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November 17 2008 16:30 | Hilton Cyprus - Achera Hall

Gijun Sugitani

Gijun Sugitani

Tendai Buddhist Denomination, Japan

First, to the Chair person, world religious leaders, and all the participants here today, I would like to express how honored I feel to be granted an opportunity to speak here at the 22nd International Meetings of Prayer for Peace, organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio. I came here from Japan located in the East end of Asia. We convened the 1st Religious Summit Meeting on Mt. Hiei in August, 1987, at the sacred domain of Japanese Buddhism, Mt. Hiei, in the suburbs of the ancient capital, Kyoto. This summit meeting held a common purpose with the International Meetings of Prayer for Peace organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, and it has been convened annually for twenty one years now. Europe and Asia are distant from each other, but both gatherings are in joint for a common purpose, as do our spirits, of praying for peace every year.

Since I am a Buddhist, I would like to consider the given theme “Monasticism in the 21st Century” from the viewpoint of a Buddhist. There is quite a difference between Christianity and Buddhism, even though both are religions in the larger sense. However, there are quite a few similarities in both histories. As I understand it, Christian monasticism started when Christians sought for a life style in which they follow the teachings of Jesus utterly. This is how they left the world and tried to aim for the way to Perfection, and then they lived strictly regulated monastic life with oaths of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Afterwards, and continuing today, in contrast to the life style above mentioned, a new monastic style evolved, advocating importance of service to people and life of love, through playing a part in the society.

In Buddhism, Theravada, separation from the society, devotedly aiming for training to attain enlightenment, was the main current at first. But a new group of Buddhists arose, who do not only aim for their training, but also lecture Buddhism teachings to people. This is called Mahayana. Thus both Christianity and Buddhism contain the issue of how they should discuss, how they should relate to the society today.

Now, I would like to introduce the traditional monasticism of Tendai Buddhis Denomination on Mt. Hiei, which is one form of Mahayana Buddhism and to which I belong, and then mention the present role of monasticism.

Saicho, the founder of The Tendai Buddhist Denomination, built Enryakuji-Temple on Mt. Hiei, which was aimed to be the headquarters of the sect one thousand and two hundred years ago. In a while, people started calling Mt. Hiei Mother Mountain of Japanese Buddhism. It is also called a mountain of Buddhism practice, and a sacred place, which is 800 meters above sea level. In this mountain Saicho put himself in practice for twelve years, and he founded a training system for monks according to his own experience. This is called The 12-year Secluded Ascetic Practice. The purpose of this practice is not to attain personal enlightenment, secluded from society throughout life as in Theravada, but to serve the community and its local people after a limited period of strict training. In other words, it is training to produce a Mahayana Bodhisattva. A Mahayana Bodhisattva is a monk who offers Buddhist teachings to citizens to help them live a better life, while trying to attain a truth of Buddhism.

Saicho ranked the twelve year full-trained monks into three levels according to their ability. The 1st level is “a National Treasure”, the 2nd level is “a Sate Master”, and the 3rd level is “a State Asset”. A National Treasure is a person who can teach and act well. A State Master is a person who can teach well, but can not act as well as a National Treasure. A State Asset is a person who can act well, but can not teach as well as a National Treasure. A National Treasure was to stay at Mt. Hiei to train a junior. A State Master and a State Asset were sent to local areas to propagate the teachings and teach industrial techniques such as farming. Saicho said, “The highest expression of compassion is in action for the benefit of others, without thought of one’s benefit” as the spirit which Mahayana Bodhisattva has to follow. This also was quoted in the speech of His Holiness Pope John Paul?when His Holiness visited Japan in 1981, introducing it as vital spirit to thrust forward interreligious dialogue and co-operation.

The first six years of the training on Mt. Hiei was arranged for studying basic knowledge of Tendai Buddhism through lectures or research reading. Two thirds of a day was for studying Tendai Buddhism, the rest was spent for studying other Buddhism teachings besides Tendai Buddhism, engineering, farming, politics, and the law.

The next six years were spent meditating and looking into the self, instead of acquiring knowledge, to fulfill six kinds of practice required of a bodhisattva. The six kinds of practice called Ropparamitsu, can be explained as follows:
1. Gift Practice
whether in cash or goods, or kind doings, devoting themselves to a person who is in need, without either expecting repayment, or forgetting modesty
2. Observance of Precepts Practice
measuring oneself strictly in basic precepts as no killing, no stealing, and no lying, while staying pure in mind
3. Patience Practice
being patient to accept others without anger
4. Diligence Practice
making continuous effort toward a right object diligently, with a desire to improve the self
5. Meditation Practice
staying calm, well-balanced, and with a flexible condition of mind
6. Wisdom Practice
attaining the wisdom of Buddha to ascertain real figure of truth without a blur

To fulfill these practices, it is necessary to be in a sacred place secluded from a human habitation, and this period of twelve years is founded on the logic in a sutra called ‘Kenkairon (Treatise elucidating the precepts,)’ which says “even the dullest person must attain an effect after twelve years.” It is based on Saicho’s own experience that he almost reached to a stage as Buddha did, after a practice for twelve years in Mt. Hiei, believing the logic of the Sutra.

Looking at daily schedule of practice on Mt. Hiei, we find it quite similar to the one of Catholic Cistercian Trappist monasteries. Prayer, bible reading and labor are strictly scheduled from three o’clock in the morning, and repeated everyday. Even today, it still keeps the same practice style, secluded from the society without TV, newspaper, nor a radio.

Now it seems that human enjoys prosperity unparalleled in history, because of the highly developed science technology in the modern world. But the truth is that constant ethnic or local conflicts place the victims in a more miserable situation, worsened by advanced weapon technology. Furthermore, economy gaps and environmental issues are becoming more serious. Are people in advanced nations, who became rich materially, truly happy? It seems that greed, which should be satisfied with material things, never gets enough, and keeps growing, or even seems abandoned by satisfaction. Advanced nations export weapons to developing countries and make them walk on the same wrong path without teaching the lessons learned from mistakes. Especially in Africa, it is hard to see the present state of affairs that young children are kidnapped for forced labor.

As it is said in the lead of the UNESCO Constitution, “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed,” how our minds stand is deeply related to wars. It can be said that, not only wars, but our minds also affect how human existence stands, both in the East and the West.

It is heard that the most touching thing for monks who come back to the world after twelve years of practice secluded in mountain is not the surprising advance of science technology during the period, but how unchanged is the sincerity of people. It is love, in a Christian Monastery, compassion, in Buddhism practice place, and to trust people that are the most important. Compassion is having the mind to share and accept pleasures and sorrows of others as your own.

In the 21st century, when love, compassion, and people’s hope tend to be vanished in the air, we need to maintain the idea of monasticism that indicates human arrogance. Otherwise, we might be in danger of crossing the line beyond retrieval. Thus, I believe that, from now on, monasticism in all religions will undertake more significant meaning, as a mirror that reflects and makes us consider what we are.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.