AT A MEETING of religious leaders devoted to banning nuclear armaments, Emillian Elinov, patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, said, "The enthusiastic efforts and the great sacrifice all of you are making in your sincere call for world peace are priceless. Without doubt, one day, historians will devote a special page to your acts." These remarks were made in 1963 to a delegation of eighteen religious leaders from Japan who traveled for forty days to ten nations, including the United States, England, and the Soviet Union. I was among the group, which was headed by Masatoshi Matsushita, a representative of the Christian faith and at that time president of Saint Paul's University in Tokyo, and by an honorary chairman, Reverend Rosen Takashina, a representative of the Buddhist faith. During our travels we visited leading politicians and religious leaders and presented to them our request for total abolition of nuclear arms. Although people differed in the way they expressed themselves, everyone we spoke with felt that Japan, the nation that had suffered atomic attacks in World War II, should take the initiative in the movement to ban such weapons.
This attitude reflects a stand I have long taken. We must never forget the 300,000 people whose lives were wiped out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in brief moments that have become the most horrendous tragedy in the history of mankind. Each year, memorial services are held to pray for the repose of the souls of the victims of these holocausts. But the days must be more than memorials: they must become days of prayer for the peace of the entire world. We Japanese have the right and the obligation to appeal to the world for the banning of nuclear weapons.
Since the end of World War II, some of the nations of the world, including the United States, England, and the Soviet Union, have continued experimenting with nuclear energy and have developed stockpiles of nuclear arms. These nations are the very ones that ought to realize the fearsomeness of weapons capable of converting the entire planet into a graveyard. They are the nations that ought to be painfully aware of the need to prevent the outbreak of a nuclear war that is almost certain to have the most horribly destructive effects.
In the days of which I am speaking now, a strong feeling had begun to spread in many nations to the effect that experiments with nuclear energy and the production of nuclear arms must cease. In April, 1963, the sinking of the American nuclear submarine Thresher in the Atlantic Ocean aroused fear throughout the world. People in the United States raised their voices against nuclear weapons, and in England a one-hundred-kilometer march was organized in protest against them. On August 5, 1963, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet union signed a mutual pact for the partial banning of the testing of nuclear arms.
In Japan, however, owing to differences in ideology and political position among its participants, the movement against nuclear weapons lagged. Because we realized that this must not happen, the delegation of religious leaders I mentioned earlier felt it to be our duty to assume the front ranks in this movement. From my standpoint, one of the most moving and satisfying aspects of this delegation was the opportunity it offered for religious leaders from the East and the West to join hands in a common appeal for peace.
One of the most basic aims of Rissho Kosei-kai is total dedication to the fulfillment of the long-cherished wish of all men and of the Buddha for the peace of the family, society, the nation, and the world. When time came for the trip, I was especially busy because of the imminent completion of the Great Sacred Hall. Nonetheless realizing that the undertaking was the first step toward a significant drive for peace, I decided to take part. Our first stop was Rome, where we had an audience with Pope Paul VI. We presented to him a copy of our plea for peace, which included the following three proposals.
1. To ban totally and unconditionally the testing of nuclear weapons.
2. To ban totally the production, preservation, and use of nuclear weapons.
3. Through the peaceful utilization of atomic power based on international cooperation, to overcome the unequal distribution of wealth and to promote the welfare of all the peoples of the world.
In words that I, as a religious man, felt were filled with warmth and meaning, the pope expressed his agreement with our proposal and said that, though he was incapable of exerting political or economic power, he could direct pleas to the hearts of men.
In the more than thirty-four hundred years that have passed since mankind first made a clear record of his civilization, it is said that there have been only two hundred sixty years in which there has been nothing recorded concerning a war. While hating its killing and bloodshed, peoples of the past have fallen victim to war. Still, believing that even such sacrifices hold hope for an ideal future, human beings have continued on the journey toward peace.
Religious leaders of the past too have called for peace but have failed to make clear distinctions between the needs of their own national groups and the welfare of all peoples. Forced to sense their own powerlessness in the face of opposing forces, they have been unable to abolish war. Consequently, many people have lost faith in religious leaders and have abandoned religion itself.
The man of religion is neither a politician nor an economic authority. He must be a support for the people he teaches. Religion must plant courage and the hope to live in peace in the hearts of its followers. I have always insisted that the man of religious faith must base his thoughts and actions on the essential nature of religion and must then persist in striving to bring about peace. On visiting the Vatican, I found that the position of the pope agrees entirely with my own on this issue.
Rome, the Eternal City, is central in the long history of the Christian religion. It boasts precious ruins of the very distant past; but in addition to relics of great historical value, the city is filled with works of art and architecture that bear witness to the important place of religion. I was surprised to learn that the marble, brick, and concrete ruins of the ancient city date from as long ago as the third and second centuries B.C. The aqueducts, great public baths, Colosseum, and other remains from the past deeply impressed on me the technical skills of the ancient culture of the West and the energy of the people of Rome.
But the greatest impression made on me during the trip was the one I gained from my visit to the Soviet Union. Even aside from my work as a member of the delegation, simply traveling to the Soviet Union meant a great deal to me personally. The Communist Party imposes on itself thorough devotion to a spirit of service, to a love of the party, and in all things to put the party first for the sake of satisfying the needs of many people. Although their standpoint differs from mine, these people give themselves to their work with a fervor that I must admire.
We had hoped to meet Nikita Khrushchev, but unfortunately this was impossible, since he was away on a tour of agricultural inspection. After we had given a copy of our peace proposal to Patriarch Elinov, we attended church services, where an old woman approached me and motioned that she would like to take my hand. I gave it to her. Blinking her eyes, she looked as if she wanted to say something to me. I understand no Russian; therefore, verbal communication was impossible. Still, her eyes spoke to me; and I think this is what they said: "Welcome to our country. Religion can bring together the hearts of all peoples. As long as human beings remain alive, religion will be important."
In the United States, we met U Thant, then secretary-general of the United Nations. This moderate man, who had a calm light in his eyes, expressed assent to our proposal. Later we met a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defense, who briskly explained to us why he considered it necessary that the United States maintain a stockpile of nuclear arms. After listening to him, I said, "It may seem slightly prejudiced for a representative of a nation that has no nuclear arms to speak this way. In calling to you for the banning of nuclear weapons and the establishment of world peace, we are speaking as representatives of the voices of God and of the Buddha. Leaders like you must listen to those voices." Then, with a look on his face suggesting that what I had said touched him, he replied promptly, "Your declaration is right. I understand that. And I realize that we must listen to the voice of God."
Even people who are restricted politically because of connections with governments wish to live in spiritual security and peace. Since man's history has been one of repeated bloody conflicts, it might seem that war is part of human fate. But we human beings create our own history. I am deeply convinced that the common prosperity and improvement of humanity can be achieved only if our efforts in that direction are rooted in religion.
The delegation for the banning of nuclear weapons traveled for forty days through ten nations. Though treaties of partial disarmament were signed, in those times mutual distrust between the East and the West had by no means been eliminated; and conditions in all the nations we visited were severe. Furthermore, the work of our delegation did not go as well as we had hoped in some instances because religious leaders in Europe poorly understood religious conditions in Japan. Nonetheless, this initial encounter between our religious world and that of the West, with which there had been little previous contact, was an achievement of great significance. The pope and religious leaders in other countries vowed to support our plea, but even more important was the feeling we had that people were beginning to be willing to join hands and work together for the sake of world peace.
Too often people of religion remain locked in their own group; and instead of trying to understand the viewpoints of peoples of other religious persuasions, they engage in futile conflicts among themselves. In the case of our delegation for the banning of nuclear weapons, however, representatives of Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity joined hands for a common purpose. That was one of the most meaningful elements of the undertaking. Junko Sase, head priest of the temple Shogen-ji, in Shimane Prefecture, and a member of our delegation, said, "I have traveled abroad on several occasions in Buddhist groups; but usually individuality has been given precedence over religion to the extent that I doubted the dignity of the mission. This trip, on the other hand, has left me with a much better feeling than I have experienced from similar trips in the past."
In Japan, we rarely have opportunities to discuss religion with representatives of other faiths. During the forty days of our journey, the members of the delegation discussed things; and as an outcome of our talks, we came to understand each other better. When Carlyle said that religion is like the stars in the heavens, he did not mean that there are as many religious sects as there are stars. He was speaking of the way in which the value of religion becomes increasingly greater as the human condition becomes graver, just as the light of the stars grows stronger when night is darkest. These words were in my mind as, after returning home from the trip, I made a report at our family altar. Although this trip was not directly connected with the later World Conference on Religion and Peace, repeated experiences of the kind provided by our delegation undoubtedly contributed to the development culminating in that conference.
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