In a certain sense, all religions since their
inception have engaged in public relations activities. This is because
public relations are part of missionary work itself. Naturally enough,
missionary work was originally based on face-to-face conversations in
which one person transmitted religious teachings to another. However,
as times have changed, the range of methods for transmitting religious
teachings has broadened.
Technological innovation has been the main driver of these changes.
In former ages, Gutenberg's invention of the printing press and the
first printing of the Bible allowed missionary work to be pursued
through the printed word. There seems little doubt that the religious
works most often printed from the fifteenth century to the present are
the Bible and the Qur'an.
As we entered the twentieth century, technological development took
off, and various types of media other than the printed word were
created and used for missionary work. Photography, cinema, and recorded
sound became available as media for missionary work, and radio and
television came to serve as new ways to communicate religious messages.
Some religious groups and organizations put particular emphasis on the
use of commercial advertising as a medium for missionary work.
Now, in the twenty-first century, it is no exaggeration to say that
the Internet is the most quickly developing medium for advertising and
public relations. I expect there are very few religious groups and
organizations today that do not have their own Web sites. On a global
level, the amount of information now being offered must be immense. The
provision of information by religious groups and organizations with
Internet access will probably accelerate, and the Internet will no
doubt become one of the predominant media for missionary work.
However, the problem with this scenario is, how far will provision
of information in this way function as missionary work, and how far
will it function as public relations? And what exactly is the
difference between missionary work and public relations?
An extreme view of missionary work sees it as activity to win new
converts by emphasizing that one's own religious group or organization
is the most correct and most superior available. On the other hand,
public relations activities as practiced by religious groups and
organizations offer more objective information and thus aim to be more
of a contribution to general public welfare.
At the very least, information provided for public relations should
not aim at emphasizing that the group or organization offering the
information is exclusively the most correct and most superior. In other
words, I think the criteria for evaluating religious public relations
activities should be based on how well the group or organization
suppresses its sense of exclusivism and achieves objectivity. From this
standpoint, Rissho Kosei-kai makes a very clear distinction between its
dissemination work and its public relations activities.
After attaining enlightenment, Shakyamuni preached the Middle Path,
which eschews imbalanced thought and extreme action, and he advocated
thought and action based on observation of how things interact. One of
the scriptures that most accurately communicates the spirit of
Shakyamuni's teaching in this respect is the Lotus Sutra, which
expounds the spirit of the One Vehicle.
The spirit of the One Vehicle teaches us to leave behind the
exclusivism of religious groups or organizations that encourages
members to value only their own particular spiritual beliefs. Instead,
it teaches tolerance of other religious viewpoints, approaching them as
allies in the effort to contribute to world peace and human happiness.
It is in this spirit that Rissho Kosei-kai promotes interreligious
dialogue and interreligious cooperation. Its public relations
activities are also quite naturally based on this approach.
In public relations activities, at present Rissho Kosei-kai
distributes pamphlets, leaflets, and other printed material; puts up
posters; places advertisements in newspapers, magazines, and in other
printed media; holds press conferences and briefings on its events for
the mass media; and posts information on its Web site. However, it does
not really disseminate enough information through these outlets. We
hope to be active in the use of the Internet to make more widely known
the Dharma as taught by Shakyamuni, naturally including the Dharma
talks of Rissho Kosei-kai Founder Nikkyo Niwano, from a standpoint
consistently based on the Middle Path.
Dharma World magazine is of course one of our printed public
relations materials; we are hoping to communicate its contents to a
great many more people as part of the redesign of Rissho Kosei-kai's
English-language Web site, which has gone online recently.