ON FEBRUARY 9, 1975, after a lecture to members of the Brighter Society Movement, held in Shiga Prefecture (northeast of Kyoto), I had an opportunity to visit the temple Mii-dera, lying at the foot of Mount Nagara, close to the shore of Lake Biwa. The main image of the temple, a figure of the Six-armed Nyoirin Kannon, is the first statue of Kannon brought to Japan by the great priest Kukai (774 - 835). During the middle ages, it was kept in the palace as a guardian of the imperial family. As might be expected of a statue with such a background, it has solemn dignity and seems to radiate a light of compassionate love.
From an observation pavilion not far from the precincts of the temple, I stood and looked at the dully gleaming, lead-colored waters of the lake, which, on that cold, windy day, produced in me a mood of gentle gloom and travel weariness.
Mii-dera has been the largest temple in its immediate region since the eighth century. For centuries, the sound of its bell, cast in 1603, has brought comfort to people daily, morning and evening - especially in the evening when workers are returning tired from their day's labor. As I stood looking out over the gray waters, I seemed to hear the tolling of that ancient bell. The imaginary sound brought to my mind the hundreds of years of faith in Buddhism of the countless people who have lived within the range of its sound.
Later on the same day, I visited the great monastery Enryaku-ji, on Mount Hiei, where I made a report on the second World Conference on Religion and Peace to the head priest, Etai Yamada.
On my return home, I found a letter informing me that the Meadville/Lombard Theological School, a graduate school affiliated with the University of Chicago, wanted to confer on me an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The sudden announcement caused me some perplexity because my life has been one of faith, not of searching for fame and glory. The person leading such a life has no need of titles and degrees. Ever since the founding of Kosei-kai, I have lived in the Buddha's Law, especially the Lotus Sutra. In the early days, my efforts to save people from suffering and, later, my work for the peace conferences all have found their basis in the Lotus Sutra. And as long as I live, I intend to follow the same course. It is the only one for me.
But my secretary urged me to accept the degree, since doing so would mean great happiness for the members of Rissho Kosei-kai. The reason for conferring the degree was given as my efforts for religious cooperation and worldwide peace, but this work was made possible by the support and encouragement of the entire membership. In other words, the degree would be tantamount to recognition for the work of the whole of Kosei-kai. Ultimately, since the happiness of the organization is both my happiness and my reason for living, I came to the conclusion that I ought to accept the honor.
The awarding of the degree took place on March 5, during ceremonies to commemorate the thirty-seventh anniversary of the founding of Kosei-kai. Thirty-five thousand people were gathered for the occasion; and the congratulatory applause as I accepted the degree from Dr. Malcolm R. Sutherland, president of the Meadville/Lombard Theological School, thundered through the Great Sacred Hall. Until that moment, I had been uneasy about the acceptance; but as I looked at the radiantly happy faces of all the people present, my doubt vanished. I was left with only joy in my heart.
That evening, after devotional services, my wife said in a somewhat unusual tone of voice, "I seem to hear a voice calling 'Excellent, excellent.'"
Wondering what she could mean by such an odd thing, I looked at her in silence. She went on, "I don't hear the voice from the sky. But the pope has sent you invitations to see him, and now you have received this honorary degree. I hear 'Excellent, excellent' because the Law you teach is true."
"That's an interesting thing to say," I remarked, lightly bringing my hands together in the thankful and prayerful gassho attitude.
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