Address to the Unitarian Unversalist General Assembly
by Nichiko Niwano, President, Rissho Kosei-kai
Long Beach, Califoria | June 2004
I would like to thank the Unitarian Universalist Association for giving me this opportunity to address the General Assembly.
It has been my honor to enjoy cordial relationships with many leaders of the UUA, including its past and current presidents. It was an especially great honor in March of last year to have UUA President Reverend William Sinkford present his congratulations at the ceremony marking the sixty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the organization I represent, Rissho Kosei-kai.
When I look out at all of your kind faces, I am reminded of the cheerful smiles of the founding president of the UUA, Dr. Dana McLean Greeley; Dr. Homer A. Jack; and, of course, Dr. Malcolm Sutherland, the Dean of Meadville/Lombard Theological School in Chicago.
The friendship shared by Dr. Greeley and my father, Nikkyo Niwano, the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, is a model of ecumenical action. And I remember, as if it were yesterday, the many kindnesses of Dr. Sutherland, who gave students from Rissho Kosei-kai the opportunity to study at Meadville/Lombard Theological School and took such good care of my fourth daughter when she studied at an American high school. UUA members refer to my father as Dr. Greeley's "soul mate," and I also feel that all of you are part of my family, my "soul mates."
The first exchange between the UUA and Rissho Kosei-kai took place in January 1968 when Dr. Greeley and Dr. Jack, on a global trip seeking dialogue and exchange with different religious leaders, called upon my father at Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters in Tokyo. At that time, the U.S. was caught up in an intense nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union and was bogged down in the Vietnam War.
Dr. Greeley remarked that the number of religions in the world shows how one Truth exists in different countries and therefore religions can play their roles in the current world only when they cooperate on the basis of that universal Truth. Founder Niwano had been seeking a way of interreligious cooperation in the belief that if religious leaders see through the ultimate aim of religion, they should be able to take common action beyond religious differences. Dr. Greeley's idea thus struck a resounding chord in him. They joined hands and together made friendship and dialogue among religious leaders the basis for greater action. A mere two years after their first meeting, they realized the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP), which brought some three hundred religious leaders from thirty-nine countries to Kyoto, Japan, to discuss the religious practices of those leaders in three fields--disarmament, human rights, and development.
In the thirty-four years since then, the World Conference of Religions for Peace has held seven world conferences. At present, all the ten major global religions participate in WCRP, which consists of over fifty national assemblies. It has grown into the largest association of religious leaders in the world. I think that in the twenty-first century, with ethnic strife affecting every region of the world and religious conflict coming to the surface, especially in the problems seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, WCRP's activities are all the more valuable because there has never been so much expectation placed upon religious wisdom as there is today.
Buddhism teaches that all living creation in this world has been brought into being through dependent origination, that all existence is interrelated, and that all beings are mutually dependent on one another because together they form one immense cosmic life. When we realize this Truth, other people's suffering and pain become our own. All people are our brothers and sisters, our family. We are "children of life," having transcended differences of race and religion, because we are sustained by one cosmic life. While we recognize our superficial differences, once we have discovered the common ground of being "children of life," we also realize that the world is one.
Awareness of the preciousness of our own lives leads to respect for the lives of others. Once we have opened our eyes to this fact, we can overcome the enmity in our hearts and have consideration for others. Then, we cannot help but bow our heads humbly before God and the Buddha. We Buddhists describe this sense of the universality of life by saying that we are all "the Buddha's children." In Christian teaching, the phrase "God's children" conveys the same meaning. And to use a more universal expression, we are all "life's children."
Although our countries, races, religions, and cultures may be different, all of us live on this earth as the children of life. This common sympathy is itself the invaluable spirit of living in a world of coexistence. I believe that the religious wisdom so sorely needed today is none other than this awareness of the dignity of life.
Rissho Kosei-kai is a lay Buddhist organization founded by my father, and I am its second president. The Lotus Sutra is the text in which we Rissho Kosei-kai members take refuge and through which we work on improving our character. While cooperating with people of other faiths, we undertake activities meant to bring peace to our families, communities, countries, and the world. We experience Buddhist teaching through everyday life, and three of our most important, basic religious practices are revering ancestors, filial piety, and bodhisattva practice.
When we look at the roots of our own lives, we see that our parents and ancestors have brought us into the world. Filial piety toward our parents and paying homage to our ancestors are ways of expressing gratitude for the lives we have received. Filial piety and homage to ancestors teach us to repay this debt.
Bodhisattva practice means being kind to others and doing our utmost for other people--in other words, breaking through the shell of self-centeredness and living in such a way that our own energy is devoted to the happiness of others. This spirit, when simply restated, is that of "putting others before oneself." We do not lead our lives alone; we are able to live through the blessings of nature and other people. We work to bring happiness to the people around us because we want to repay whatever interdependence we have with them, whether or not it is readily apparent to us.
In Rissho Kosei-kai, we understand bodhisattva practice as "putting others first," and we try to put this into practice as we lead our daily lives. Wishing from our hearts for the happiness of others and doing our utmost to bring it about provides a far greater joy than self-centered living; this can be called the purpose of life for Buddhists.
For some years now in Japan, the crimes committed by youths have become increasingly heinous. I mention this because at Rissho Kosei-kai, we have made our goal "putting the home in order." By "putting the home in order" we mean putting the family in order, the goal being to have a family filled with warmth. The basis of world peace, too, can be said to be the family. Harmony among family members is also the root of the larger ideal of world peace.
We Rissho Kosei-kai members chant the Lotus Sutra before the Buddhist altar placed in each of our homes, praying to and kneeling before the revered objects enshrined therein and giving our thanks for the blessings received thereby. Home is the place of rest and relaxation; it is also the place in which are cultivated a heart and mind that have faith in God and the Buddha. Building peace in such a home begins with family members respecting one another. In the morning, the family exchanges "good morning's" and when one calls another's name, the reply is a cheerful "yes"--and I do sincerely hope that when this practice of peace in the family is broadened to include the surrounding community, we are on the way to building world peace.
What Dr. Greeley and my father, Founder Nikkyo Niwano, built by visiting each other's families and organizations was a profound friendship that was literally one of the "children of life." And now, the young members of Rissho Kosei-kai and the UUA are certainly following in their footsteps. We are all one family living in one world. I would like to conclude my address today with a promise that from now on, we will continue helping one another in our personal development, working together, and making every effort to bring peace to the world.
Thank you very much.