The Roots of a Long, Intimate Friendship - Meetings with Mr. Zhao Puchu
Founder Niwano's first visit to China was in April 1974. Although normal diplomatic relations between Japan and China had been restored in 1972, there was as yet no agreement concerning direct airline flights. Therefore Rev. Niwano was unable to fly from Tokyo to Beijing. He flew first from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Hong Kong, and then from Hong Kong took a train to Guangzhou. From there, he flew to Beijing. Thus he did not arrive in Beijing until the third day after he had left Tokyo. It was 9:30 p.m. when he landed at the airport in Beijing.
There, Mr. Zhao Puchu, then president of the Buddhist Association of China, was awaiting his arrival. Out of this meeting grew the two men's long and intimate friendship.
At that time, the second assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) was in its preparatory stage, so the founder's main purpose in visiting China was to recruit Chinese participation in it. On his shoulders, accordingly, rested the heavy burden of the expectation of his international WCRP colleagues that he could accomplish that end.
The first meeting with Chinese religious leaders was held at the Guang-ji monastery, headquarters of the Buddhist Association of China, and was attended by Mr. Zhao as well as representatives of Buddhism, Islam, and both Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations of Christianity. People were seated in a large hall, their backs to the wall, on all four sides of the room, leaving the center open. Such an arrangement was quite new to Japanese eyes.
Mr. Zhao opened the meeting with words of welcome. Rev. Niwano next introduced Rissho Kosei-kai and its major activities, explaining the purpose of his visit. Then representatives of each of the Chinese religions explained their religious activities in detail to him.
After the meeting, one of the participants said, "Only thanks to Rev. Niwano's visit have we Chinese religionists had the good opportunity to be able to come together and talk."
They said there never had been any such discussions before of transcending the differences in faith found among the people of China. For this unexpected by-product of the meeting, words of appreciation were expressed to Rev. Niwano by several of the Chinese participants. As for membership or participation in the WCRP, however, the domestic situation in China was not yet ripe for it, and no commitment could be obtained from the Chinese in that regard.
Five years later, however, a little before the Third Assembly of the WCRP convened at Princeton, N.J., Rev. Niwano again visited China. This was during the hot summer, but this time he was able to fly directly to Beijing. He focused his attention exclusively on one aim - full Chinese participation in the WCRP - and although he stayed in Beijing for only one day, his enthusiasm for making Chinese participation possible was clear, and was appreciated by the Chinese. The national sentiment about engaging in external affairs had changed in those five years, so Chinese participation was finally realized. With great appreciation for Rev. Niwano's endeavors, Mr. Zhao said, "This is the first time we have been able to attend this kind of world assembly. During the conference we shall need to rely on your kind advice and guidance."
Mass media throughout the world reported the Chinese involvement. One report noted, "Through the participation of China, home to one-fourth of the world's population, the WCRP has indeed become a world conference in reality as well as in name." Since then, religious people in China have earnestly undertaken the work of the WCRP.
Two years after China's first participation in the WCRP, Mr. Zhao again welcomed Rev. Niwano to China, saying, "When WCRP III was held at Princeton, we were indebted to you. Please now enjoy our spring here in Beijing."
At that time, Rev. Niwano was invited to address the audience gathered at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Hall. "The spirit of the WCRP," he said, "is shown clearly in the worship practices of the Bodhisattva Never-Disrespectful."
It is taught in chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra that Bodhisattva Never-Disrespectful concentrated on just one practice - namely, worshiping the buddha-nature in others - and he thus attained the enlightenment of a buddha himself, as well as guiding many others to similar enlightenment.
Mr. Zhao recognized the profundity of this view, and saw it represented in Rev. Niwano's unshakable determination and patience, as well as in his positive stance - always seeing the better side of things - and always believing that the best is possible. Mr. Zhao concluded his lecture following Rev. Niwano's address with these words: "If religious people all over the world can put forth their best efforts in this spirit, then world peace will surely be achieved. Rev. Niwano, who taught us so, is my elder brother." Incidentally, Mr. Zhao was one year younger than Rev. Niwano.
Having observed the latter's devotion to the WCRP over the years, Mr. Zhao once said, "It is amazing to see Rev. Niwano's foresight and his remarkable power to implement what he envisions."
Year by year their friendship, based on trust, deepened as their mutual visits continued. In the summer of 1987, Rev. Niwano invited Mr. Zhao to tour Japan after attending the Religious Summit Meeting on Mount Hiei near Kyoto. It was an occasion for world religionists to pray for peace succeeding in the spirit of the Day of Prayer for World Peace advocated by Pope John Paul II in 1986 at Assisi, Italy.
At a Rissho Kosei-kai retreat facility in Hotaka, Nagano Prefecture, Rev. Niwano, Mr. Zhao, and Ven. Etai Yamada, 253d head priest of the Tendai Buddhist denomination (the host of the religious summit), engaged in a three-way dialogue. It covered varied topics, ranging from interreligious cooperation and the road to peace, to the spirit of the Lotus Sutra.
During their dialogue, Mr. Zhao happened to notice the Rissho Kosei-kai's Member's Vow. He asked his interpreter to explain it. Given a quick oral translation, Mr. Zhao said to the interpreter, "What wonderful words those are! You had better copy the vow precisely and translate it correctly into Chinese. I want to bring it back to China with me." He was deeply impressed with the content of the vow since it shows clearly how to practice Buddhism.
Explaining his robust health, Mr. Zhao said that he practiced taijiquan - a traditional kind of Chinese "shadowboxing" - every morning with his wife. And he slowly demonstrated it. In response, Rev. Niwano showed Mr. Zhao his own way of exercising - sitting on the floor with his legs spread out in front of him, then bending his upper body forward until his chest touched the floor. As they watched the two men exercise, the people around them were surprised at the suppleness of their bodies.
Mr. Zhao was a noted calligrapher of his day. And it is said that he was the leading poet of Hanpai (Chinese haiku). During his stay in Japan he was continually brush-writing his daily reflections in verse. He later edited them and presented a small volume of poems to Rev. Niwano.
In China there is a saying: "When drinking water from a well, think about the labor of those who dug it." Mr. Zhao's sensitivity seems thus reflective of the Chinese national character. By the same token, Rev. Niwano reminisced, "When I first met Mr. Zhao, I repented all that Japan had done during the Sino-Japanese war. He responded, 'Friendship between China and Japan has a history of 2,000 years. A single war is like a quarrel between a husband and wife.' I was quite impressed with the large-mindedness of that big country."
"Listening together to Shakyamuni Buddha's sermon on Vulture Peak"
The following year, 1989, the Fifth World Assembly of the WCRP was held in Melbourne, Australia. The three religious leaders - two from Japan and one from China - attended together. In the busy conference schedule, a three-way talk again was planned.
This time Mr. Zhao said, "In our former lives, we would have been listening together to Shakyamuni Buddha's preaching of the Dharma on Vulture Peak in ancient India, wouldn't we?" Rev. Niwano responded, "It must have been so. And such a relationship continues into our present lives, doesn't it?"
In Chinese, yi-yi dai shui refers to "close neighbors separated only by a narrow strip of water," and xin-xin xiang yin means "kindred spirits with a mutual affinity." Years later, Mr. Zhao wrote an article in The People's Daily newspaper in China headlined "Buddhist Exchange between China and Japan: Prospect and Retrospect," which contained those two phrases. He mentioned both Rev. Nikkyo Niwano and Ven. Etai Yamada in it by name, and wrote, "Through the efforts of these friends, a 'big tree' of friendship between China and Japan has flourished and grown."
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
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