President Niwano Comforts Disaster Victims
President Nichiko Niwano visited the Dharma Centers in the three prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate in northeastern Japan March 26-29, where areas had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, to express his sympathy to local members. The following is an interview with President Niwano, which originally appeared in Japanese in the Kosei Shimbun newspaper on April 17.
How do you feel right now after coming back from your visit to the disaster areas?
When I actually moved into the disaster areas, I saw such devastation that for a moment I could hardly imagine a recovery. The sight made me realize how massive the force of nature is, and its horrific destructive power. The victims have been forced into difficult, sad, and terrible situations. However, in such situations, all the members are trying very hard to live together with their zen-yu, or good friends in their sangha. I was truly moved by their attitude. I felt that I was the one who was receiving encouragement, from them, instead of being the one who was supposed to give it.
There is a saying, "The muddier the water, the bigger the lotus lower." No one has any idea how long it will take for the disaster victims to overcome their burden of hardship or sorrow. However, I believe that if we remember teachings like the one about the lotus flower, we will think of this catastrophe not only as a great tragedy but accept it as an opportunity for everyone to grow as human beings. I think this is exactly the right way to honor those who perished and to live as they would wish us to live.
President Niwano, you have encouraged and shaken the hand of each afflicted member during your visit to Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures.
I have heard people in the disaster areas tell about how they lost family members or about their houses being swept away by the tsunami. When I heard their stories I felt choked with emotion. But surprisingly, most of their hands were very warm. I felt the energy of their determination to go forward even in a situation so full of difficulties. I saw this determination in their faces.
Many leaders are working hard to help fellow members or their communities, putting their own problems aside. I greatly admire their attitude and deeply believe without a doubt that they will gradually overcome their sufferings and sorrows together with everyone.
At this moment, many people want to do something to help the victims. How do you think they can prepare to make themselves useful to the victims?
I think they should try to sympathize with the victims' sufferings and sorrows as if they were their own. I traveled throughout Japan in 1992 to visit people I had come to think of as honorary relatives. This time, when I visited the disaster areas, I felt that we were all one family. I wish us to deepen our bonds singlemindedly, and for us to cooperate and help one another as a family.
However, we must keep calm as we go about the work of recovery. I think that it is important to recognize that some people feel bitterness and sorrow, but we must avoid being overwhelmed by emotion, and just try to assess the victims’ needs and do all we can do unremittingly.
As I visited the disaster areas, I was reminded of the true meaning of the phrase "being a cheerful, kind, and warmhearted person," which is in the Guidelines for Faith and Practice in 2011.
Cheerfulness is part of the Buddha wisdom and means never being swayed by emotion but living bravely by making the Dharma our light. Kindness includes sympathy, and warmheartedness includes compassion. That phrase means that we should go forth on the path of mutual liberation in the light of the Buddha wisdom, cultivating compassion and human warmth.
When I thought about this year's Guidelines for Faith and Practice, I realized that they include meaningful things that we have to care about in the situation we are in right now.
Among the people in the disaster areas being evacuated from their own neighborhoods because of the tsunami or nuclear accidents, some have lost family members, homes, or jobs, and have no hope for the future.
However, they can carve their future by living a day at a time. I urge them to encourage and help one another, making the most of the people and things around them.
What can we learn from this disaster?
I think we have a mission to apply what we have learned from our experience of the disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami, which happened on a scale that is said to occur only once in five hundred to a thousand years, for the sake of the future, and future generations. Nature's power is unpredictable, so the current safety standards will have to be fundamentally reviewed. The process may need flexible and immeasurably creative thinking.
Also, in the aftermath of the disaster, there have been rolling blackouts because of the interruption of power supplies from the disaster areas. In the nearly seventy years since the Second World War, Japan has become materially advanced as one of the world's great economic powers. However, we have forgotten our true heritage and have indulged in excesses of every kind, with overconsumption and waste. We need to reflect on our sense of values and lifestyle and think anew to move forward into the future. As I mentioned earlier, I think it is very important for us to take this opportunity to overcome this catastrophe together and grow as human beings instead of resigning ourselves to it as a tragic misfortune.
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