WHEN I was invited to lecture at the Niigata prefectural general conference of the Brighter Society Movement, the local Kosei-kai leaders took me to a shop specializing in the kind of buckwheat noodles called soba, which the Japanese love. People never forget the foods they enjoy during youth; and as one grows older, one experiences nostalgia for the plain fare of childhood. I am not especially particular about foods, but dishes made of rustic vegetables and herbs of the fields and mountains please my palate best. I remember with fondness bracken and osmund ferns and dishes made of yams and bamboo shoots, all of which were light and refreshing in flavor. Baked potatoes, too, were an important part of the diet of our family.
And I especially like soba noodles. We raised buckwheat on our land. As a child, I helped with the planting, fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting of the grain. Later I helped with the grinding in a stone mortar. To make noodles, buckwheat flour is mixed with water and kneaded well. It is then rolled thin and cut into slender noodles and boiled. Soba is best immediately after having been removed from the boiling water and drained slightly. For us, home-made noodles were an important staple; and I became rather proficient at their preparation.
The shop to which the Niigata Kosei-kai leaders took me was a good one with a professional cook who knew his business. It might seem presumptuous of an amateur like me to offer advice to a professional cook. But from our conversation, he discovered that I had something interesting to impart and sincerely asked for my counsel. I explained to him the way we had made soba noodles in the part of the country where I lived as a boy.
The direct, modest attitude of the cook struck me. People who are proud and arrogant about their abilities are unwilling to listen to the advice of others. But the cook in the soba shop had a spirit big enough to make him eager to learn from a person who knew even a little more than he. That is to say, he had the wholesome attitude that inspired him to want to learn the new and the unknown. This attitude is of the greatest importance for the person who seeks and wishes to master the way. All things are our teachers. As I ate the soba served in the Niigata shop, I became newly aware of the truth and weight of these words.
The Brighter Society conference, held in the Niigata Prefectural Auditorium, was larger than had been anticipated; over two thousand people attended. The members of Kosei-kai sponsor this movement; and owing to their efforts, it has spread gradually into most of the rural areas of the nation.
Originally, in my travels about the country and in my meetings with local governors and mayors, I started the Spiritual Cultural Improvement Movement, which centered on the members of Kosei-kai and which, though largely material in its orientation, strove to help people find a human way to live with each other and a way to put Buddhist teachings to maximum use in daily life. Though the title of the movement sounds somewhat formal, its aim was quite down-to-earth. It strove to instill in people the sense of responsibility to do such things as pick up broken bottles and empty cans carelessly left on beaches and in public places, to be kind to the handicapped, and to give consideration to the welfare of people living in homes for the elderly.
As the old maxim "Brighten the corner where you are" says, we ought to devote attention to the things that are close at hand. I always say that the person of religion is bound first to create a harmonious home. The feeling of stability and peace generated in such a home must then be spread to neighbors and gradually still farther outward to all of society. If there is trouble in the home, the Buddhist must do what he can to solve the problem. Similarly, if there is a conflict of egos in society, it is the responsibility of the Buddhist to soften the blows; resolve the conflict; and in this way, contribute to the development of a brighter society. The spreading of the spirit of peace and harmony was the meaning of the Spiritual Cultural Improvement Movement. Regional political bodies, welfare, educational, women's, and youth organizations all responded favorably to the movement. But it often happens that problems arise when Kosei-kai assumes a leadership position.
Rissho Kosei-kai originated the movement in keeping with the teachings of Buddhism. Since maximum participation by the largest segment of the population was a goal, it seemed advisable to make the organization of the movement flexible. We decided that we would ask welfare and educational groups to act as the major forces in the movement, while Kosei-kai would remain active in the background. We felt that this would give the movement greater latitude for growth. In I 969, a new start was made under the name of the Brighter Society Movement.
The first meeting to take place under the new name was the Shikoku regional conference for the encouragement of the Brighter Society Movement, which was held in the Takamatsu Municipal Auditorium on the island of Shikoku. Later, nucleus organizations for the movement were established in Kyushu, central Honshu, Tokyo, northern Honshu, and many other parts of the nation. In my capacities as chairman of the Japan Religions League, chairman of the Japanese Committee of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, and a trustee of the International Association for Religious Freedom, I was invited to serve as a lecturer.
When asked the relation between the Brighter Society Movement and Kosei-kai, I give the following explanation. The Brighter Society Movement is a civic undertaking; Rissho Kosei-kai is only one of its sponsoring organizations. We are the kind of source of power that a relative might be. Acting as such is both our way of contributing to and serving society and a part of our mission. Our actions and service in relation to the movement reflect on the people around us and thus deepen their awareness of Kosei-kai.
I often hear comments that the movement would like to invite me to its conferences but feels certain that I will be unable to attend because of my frequent overseas journeys. It is the mission of religion to bring peace to the heart of the individual. This peace in turn reaches from that individual to others and establishes harmonious relations between nation and nation and between mankind and nature. In other words, religion must be the power that generates peace and harmony in all aspects of life. But one religion working alone cannot achieve this goal. All religions must combine strengths to evolve true significance. Nor can such significance be found without religious cooperation, which is the reason for my travels all around the world. It is the support of the membership of Kosei-kai that makes my journeys possible.
I continue to insist on supporting the Brighter Society Movement because the society in which we live in Japan gets worse with passing time. The cities are overcrowded; there are too many automobiles on the roads; wickedness is rife; and all kinds of unpleasant incidents occur. One of the most startling manifestations of our social ills is certainly the isolation and indifference that separate people from each other.
Five years ago, a leading newspaper carried an article stating that an unmarried man had died in his home and that it had been a week before anyone had found his body. Two years ago, a middle-aged woman died in her home; and it was eight days before anyone discovered her. Incidents of this kind show the extent to which members of society are indifferent to each other. But the worst that I have heard was this: in June, I 975, a corpse was discovered in a house; the person had been dead for two years.
People who remove themselves entirely from their neighbors and exchange words with them only when they play their television sets too loud or when their houses block the sunlight pay no attention to the elderly person who has not been seen recently or to the over-flowing mailbox suggesting that something is preventing the person from collecting his letters. I am deeply distressed to see that, while I continue my travels in the name of peace and international religious cooperation, society at home is becoming increasingly selfish and isolationist. I place hope in the Brighter Society Movement, whose members are striving to do something to alleviate the situation.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.