21st Annual Niwano Peace Prize Ceremony Address
Tokyo International Forum
Nichiko Niwano, President
Niwano Peace Foundation
At today's presentation ceremony for the twenty-first annual Niwano Peace Prize, I would like to express my profound thanks to all our guests, especially Mr. Yasushi Mitarai, Japan's administrative vice minister of education, culture, sports, science, and technology; His Excellency Mr. James Boliba Baba, the Ugandan ambassador to Japan; and the Most Reverend Mitsuhiro Fukata, chairman of the board of directors of the Japanese Association of Religious Organizations and president of Enno-kyo.
In May 2003, the Niwano Peace Foundation established a Niwano Peace Prize Committee, consisting of ten religious leaders from around the world, in commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Niwano Peace Prize. Today's recipients of the twenty-first Niwano Peace Prize are the first to have been selected by this Niwano Peace Prize Committee.
It is a great honor to present the Niwano Peace Prize to the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative (ARLPI), in recognition of its extensive work in Uganda toward conflict resolution, protection of human rights, and promotion of peaceful coexistence among different ethnic groups.
ARLPI is a cooperative peace organization founded by leaders of different religions: the Catholic Church, Anglican Church, Orthodox Church, and Islam. Since its foundation in 1998, some four hundred staff members and supporters have striven to promote nonviolent conflict resolution, to educate people in creating peace, and to provide aid to the victims of armed conflicts.
Currently, in the Acholi Region of northern Uganda, chronic civil war between government troops and an anti-government group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has made destruction, devastation, murder, and violence into everyday occurrences. Many people have had no choice but to flee their homes and live in refugee camps.
In such a long-term civil war, one particularly large problem is the abduction of children. Children kidnapped by anti-government groups are forced to serve as "child soldiers" and to bear weapons. In Uganda, their number has reached as high as 20,000. Globally, the total number of child soldiers in regions experiencing war and strife is estimated at 300,000. These children have been put in circumstances that do not even allow them the most basic and natural experience: to be childlike.
The experiences and memories of our childhood have a profound influence on the rest of our lives. We can hardly imagine the depth of the scars left on children's hearts and minds by such extreme experience as having been kidnapped and made to use weapons to attack, and sometimes even kill, people. Such experience destroys the natural freedom of children's hearts, instead planting in their minds hatred toward other human beings and hostility toward the society in which they live. In fact, even if children who have experienced being child soldiers are able to return to their homes, reintegrating them into peaceful society is very difficult.
The ARLPI takes in such children and sponsors activities to heal their bodies and minds. Conflict is born from anger in the human heart. Healing the hearts of children forced to hurt other people can only be done with religious love and compassion, which lie at the opposite pole from war's vicious actions.
One member of the ARLPI told me, "The ARLPI is engaged not in doing purely human work, but in cooperating with God." I believe that the love sustained by such religious faith must certainly restore the brilliant state of mind that the children possessed before they became child soldiers.
Today, more than thirty wars and conflicts are raging in different regions of the world. In the society surrounding us, countless arguments are being repeated. If we thoroughly examine the cause of all strife, we finally arrive at human ignorance. Every religion similarly teaches the dignity of life. At its base, all existence is attributed to the one immense cosmic life, and human beings, who receive from that cosmic life the gift of life, are all therefore brothers and sisters. This is precisely why all life is equally precious. I think that the largest sin of human beings, and the major cause bringing about fighting, is not knowing this truth and not having the will to seek it.
The ARLPI recognition that all life is precious has overcome differences among religions, allowing them to cooperate. Having gained the trust of both government and anti-government forces through resolutely nonviolent measures, ARLPI now seeks to end the fighting. With Together for Peace as its motto, it makes a point of working together with local leaders, members of the parliament, nongovernmental organizations in Uganda and abroad, soldiers, farmers, and all people. ARLPI has taken genuinely religious steps forward based upon the firm belief that all people are brothers and sisters.
Turning our attention to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq, we do not know how to put an end to the cycle of revenge and cycle of violence. Each side continually repeats its own position to the other side; each side views itself as good and its opponent as evil, and then they attack one other. Buddhism, however, teaches that the root of suffering is not in one's opponent but must be found within oneself. Human beings are not perfect; anyone may have a mind filled with ignorance, anger, and greed. Buddhism also teaches us that we can transcend conflict and build trust in each other only through profound self-reflection and repentance, asking ourselves if we are not ourselves the ones who disrupt the peace.
Through today's Niwano Peace Prize, we have been able to learn even better the workings of the ARLPI and its members, who have risked their lives to break the cycles of revenge and of violence. The Lotus Sutra explains that the "bodhisattvas springing up out of the earth" are people who have desired the Buddha Dharma while experiencing real life with its many worries and sufferings, who have silently made spiritual advances, and who have sought the highest wisdom. Shakyamuni gave to these bodhisattvas springing up out of the earth the responsibility of saving everyone in this world where we live. I believe that the ARLPI members are bodhisattvas springing up out of the earth in Uganda.
Conflict resolution is not so much a political or ethnic problem as it is a wholehearted commitment to protecting the realization that life is precious. I would like to take the opportunity of today's presentation ceremony to express my prayer that all members of the ARLPI continue to enlarge the circle of solidarity, thereby bringing true and lasting peace to Uganda even one day faster.
Thank you very much.