ON A SUNNY March day in 1965, I received an invitation to attend a session of the Second Vatican Council, to be held in Rome in September of the same year. I knew that Vatican I - the previous meeting of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Council - had been convened nearly a century earlier and that attendance at these meetings is limited to prelates of at least the rank of bishop. I was invited by the Vatican internuncio in Tokyo to attend as a special guest and as a representative of Japanese religion and of the Buddhist faith. It was the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that a member of another faith had been invited to participate in an assembly of its leaders. Of course, I was honored; but at first I was unable to understand why the pope had singled me out.
The history of the Roman Catholic Church is a long one, filled with glory and with trouble. The Protestant sects that arose at the time of the Reformation and developed rapidly thereafter have been branded as godless heretics and demons by the Catholics. The disputes and strife between Rome and the Protestant Christian groups led to warfare and great suffering. But how significant are the fundamental differences among these factions? The African native who has been exposed to the missionary activities of Catholics and Protestants probably thinks, "We have heard the teachings of all kinds of pastors and priests; but in the final analysis, they all seem the same to us." This simple attitude penetrates to the very heart of religion and sharply reveals the ugliness and foolishness of exclusivism. In recent times, members of the clergy, confused by this kind of view of the Protestant-Catholic question, have given serious thought to the issue and have examined their own opinions on it. The outcome of their soul-searching has been what is called the ecumenical movement.
This movement got under way to inspire Protestants, Catholics, and all branches of the faith to reunite and move forward together toward a peaceful world. In his now famous encyclical Peace on Earth, proclaimed in 1963, the late Pope John XXIII took initial steps toward this goal by calling for a reunion of the "separated brethren" (the new name used for the same Protestants that had once been called "people possessed by the devil"). Pope Paul VI, continuing in the direction established by John XXIII, took the additional step of conferring with Patriarch Athenagoras of the Greek Orthodox Church. The outcome of those talks was a joint communique expressing regret for the 911 years during which the two churches had excommunicated, criticized, and otherwise injured each other. The same communique made a call for new advances in a spirit of union. After this historic resolution of long-standing differences, the pope exchanged messages on the subject of peace and unity with Visser't Hooft, secretary-general of the Protestant World Council of Churches. Because the ecumenical movement was to be an important topic at the Vatican Council, the meeting was the object of considerable worldwide interest.
Shakyamuni asked why certain groups of people should consider themselves the possessors of the truth while regarding all others as blinded by falsehood. Why is it impossible for people of faith to meet and discuss issues openly without prejudices and fighting? Basically religion ought not to lead to the exclusion of others. On the contrary, it ought to promote love for self, love for the other, and the view that the self and the other are in a real sense one. Division and strife among the adherents of different religions are unnatural. All men of religious faith should study together and discuss issues in unity in the hope of contributing to the achievement of peace. Because I feel this way, I have repeatedly asserted the necessity of religious cooperation.
As one step in this direction, I urged the unification of at least the subgroups within Nichiren Buddhism. With this in mind, in 1951, I helped form the union of the New Religious Organizations in Japan; but the times were unpropitious for such a move in the late forties and the fifties. I was called nonsensical for attempting religious cooperation. There were even people who said that I had launched such a project because I lacked confidence in my own religion. But as time passed, growth, diversification, and intensification in modern technological and mechanical civilization had the psychological effect of turning people away from exclusive, self-righteous religious attitudes. It came to be believed that religion must abandon complacency and parochialism and transcend boundaries of nation and race to work for the happiness of all men. In this ideological climate, in the midfifties, even Japanese religious organizations began to show signs of moving in the direction of general cooperation. Although the movement was late starting, it proved to be a dawning that led to the development of the Peace Delegation of Religious Leaders for Banning Nuclear Weapons.
The spirit of religious cooperation has now begun to spread throughout the world, just as a realization of the importance of union had spread earlier throughout the branches of the Christian faith. I learned that the exceptional invitation of a Buddhist to attend a meeting of Vatican II had been extended to me in recognition of the work my colleagues and I had done in the past in the name of religious cooperation. This meant that the world was beginning to take note of the activities of Rissho Kosei-kai. Realizing that the invitation was not only a fortunate thing, but also a chance for deepening mutual understanding among all believers in Buddhism and all members of the Christian faith, when a formal invitation was extended to me in August, I immediately replied to express my eagerness to attend.
The day of my departure for Rome was heavy with the lingering heat of September. The sky was cloudy and the air was hot and humid owing to the influence of a typhoon that had approached the shores of Honshu the day before. The lobby of the airport was steamy and uncomfortable, but before long something happened to bring at least psychological refreshment to me and the many people who had braved the weather to come to see me off. Murmurs of pleasure arose from the group around me as my third daughter, Yoshiko, came in, leading her young son by the hand. My grandchild held a bouquet of carnations in his small hands. He offered them to me, saying, "For granddaddy." I thanked him and thought to myself as I gazed at his shy face, "The movement I am taking part in must persevere for the sake of this boy, of other children like him everywhere, and of peace for all men. I must do whatever I can to ensure that these young people are proud in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra when they reach adulthood."
Although it seems to be part of the city of Rome, Vatican City, located on the Vatican hill above the Tiber River, is in fact an independent state. Its front entrance is the piazza of Saint Peter's Church. No one who visits Rome can fail to be overpowered by the splendor of this building and by the grandeur of the colonnade, central obelisk, and two huge fountains of Saint Peter's Square. Though it is the smallest state in the world (with a population of about one thousand) its authority - even to influence international politics - is comparable to that of the Soviet Union or the United States because it is the home of Saint Peter's and the pope (who is the bishop of Rome), the greatest church and the most important religious leader for over five hundred fifty million Catholics throughout the world.
Within the Catholic Church the pope exercises absolute religious authority. Jesus said to the first bishop of Rome, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," and charged the chief among his disciples to "feed my sheep." Since Peter's time, his successors as bishop of Rome and vicar of Christ have been the head - the pope - of the Catholic Church. At the Vatican Council of 1869 - 70, the doctrine of papal infallibility was proclaimed. According to this doctrine, when speaking as head of his church on matters of faith and morals the pope is infallible.
The session of Vatican II that I attended was opened on September 14, 1965. The following is a description of the event as written for our monthly magazine Kosei by Kinzo Takemura, who was then head of the publishing department of the Kosei Publishing Company.
"Some twenty-five hundred bishops clad in scarlet robes and scarlet hats had gathered from all parts of the globe to attend the meeting in Saint Peter's. Together with them, in splendid array, were the cardinals of the Church, heads of the monastic orders, and authorities from theological seminaries. President Niwano sat in the front of the gathering. His dark formal suit and the white Buddhist prayer beads he held in his hand captured the attention of many people who were eager to see this representative of a non-Christian religion.
"To the sounds of liturgical music and in a rainbow of light cast by the stained-glass windows, Pope Paul, clad in pure white, entered; and mass was celebrated in the central part of the cathedral. With his prayer beads gleaming in his hands, President Niwano closely observed the proceedings of the Vatican Council, a highly important assembly within a church that has traditionally refused to confer with other religious bodies. I was deeply moved by this event, which took place on the morning of September 14, 1965, and which signaled the gradual opening of a door that had remained closed throughout the history of the Christian church."
Following mass, the pope made an address in which he modestly commented on his own failings and said that he felt it was his responsibility as God's representative on earth to bring the love of God equally to all men and all religious faiths. During the sermon, which lasted roughly one hour, the pope spoke convincingly about peace and the movement for religious unity. But the most impressive of his remarks was: "The popes in history have been guilty of causing schism in the Christian faith. Today is no time for splits in Christianity or disagreements among the religions of the world. This is our chance to join hands and walk together in the direction of peace." He was describing the mission of all religious people, who must understand each other and cooperate in order to contribute to world peace. The pope of the Catholic Church was expressing a wish that I have cherished ever since the founding of Rissho Kosei-kai, though my dream has found little understanding in Japan. For a long time, thrilled by a warmth resulting from the knowledge that my dream was understood by him, I gazed at the stern, but gentle, profile of the pope.
When I visited the famous Vatican Library, I saw on display a letter sent three hundred years ago to Pope Paul V by the Japanese warrior and feudal lord Masamune Date (1567 - 1636), who dispatched an envoy to Rome in 1613. As I looked at the document, I conjured up a picture of Date's envoy and retainer Hasekura Tsunenaga (1561 - 1622), clothed in the haori coat and the skirtlike hakama and with his hair bound in the old-fashioned way, as he gave the letter into the hands of Paul V. I was struck with the wonderful connection between that man and me. He had brought a document from Japan to Pope Paul V; three centuries later, I brought another document from Japan to Pope Paul VI.
Originally I was scheduled for an interview with Pedro Arrupe, the general of the Society of Jesus, on the fifteenth of September, but this proved impossible, for I was suddenly informed that I was to have an audience with the pope at five o'clock in the afternoon on that day and that I was to make necessary preparations. Since the council session had only started, I had no idea that the pope would have time to see me so soon.
We met in a marble-walled room. The pope, who was again clothed in white, rose upon seeing me enter and welcomed me by name. I replied by saying that I was honored to be with him. I raised my hands and the prayer beads I was holding in a Buddhist greeting. Then the pope extended his hand, shook mine, and finally took it between his, where it remained throughout the audience.
"I know what you are doing for interreligious cooperation. It is very wonderful. Please continue to promote this wonderful movement," the pope said to me. As he spoke he looked in my eyes. His voice was low, calm, and grave.
Continuing, he said, "In the Vatican, too, the attitude toward non-Christian religions is changing. It is important for people of religion not to cling to factions or denominations but to recognize each other and pray for each other." My heart was warm as I realized that the true meaning of religious cooperation can be seen in mutual prayers among all people of faith. The Buddhist must pray for the Christian, and the Christian for the Buddhist.
"I shall exert my best efforts for the sake of world peace," I said to the pope. He replied, "God will surely bless you in the noble work you have undertaken." And I was refreshed and encouraged by the sincerity and truth of what he said. Our audience ended on my wish that the pope would someday visit Japan.
As I left the room, I could still feel the warmth of the pope's handclasp. That had been no ordinary handshake. It was a flesh-and-blood representation of mutual understanding between the religions of the East and the West, between a Buddhist and the head of a church that has long been known for exclusivism. I believe that our handshake proved to be the starting point of the creation of a new kind of religious relationship.
All the way from the Vatican to my hotel, I reflected on my joy at finding that the pope and I agree on religious cooperation. These thoughts led me to consider some of the basic similarities between Christianity and Buddhism. The love of God of which the pope had spoken in his opening message to that session of the Second Vatican Council is the same thing as the compassion advocated by Buddhism. The pope insists that the love for the neighbor taught by the New Testament must be interpreted to mean love for peoples everywhere, no matter what their nationality or race. Shakyamuni taught the same thing about compassion.
As Shakyamuni insisted, the true teaching is only one. From the time of my visit to Rome, I began to see that the idea of one true teaching embracing all teachings might be the bridge that could connect Christianity and Buddhism and perhaps all religions. The resulting contacts might make possible a world conference of religious leaders for the sake of peace. I started to have budding faith in the realization of my dream from that time forward. The ideal of the pope and the meaning of his words are in accord with my belief that religion must save not only the individual, but all humanity.
Ordinarily, I fall asleep very quickly, no matter where I am; but on the night of my audience with the pope, I lay thinking with open eyes for a long time after going to bed. In our time, the role of religion is more important than at any other time. The world is torn between two opposing ideological camps. The fires of war still rage. A civilization devoted to scientific progress, materialism, and excessive concentration on the economic aspects of life and a desiccation of spiritual culture have created social problems that urgently demand the most careful attention. Dark clouds of danger engulf the world.
These reflections caused me to think about the way Kosei-kai must travel. This in turn recalled the words Myoko Sensei had spoken to me some twenty years earlier: "You are a believer in the Lotus Sutra. You have learned the truth of the universe. You must therefore apply the basic morality of that truth in developing your buddha-nature and in fulfilling your mission to save mankind." When I first heard those words, I did not seriously think that the world would come to recognize the Lotus Sutra. But at the Second Vatican Council, I had a chance to meet and talk with many religious leaders, including the pope, the general of the Society of Jesus, prelates of the Catholic Church, and Tatsuo Cardinal Doi, of Japan. In our talks, I was surprised to find that there are more points of agreement than of disagreement in our ways of thinking. Turning all these things over in my mind, I kept asking myself, "Are things all right as they are going now? How can we change Rissho Kosei-kai of Japan into Rissho Kosei-kai of the whole world?" I lay awake a long time that night.
I returned to Japan on the evening of September 24. Following a meeting with the reception committee and with journalists at Tokyo International Airport, I went directly to the Great Sacred Hall of Kosei-kai. On both sides of the Haramitsu Bridge, which leads to the building, crowds of members waved their hands in warm welcome to me. The auditorium too was filled with people as I walked to the altar to make a report of my trip to the Eternal Buddha and to make an announcement.
"The pope of the Roman Catholic Church has recognized our organization and has said that the work we are doing will surely receive God's protection. The burden Kosei-kai must bear in the drive for worldwide religious cooperation is heavy. We cannot fulfill our mission if we remain concerned with the salvation of the individual alone or with no more than the welfare of our own organization. I feel that the spirit of Myoko Sensei, who has found eternal sanctuary, congratulates us on our work and encourages us to go on."
Tremendous applause broke the silence that had reigned in the hall. As the wave of sound rolled over me, I stood motionless for a few moments in front of the altar.
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