no matter what the reason."
Ours was a religious meeting unrelated to political policies and national interests. As people of religion, we were all expected to express our thoughts openly, even if they ran counter to the policies of our nations. But I realized that, in cases like that of the Indian representative, speaking only as a religious leader, without consideration of national interest, is sometimes very difficult. This is a serious problem that remains to be solved.
On the final evening of the conference, we held a meeting at Saint Peter's Church in the heart of Leuven. We invited five hundred local citizens to join us and to hear a report on the conference and to listen to the "Leuven Declaration," concerning disarmament, development, human rights, and conservation of the environment. During the seven days of the conference, we had experienced spirited debates of a kind that did not occur at the conference in Kyoto. I believe that this is a sign that the religious movement is moving from a static to a dynamic phase and that the debates indicate the enthusiasm of the representatives. I was deeply impressed by the beauty of the figures of the Israeli and Arab representatives, who, at the end of the conference, shook hands and walked quietly away, side by side.
A follow-up committee solidified plans to hold the third World Conference on Religion and Peace four years later in New York. At the same time, a European Committee was established. I regard this as one of the most important outcomes of the Leuven conference, since it meant the broadening of the movement by the addition of a European axis to an effort that had earlier centered on the United States and Japan.
One morning during the course of the week of meetings, all the representatives boarded five buses and drove to the Breendonk Concentration Camp, located in the suburbs of Antwerp. Said to be the only camp of its kind preserved in its former condition, Breendonk was used by the Nazis from 1940 to 1944 to contain four thousand citizens, many of them Jews. More than four hundred people were shot or strangled there. Silent and dust-covered, the massive concrete walls, iron bars, torture rooms, banks of narrow bunks, blankets, and sunless solitary cells are just as they were during the war. Merely imagining the hellish things that must have happened there chills the blood.
In the courtyard are the remains of the execution sites: the stakes to which were tied the heads of people to be strangled and the dirt embankments that prevented the ricocheting of bullets fired at prisoners being shot. Visitors to this place stand in silence in one corner of the yard and make offerings of flowers and prayers for the repose of the souls of the people who died there. Archbishop Angelo Fernandes quietly said, "We have all been profoundly shocked by the sight of this place. Let us pray for the sakes of both the oppressed and the oppressors." Listening to him, I held my prayer beads in my hand and prayed that all the spirits of those who had been in the concentration camp would attain perfect enlightenment.
Though people have different religions and speak different languages, they all mourn the dead with the same kind of sorrow. Standing in Breendonk, I was deeply impressed with the truth that the worldwide spreading of the Lotus Sutra would do more good than hundreds of symbolic words.
On the way home from the Leuven conference, we visited Rome to make a report to the pope on the proceedings. He touched me deeply when he said that he had prayed for the success of the conference throughout its duration.
Our party arrived in Tokyo on the afternoon of September 9. The following day was the eighteenth annual memorial observance of Myoko Sensei's death. The services were held in the Great Sacred Hall, where I made my report and a vow before the spirit of Myoko Sensei for continued spiritual growth. As I looked at the photograph of her displayed for the ceremony, I seemed to hear her say, "Congratulations; I am watching as faith in the Lotus Sutra spreads throughout the nations of the world."
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.