The bodhisattva Kannon has been known for a long time, not only to
members of the various sects of Buddhism, but also to the many Japanese
who are not religious. I would even say there are almost no Japanese
who have not seen an Eleven-Headed Kannon statue or a Thousand-Armed
Furthermore, I have heard that the bodhisattva Kannon is widely
familiar to foreigners as well. Through pictures of Buddhist statues
and paintings, Kannon, who is portrayed as female rather than male, is
apparently viewed as a symbol of tolerance and maternal, feminine
tenderness. As seen in the worship of the Blessed Virgin Mary in
Catholicism as well, the tasks of women--giving birth, raising
children, and having an influence on human character--are full of
In Buddhism the bodhisattva Kannon is the symbol of great compassion
and mercy, representing the wish to take on the troubles and suffering
of people. To us Buddhists, Kannon is also an object of devotion. She
is also the bodhisattva who sets forth goals for us as we live our
Mother Teresa is the first person who comes to mind as having led a
life that followed the way of the bodhisattva Kannon. The next person,
after Mother Teresa, who comes to my mind is Japan's Miki Sawada.
Miki Sawada founded the Elizabeth Sanders Home in Oiso, Kanagawa
Prefecture, to care for children of mixed blood who were born out of
wedlock after the end of the Pacific war to American military men and
Japanese women and were abandoned by their mothers. She devoted her
life to raising and finding foster parents for a total of two thousand
of these children. In my opinion, the way that Sawada lived her life
was exactly like the work of the bodhisattva Kannon.
Kannon is known as the bodhisattva that appears in the Lotus Sutra.
I first became familiar with the Lotus Sutra after I became involved,
as the head of a kindergarten, with the early education of children. At
the time, I had read with keen interest the works of Friedrich Froebel
(1782-1852), a German educator who had founded the first kindergarten
in the world and was known as "the father of early childhood education."
It was Froebel's opinion that the true nature of human beings is one
of divine goodness, that a teacher's role is to draw out the divine
goodness within each child, and that the mother is a child's first
teacher. He also thought that to perfect one's character, the pairs
"philosophy and life," "thought and personal experience," and "theory
and actuality" should each be combined. I began to study the Lotus
Sutra because I found the interpretation of the Lotus Sutra by our
founder, Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, to be similar to the beliefs of Froebel.
Later I was appointed the head of a school for girls whose teaching
was based on the spirit of the Lotus Sutra. While performing those
duties, I was invited to become involved in the activities of the
Women's Committee of the Japanese Committee of the World Conference of
Religions for Peace. So not only am I studying the doctrine of the
Lotus Sutra, I have also become involved in practical activity.
On the Women's Committee, while working with the Refugee Committee
of Religions for Peace Japan, I have been involved in such efforts
since the 1980s as looking for sponsorship for Cambodian refugee
orphans, distributing books in the Khmer language, and building primary
schools in Cambodia. Then, since the 1990s, the Women's Committee has
been working to assist refugees from Afghanistan.
What we have learned from our work in relief efforts outweighs what
little assistance we have been able to provide the people from areas of
conflict; it is in that sense that I truly feel that everything with
which we come into contact in society and life is a teaching tool for
self-learning for each and every one of us.
Even if we are not so strong individually, if the women of the world
combine their power in a maternal frame of mind and provide succor to
those who suffer from hunger and sickness, each endeavor will become
like a hand on the Thousand-Armed Kannon.
Yoshiko Izumida, a former honorary executive board
member of Rissho Kosei-kai, is chair of the Women's Committee of the
Japanese Committee of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2008 issue of Dharma World.