This essay is part of a continuing series of translations from a volume of
inspirational writings by the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai. DHARMA WORLD will
continue to publish these essays because of their lasting value as
guidance for the practice of one's daily faith.
Looking back on human history, it is no exaggeration to say that, by and large, it is a history of war. There are even those who say ironically that peace is merely the interim between wars, a time that humankind spends preparing for the next war. It is widely understood, of course, that Buddhism teaches a doctrine of peace, as does Christianity, which is reflected in such Bible verses as "Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!" (Matt. 5:9). Both the Buddha and Jesus aspired to building peace on earth and preached that we could achieve this through compassion and love. Despite their best efforts, however, human conflict has doggedly persisted, so it is not surprising that we sometimes have feelings of desperation. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), for example, resolutely held out hope for the achievement of peace by saying: "Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man."
There is nothing we can do to thwart the vast forces of nature, but war is by no stretch of the imagination an act of nature. If we refer to the research of scholars who have scrutinized the origins of every war of the modern era, we will see that not a single war in that period began by chance or without express intent. War, in other words, is created by human beings and by human beings alone, and if that is the case, it should also be within human power to prevent it. It is from deep within people's hearts that the causes of wars arise, so there is no other way for us to end them than to begin to cultivate people's hearts. This may seem to be time-consuming, but it is the shortest road to peace.
People of religion have been continuing to actively address the numerous impediments to peace in the world. We have been identifying problems in various parts of the world, and on resolving what seem to be the best ways to deal with them, we have urged the people in authority to take the necessary action. When I was in New York in 1971, word reached me that the U.S. government was planning to carry out underground testing of a nuclear weapon in Alaska. Without hesitation I together with other members of the World Conference of Religions for Peace drafted a resolution in the name of the organization and sent it to then-president Richard Nixon. Regrettably, the United States went ahead with the test, but that did not mean our spirits were dampened or that we became any less confident about the possibility of eventually achieving lasting peace. If we simply give up, the situation will only become worse. It is becoming increasingly clear that we must seek cooperation from people of the world's other religions to speak out in unison so that the voice of reason may be heard.
At the First World Assembly of the World Conference of Religions for Peace in Kyoto in 1970, we decided on "creating a world without arms" as one of our themes. I cannot imagine that there is anybody who would object to living in such a world, but achieving it is the problem, and when events like a renewed start to violence between India and Pakistan occur, it is easy to lose hope that such a difficult goal can ever be reached. That is all the more reason for us to stay strong in our determination and consider seriously how we can help to achieve a disarmed world. The more we continue to study the issue, the wider the discussions about it will spread, and even if we cannot solve the problem overnight, slowly but surely the emphasis on increased armaments will lose sway until one day the world will wake up to the fact that disarmament has been generally embraced as a real priority.
So from my point of view, people of religion should not dwell on a weak goal like merely weapons reduction but rather should go all the way and unreservedly aspire toward a world completely free of armaments. Even if such a goal is not immediately achievable, we must continue to advocate it passionately, and gradually short-sighted notions, such as that foreign policy and hope for economic development will lose footing without military backing, will surely begin to diminish.
World history is one of conflict, but if we want to ensure that the history of the future is one without wars, it is extremely important that each and every one of us makes a sustained effort to unburden ourselves of our reliance on armaments and begins to trust one another. It is simply not good enough to commit ourselves for just ten or twenty years, or focus solely on our immediate interests.
All things in the world are sustained by the life force of the Buddha and live dependent on everything else; this is a situation that has never changed. When we view the reality of things from this viewpoint, we cannot but realize "all religions spring from the same source" and "many in body, but one in spirit."
The many people and circumstances of this world appear to be innumerable and completely diverse, but if we take a moment to focus on the fundamental commonalities among them, we find that they are basically similar in many ways. When we learn to recognize this, everywhere we look will rouse within us spontaneous feelings of unity and mutuality. That is the meaning of friendship. That is the true meaning of compassion.
On the other hand, if we choose to focus only on the superficial differences that distinguish one thing from another, then no two things in this world can ever possibly be in harmony. As soon as we begin to dwell on the differences among people or the divisions among things, then feelings of opposition and estrangement will naturally follow. Without so much realizing it, we start to constantly remind ourselves that so-and-so comes from somewhere else, or that person is from an entirely different background.
In that way differences in our thinking and perspective can lead to starkly contrasting sentiments. While what we are looking at remains the same, we can get from it a feeling of friendship or, equally, of opposition, depending on how we acknowledge it. Essentially, this is a question of the heart: Do we approach one another in friendship or strictly define ourselves in a discriminating way in terms of what we are not?
Friendship, we must understand, lies at the heart of successful human relations and forms the basis of lasting peace. Real friendship works from the depths of our hearts to help us try to understand each other regardless of superficial tension-raising differences. It teaches us that there is always an opportunity to cooperate and arrive at a compromise.
The preliminary meeting of the World Conference of Religions for Peace in December 1969 brimmed with such a spirit, and it felt wonderful. Yes, there were differences in opinion and the occasional fierce contestation, but laughter followed all disputes without fail and we invariably reached conclusions in a warm and genial atmosphere. That is how things should be. It happened then because we had gathered in friendship right from the start. This was only natural, since shared feelings had brought us together so that we were all able to concentrate on the issue of peace.
How magnificent life would be if things were always like this. The day the fields of politics, foreign affairs, international trade, labor, and the many other instances of human relationships become as genial and lively as these were, we will know that human civilization has made true progress, that all peoples can live in peaceful relationships, and that the Land of Tranquil Light has at last become manifest.
Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, was an honorary president of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and was honorary chairman of Shinshuren (Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan) at the time of his death in October 1999.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2010 issue of Dharma World.
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