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September 30 2013 09:00 | Peace Hall

Hope and Peace: Religions in Japan


Yoshihiko Shirokihara


Tenrikyo, Japan

 Whether we have any religious faith or not, we all desire peace—although I think that people with faith may have a clearer vision of peace based on their own faith.

We use the phrase “Joyous Life” to refer to a peaceful world that Tenrikyo is working toward. The Joyous Life is a state of the world where, first and foremost, all human beings—children of God the Parent, “God of Origin, God in Truth”—live together while helping one another. At the individual level, it is also a way of living that entails moderating one’s greed and freeing oneself from the selfish use of the mind. 
However, in the real world, greed knows no moderation and can, therefore, lead people astray, give rise to conflict, and even endanger the natural environment, the very sustainer of life, thus threatening humankind’s survival itself. The ever-growing tendency to think that all is well if it is well for oneself is progressively weakening interpersonal ties; indeed, the weakening ties between husbands and wives and between parents and children are undermining the very fabric of society. 
In view of this situation, the leader of Tenrikyo, Zenji Nakayama, whom we call the Shinbashira, tells us [and I quote]: “It is our duty as people who follow [Tenrikyo’s] teachings to work for world salvation by conveying the intention of the true Parent to those who have worries about the uncertainty of the future with no spiritual guide to help them.” He also says that now is the time for us Tenrikyo followers, whose mission is to build the world of the Joyous Life, to carry out our work with an enhanced awareness of our mission so that we may fulfill our duty. 
Further, the Shinbashira has provided concrete explanations of how we might work for the salvation of others. He says [and I quote]: “Salvation work begins with paying attention to those around us. If we find people who are suffering from illnesses or other problems, let us first pray for a solution, speak proactively to them, and reach out to them. We can administer the Sazuke with utmost sincerity to those who are ill and listen to what is on the minds of those who have worries. We can give support to those people, convey the voice of the Parent to them, and guide them so that they can change the orientation of their minds. Moreover, let us continue guiding and nurturing them until they join us in working for the salvation of others.” Thus, he is asking each and every Tenrikyo follower to join in working for the salvation of those who are suffering from hardships, disasters, or other difficulties. 
The theme for this session today is “The hope of peace and the courage of religions.” Based on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 13, I would imagine that the word “hope,” along with “faith” and “love,” may refer to one of the most important aspects of faith for Christians. If there are people overwhelmed with anguish and gripped by fears over the uncertainty of the future, many others can reach out to them and give support to them, thereby helping maintain a sense of hope, which will then provide the strength to overcome the difficulties. 
On August 21, when a group of Japanese junior high school students (and teachers from Seibu Gakuen Bunri Junior High School) visited the Vatican, Pope Francis told them, “Dialogue is very important for our own maturity, because in confronting another person, confronting other cultures, and also confronting other religions in the right way, we grow; we develop and mature. . . . This dialogue is what creates peace. It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue. All the wars, all the strife, all the unsolved problems over which we clash are due to a lack of dialogue.” The Pope stressed the importance of dialogue in working toward peace. 
Those of us who are gathered here today are discussing a variety of issues facing society from the perspectives of our respective teachings. Working together in this way is important to help us approach and address these issues in accordance with God’s intention that is behind those issues. I believe that this effort will help all of us achieve further spiritual growth and enhance our capacity to find the hope of life.
Four years ago, a devastating earthquake struck L'Aquila, Italy. Subsequently on March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a magunitude-9 earthquake and tsunami, described as a once-in-a-thousand-year event. Many lives were lost. Moreover, the earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, resulting in meltdowns and spreading radiation over a wide area.
On April 22, 2011, when Pope Benedict XVI appeared on a TV show intended for Catholics that was broadcast by Italian state TV (RAI), he responded to a question from a seven-year-old Japanese girl who experienced the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. She asked, “Why do children have to be so sad?” The Pope answered: “I also have the same questions: why is it this way? . . . And we do not have the answers. . . . God is by your side. . . . [T]his suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain. . . . Be assured, we are with you, with all the Japanese children who are suffering. . . . [Let us] pray together.” I believe that his words “this suffering was not empty, it wasn’t in vain” provide an important insight into how to look at sufferings that arise in life. 
This is the second time I am attending the International Meeting for Peace, the first meeting I attended being the one held in Cracow, Poland, in 2009. In Cracow, the participants made a pilgrimage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in addition to joining together in a Peace Procession. Immediately after the Cracow meeting, I returned to Japan to moderate a Tenrikyo magazine interview between a university professor and Yoshitaro Ueda, who is now the Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs. 
During the interview, the conversation turned to Viktor Frankl (a Jewish Austrian psychiatrist known for his world-famous book entitled Man’s Search for Meaning). A Holocaust survivor, Frankl wrote about the sufferings he endured in Nazi concentration camps. He says: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” 
The realization he came to in the extreme situation has something in common with the way Tenrikyo teaches us to accept difficulties in life as “knots,” or challenging situations that urge us to change our own use of the mind and our way of living—situations that can be seen as opportunities for growing spiritually. A given event that has happened at a particular time, at a particular place, to a particular person can be seen as embodying God’s intention that human beings live the Joyous Life, God being the Parent of all humankind. This means that we can have a dialogue with God by squarely facing up to our challenges and pondering deeply over the divine intention embodied in them, instead of running away from them. 
The opposite of hope is despair. Frankl formulated an equation that says, “Suffering – Meaning = Despair” (Suffering minus Meaning equals Despair). This is called Frankl’s equation.
With regard to this equation, Director-in-Chief Ueda said that, if we found meaning that was greater than the suffering we faced, then despair would have a minus value no matter how great the suffering might be and that a minus despair would, in fact, amount to hope. His remarks are based on the Tenrikyo teaching that says, “Buds sprout from knots”—meaning that challenging situations can lead to new growth. 
When people face such severe difficulties that they find themselves at their wits’ end, they might lose heart and might even fall into despair. However, we are taught to accept such difficulties as opportunities to progress to the next stage of our spiritual growth. This implies that it is possible to transform any suffering into hope. 
I can imagine that some might ask what kind of hope was there for those who lost their lives at Auschwitz. Yet a vision of hope that goes beyond the individual level and encompasses all humankind is possible if those of us who are aware of the horrors of Auschwitz as well as those who survived mobilize the determination and action to ensure that such tragedies never happen again. As for people who are dying, I think that having faith in and praying for the future of their families and friends can at least alleviate their despair and may even help sustain hope. In this regard, Tenrikyo’s teaching of “passing away for rebirth” can provide people who are dying with the great strength to maintain hope. 
In April 1981, when Mother Teresa visited Japan for the first time, Japanese companies wanted to make large donations to her, since she was conducting activities to help the poor and needy in India, where she had settled. However, she said, “Japanese people should give priority to the poor in Japan rather than those in India, for love begins at home.” She also said: “Since my stay in Japan is short, I have not done anything to help anyone, thinking that that would be inappropriate. Yet if I had seen a woman lying in the street, for example, I would have spoken to her and tried to help her. Japan appears to be an affluent country, but isn’t there spiritual poverty here—spiritual poverty in the form of being needed by no one or being loved by no one? Compared with material poverty, spiritual poverty is extremely serious. I think that spiritual poverty is much more serious than a lack of bread. I ask you Japanese people not to forget that there may be poverty in spite of abundance.” Her words made an impression on me.
As she said, Japanese society, which was being carried away by its high-rate economic growth in those days, was perhaps becoming spiritually impoverished although materially affluent. Now thirty-two years after her visit, Japan has a “super-ageing population” because of its low birth rate, with one in four people being sixty-five or older. As a result of its long-lasting economic downturn, Japan is facing a massive budget deficit of more than one trillion yen (or about 7.7 billion euros) even as it tries to reinvigorate its sluggish economy. One might think that, when the times are hard, people would be more inclined than usual to help one another. Yet that is not so. Since Japanese society had become increasingly selfish and apathetic during the prosperous decades, interpersonal ties are now so weak that even the tradition of mutual help in local communities is fragile. 
It was against this backdrop that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck two and a half years ago. It was a catastrophic disaster that urged us to transform our way of thinking and living. We were forced to recognize that nature, to which we had felt so close, could become a threat. Many of us in Japan were made aware of how richly blessed we had been when we could enjoy ordinary lives. 
Many people from within the country and abroad came to help those affected by the disaster or otherwise joined in coordinated efforts to give support. It was as if the dormant gene for mutual help was activated. 
In Tenrikyo, we are taught that all human beings are children of God, who is the Parent of all humankind. God desires to see us live the Joyous Life by helping one another as brothers and sisters, the Joyous Life being the goal of human existence. 
The true joy of living cannot be appreciated by living selfishly; rather, it can only be enjoyed through mutual help. I hope that we will always maintain the attitude of mutual help—regardless of whether we are facing an emergency situation like the March 2011 disaster—so that we can help one another in the ordinary course of daily life and expand the circle of mutual help starting right where we are. This is particularly important, given today’s increasingly weakening interpersonal ties. I believe that the sustained efforts we make to implement mutual help in daily life will allow families, local communities, and the entire world to make concrete progress toward the Joyous Life. 
As Tenrikyo followers we are taught that true joy is only possible when we help everyone become spirited. In order for everyone’s mind to become spirited so that the construction of the Joyous Life World can progress, I hope that those of us who have faith will work together to conduct salvation activities as well as offer prayers in our respective roles. 
Thank you for listening.

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