THE FIRST World Conference on Religion and Peace took place in the International Conference Hall in Kyoto, during the period of October 16 through 21, 1970. From thirty-nine nations, representatives of the leading religions of the world - Christianity, Buddhism, Shinto, Islam, Judaism, and so on - gathered in this ancient city during the splendid season of autumnal foliage to discuss three major issues: disarmament, development, and human rights. The conference was among the largest of the many held in Japan in recent years. But size was not its most distinguishing feature. It was of major significance for the whole world because it was a chance for religious men from many faiths to unite for the same purpose. In the meeting room, the saffron robes of Buddhists from Southeast Asia were seen side by side with the black cassocks of priests from Rome and the business suits of Protestants from Europe and America.
Evaluations of the importance of the conference were not unanimously favorable, for there were many who wondered what practical good could come of a gathering of people of religion and their discussions of peace. Perhaps there was some justification for skepticism about immediate results. But this does not invalidate the conference. Today mankind has arrived at the point at which nuclear war can destroy all life on the planet. In the face of this horrendous threat, the most cherished wish of the peoples of the earth is peace. The road to peace may be difficult, and conferences like the one held in Kyoto in 1970 may do little for the immediate solution of the problems of the world. But such conferences are steps on the way of achieving peace, and all steps - even half-steps - in that direction must be taken.
The land available may be small, and the climate may be harsh; but it is certain that if the seeds are kept locked in the granary no buds will sprout, no flowers will bloom, and no fruit will ripen. The only way to hope for results is to cultivate, fertilize, and sow whatever ground one has with the utmost diligence and care. This is the meaning of progress and development. And at the peace conference we sowed some of the first seeds ever planted with these aims in mind. But much preparation was needed before the conference could become an actuality. In connection with these preparations, I made several trips to America and Europe.
At the Japanese-American Inter-Religious Consultation on Peace, held in Kyoto, in 1968, Bishop John Wesley Lord of the United Methodists said that all war is war against God. Bishop John H. Burt of the Anglican Church said that respect must take first place in relations among individuals and that the teachings of God must take first place in relations among nations. I commented that the family of man is gradually becoming a reality.
From the time of this consultation, interest in a world religious conference began to pick up momentum. In Istanbul, in 1969, over twenty representatives from seven nations met to hold an interim advisory committee meeting to discuss the concrete issues related to when and where such a conference might be held.
Once Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Istanbul was and remains a flourishing city, though today few traces of the past remain. The city is still the juncture between Asia and Europe, between the East and the West. As I stood looking out at the Bosporus from a window in the Istanbul Hilton, "Look," someone said, "that's Asia on the other side. This is Europe. In the summertime, people swim the Bosporus. That means that they bring Asia and Europe together. It is our duty to use these two continents as the center of our operations in bringing the entire world together."
In discussing possible locations for the conference, we suggested a number of places. The non-Japanese members of the committee wanted to hold the meeting in Japan, whereas the Japanese members hesitated to accept the proposal. Finally the Japanese members were overruled, and Kyoto was selected as the site. At the Istanbul meetings, the general plan and scale of the world conference were set; and executive and preparatory committees were formed.
When our plane landed at Tokyo International Airport after the trip home, I was surprised and deeply moved to find the entire city covered with a silvery blanket of snow. I had been told that Istanbul, which is located on the same parallel as Hakodate on Japan's cold northern island of Hokkaido, could be a very frigid place. But its location between the Black and Mediterranean seas spares Turkey from most snowfall. The weather there had not prepared me for what I found in Tokyo; consequently, the snow made an especially vivid impression on me. Kinzo Takemura, who had become my secretary and was traveling with me, said, "Beautiful, isn't it? This snow looks like a sign of good things for the Kyoto conference next year." But I replied, "I don't know. Snow is beautiful, but it's cold too. To me, this snow suggests the need to be prepared to work very hard to win the good will of the Japanese religious world for this project."
When I held discussions with representatives of various Japanese religious sects and groups, I saw that my premonition had been justified. Still, I urged the great need for a bond that transcends considerations of sect and group. But the reaction to my pleas was decidedly cool. When I continued to press for cooperation, that cool reaction became downright unpleasant. And that was not the worst of it. Some people went so far as to say that my call for cooperation and unity among religious organizations was no more than an attempt to further my own ambitions. Other criticisms and gossip reached my ears. Though, in the light of the nature of much of the history of human religion, such accusations might seem deserved, they caused me intense unhappiness. But two things sustained me. One was my absolutely firm conviction that the world condition did not permit men of religion in Japan to remain idle bystanders in this movement and that it was our duty to devote sincere thought to ways of furthering our mission. As the chairman of the board of directors of the Japan Religions League, I felt it my responsibility to act as an envoy in this work. The second thing that gave me moral support was the knowledge that the entire membership of Rissho Kosei-kai was behind my ideas and actions.
In thinking the situation over, I was reminded of what one of the non-Japanese delegates to the Istanbul meeting had said when a Japanese representative had expressed his conviction that the success of the world conference would depend on enthusiasm. On hearing this, the non-Japanese representative said that, of course, enthusiasm is important but that without knowledge and capital not only an international conference but almost any other human undertaking is impossible. I was painfully aware of the truth of this statement.
But gradually the people who had insisted on remaining bystanders at the outset began to react favorably to the idea, and a movement got under way. As this happened, taking humility and enthusiasm as my allies, I continued my efforts to build a basis for convincing negotiations. In this, the efforts of the other directors of the Japan Religions League were immensely important support.
In July, 1969, I attended two international conferences in Boston and its environs. The first was the twentieth World Congress of the International Association for Religious Freedom. The second was a series of meetings of the executive committee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace.
At the conclusion of the first conference, which was held at the Boston Hilton Hotel, I moved to Endicott House of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the executive committee meetings. Aside from myself, four representatives from Japan attended these meetings, which were to have an important effect on the concrete details of the planning for the Kyoto meeting. All the topics with which we dealt--theme, program, budget, representatives , and preparations--were too important to permit the least negligence. It was a trying experience because, as soon as representatives from other countries made pronouncements, those of us from Japan had to consult quickly and make our own opinions known. When the meetings were over, people often approached me to ask my opinions. Because of the language barrier, I was frequently unable to express myself as directly as I should have liked; and this added to my general sense of increasing fatigue.
On the morning of the second day after our move to Endicott House, after my usual morning devotionals, I went to the toilet and noticed black blood in my bowel movement. When I told the other members of my party about this, they agreed it was something that could not be ignored. Though they insisted that I rest, I hesitated, knowing that the conference scheduled for that day was of considerable importance. But after the other representatives promised to keep me well posted on the progress of the meeting, I agreed to rest.
One after another, people came to my room to tell me what was happening at the meeting and to consult with me when decisions had to be made. Many of the non-Japanese committee members paid visits to wish me well. The American representatives were especially solicitous. They told me that though the conference was important my own health was more important and that I ought to go back to Japan at once to consult a doctor. Failing that, they argued that I ought to allow them to call in a local doctor. But I would agree to neither proposal.
In May of the previous year, I had undergone surgery for a stomach ulcer. The case had not been considered serious; but I was told that, if I was going to continue carrying out a strenuous work schedule, I ought to have the operation performed. I did, and in two weeks I was out of the hospital, although the hospitalization for ordinary cases of such operations is from three to four weeks. I felt certain that the blood in my stool was related to the operation. A doctor would have told me at once if I had consulted one, but I refused to do so because I did not want to be sent to a hospital in Boston. After the meetings at Endicott House, I was to travel to England, Switzerland, and Rome on work for the world conference. This was my mission, but if I was to be hospitalized I would be unable to fulfill it.
From the following day, my diet was reduced to consomme and milk. Though I felt hungry all the time on this liquid nourishment, my spirits were high, as if in contradiction of my physical condition. The Reverend Kiyoshi Takizawa, a Christian minister who was with us, gave me shiatsu massage treatment morning and night. At last, it was definitely decided that the world conference would be held in Kyoto under the auspices of the Japan Religions League; and after three days of discussions, the meetings drew to a close. Then the Japanese representatives, together with Dr. Dana McLean Greeley, called on Edwin O. Reischauer, the noted scholar and former United States ambassador to Japan.
On the night following that visit, my party was scheduled to board a plane for London, where I hoped to talk with Dr. Michael Ramsey, who was archbishop of Canterbury at the time. I was to leave London later and proceed to Geneva for a meeting with Dr. Eugene Carson Blake. When the American representatives at the Endicott House meetings heard of my schedule, they immediately attempted to convince me of the folly of such trips. They insisted that even if I saw Dr. Blake there was no likelihood that he and the World Council of Churches, which he heads, would participate in the Kyoto conference. I admitted that I did not know whether I would be able to convince Dr. Blake to take part, but I insisted that making an attempt to convince him was my duty and that I felt compelled to carry it out. It later appeared that my American friends were deeply concerned about my health. They wanted me to return to Japan at once instead of taking the risk of aggravating my condition on what might turn out to be wasted traveling. But I would not listen and headed for Boston's Logan International Airport.
Our plane was so late that we were kept waiting at the airport for six hours. Boston, which faces the Atlantic Ocean, is a pleasant place. The climate is much less humid than that of Tokyo. Nonetheless, it is hot in the middle of the summer; and the heat told on a man who had been living for a few days on milk and consomme. My fellow travelers expressed concern over my condition and the pallor of my face. But I told myself that dying for the sake of my mission in the name of the Buddha ought to be my most cherished wish. I tried to smile as I reassured my companions that I was fine. The plane finally took off at midnight. We did not arrive in London until six o'clock in the morning. The all-night trip had tired us, but there was no time for rest, since, after checking into our hotel, we had to start at once for Canterbury. Members of the group asked if we might not rest and visit the archbishop on the following day. They said they were tired themselves, but I suspected that they were only worried about me and were claiming to be tired in order to force me to slow down. I reminded them that we were on a mission of great urgency. We ought to entrust our physical conditions to the Buddha. This was no time to complain of being tired, for we had to continue our work as long as our bodies continued to function. With this sense of mission, we all got into the car sent for us by the Japanese embassy and sped away along the roughly one hundred kilometers of road between London and Canterbury.
We were impressed with the dignity and grandeur of Canterbury Cathedral, which has a history of over a thousand years. We learned that the archbishop was away; but we had an hour's discussion with Canon R. J. Hammer, who had lived in Japan for a number of years and who was in complete sympathy with the idea of a world conference on religion and peace. We were told that the archbishop would like to see us in the afternoon two days later, but our plans to o directly to Geneva made an interview impossible on this occasion. Leaving further work on behalf of the conference in the hands of Canon Hammer, we started back along the road to London.
When we returned to our hotel, Reverend Takizawa remarked that I must be weary after so much unbroken traveling. I felt much better. There was no more blood in my bowel movements. The dull pain and the sluggishness I had experienced were gone. Still, I was afraid that the bleeding might start again if I was not careful. To prevent this, Reverend Takizawa gave me shiatsu treatments daily for the entire duration of the journey. In doing this, he encouraged and helped me a great deal.
Some time earlier, Takizawa had decided to learn shiatsu massage therapy in the hope of relieving the physical pain of the people to whom he explained the teachings of the Christian God. He has even made some original contributions to shiatsu therapy. I am convinced that the fervor with which he devoted himself to me increased the effectiveness of the therapy. I know that his concern moved me deeply.
A few years later, I had a chance to return a small degree of the kindness he had shown me. While undergoing shiatsu treatment at Takizawa's hands, I gradually learned how to give the same therapy. Once again in Japan, when I learned that Takizawa had suffered a slight stroke that had impaired his ability to move, forcing him to retire temporarily to a remote hot spring for treatment, I followed him and performed shiatsu on him. He remarked that I had become so proficient at the therapy that he was willing to call me his best student.
I had been unforgettably moved a few years earlier when Pope Paul VI told me that he felt Christians ought to pray for Buddhists and Buddhists for Christians. Then, as I moved along the path toward world religious cooperation, I found a chance for a Christian to help me, a Buddhist, and then for me to help a Christian by means of homely shiatsu treatment. This experience has remained in my mind, where it blooms like a small, important flower.
From London we flew to lovely, quiet Geneva, where we visited the hilltop headquarters of the World Council of Churches. Although Dr. Eugene C. Blake, Secretary-General of the council, was so busy that his schedule was filled for days in advance, when he discovered that a party of Buddhists had traveled all the way from Japan to see him, he immediately made time for us and welcomed us warmheartedly. Dr. Blake expressed interest in the conference and in what people of religion can do for the sake of world peace. He was eager to hear of the actions of Christians in Japan and other parts of Asia. His remarks were filled with consideration for travelers from a distant land and with the trust that men and women of religious faith feel for each other. I was happy and gratified that we had made the trip to Geneva after all.
In the evening of the same day we flew to Rome for our final call of the trip. On the following morning, we were informed that Paul Cardinal Marella was waiting to see us at the Vatican, the dome and towers of which were gleaming in the early light. This was my third trip to the Vatican; and I already felt a familiar warmness for the cardinal, who seemed to be extremely happy to see us as we entered his office. Immediately I broached the subject of the world conference and expressed our hope of inviting the pope. Cardinal Marella promised to cooperate in any way that we might see fit.
On the same day, in the Vatican, we met John Joseph Cardinal Wright, another person who was to prove to be of the greatest importance to the world conference. He had been an American representative to the meetings held in Istanbul. Suddenly thereafter he was elevated to cardinal and given a position that might be described as the minister of education of the Vatican.
Our prime goal in visiting the Vatican was an audience with Pope Paul VI, but his imminent departure on a trip to Africa seemed to make such a meeting impossible to arrange. From the Japanese embassy, however, we soon learned that despite his crowded schedule the pope would make time to grant us an audience the day before he was to leave the country. For this occasion, we traveled about twenty-four kilometers from Rome to the papal palace Castel Gandolfo. His Holiness was as warm and gracious in shaking my hand this time as he had been on the other occasions when we met. After our talk, in which I expressed our wish to invite him to Japan for the world conference, he gave a parting handshake and said the Japanese word arigato ("thank you") by way of final greeting.
The seventeen days of the trip had been extremely busy. Falling sick on a journey, especially one to foreign countries, is a most unsettling blow. To be frank, I wondered if I would be able to complete my tasks safely when I was first stricken in Boston. My being able to live on milk and soup as I traveled from America to Europe to Japan was thanks entirely to the protection of the gods and buddhas.
The first World Conference on Religion and Peace was held with great success. Though my American friends in Boston had said that I could not expect him to come, Dr. Eugene Carson Blake of the World Council of Churches attended, as did representatives from the Vatican. Among the communist nations, the Soviet Union, Poland, East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, and Outer Mongolia were represented.
Encounter is the essential starting point for all human relations. Only when encounters occur can discussions take place. And only from discussions can understanding, trust, and friendship be forthcoming. The road we must travel in the future is long, but meetings of people of religion from all over the world in the hope of achieving one great common goal are steps in the right direction.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.