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September 8 2014 09:30 | Auditorium Elzenveld


Jakushun Kinoshita

President of the Tendai Buddhist Denomination, Japan

I’m Jakushun Kinoshita, President of Tendai Buddhist Denomination. It is such an honor for me to receive the invitation to speak here today. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to the hosts of Community of  Saint’Egidio, and all the parties involved in this event. 

This year is the 100th year since ‘World War I’; the first worldwide war in the human history. At this significant time, “Asia: Religions and the Dignity of Human Life” is the theme that I have been given as a panelist. 

Not only Buddhism, but every possible religion coexists in Asia. Of course there are many followers of these traditional faith traditions that often have ties with the cultures of each region and it appears that they have developed as distinct traditions. I believe that religions in Asia are not uniform nor standardized and this diversity itself has great meaning to people in Asia. 

Whether in Asia or Europe, every nation respects human life. There is no religion which does not respect human life. Yet, looking at human history, human life has been treated as lightly as a feather, in every era. Most of the time, this was due to conflict, but it was also due to poverty. Absolute poverty still remains deeply rooted in Asia. The definition of this absolute poverty is that people are living far below the minimum standards of living due to the extremely low income. This results in malnutrition and other forms of deprivation and the lack of education. Because of this people are treated without respect. I believe that terrorist activities and conflict is due to the difference between the rich and poor and the discrimination created by socioeconomic differences. The root causes of these problems are more prominent in Asia compared to America and Europe. 

The Tendai  Buddhist Denomination has provided financial support in order to help as much as possible by providing and maintaining infrastructure to sustenance human life, such as energy, roads, coastal lines, water systems, telecommunications, public transportations, housing, schools, and hospitals. We also put a high value on the natural environment. I believe this is true not only in Japan, but also in other Asian nations. There is a conception in Asian society as a whole to take care of and live at peace with nature.  In one sense humanity has tried to reform and conquer Nature by the human intervention. Asians value diversity. To accept and respect others is to respect each other’s life.  

In Japanese Buddhism there is a philosophy called the Tendai Hongaku Shiso. Plainly speaking, it is the idea that ‘buddha nature exists in grass, trees, land and everything.’ Human being have a buddha nature which enable us to be buddhas. Therefore, everyone can be a buddha. Animals can be buddhas. Moreover, grass, trees and all plants have the buddha nature within them and they can also be buddhas. Even inanimate entities such as the land, minerals and a country, have the buddha natures. This is the philosophy of Tendai Hongaku Shiso. In the Northeastern region of Japan, there are pagodas built for memorial service for grass and trees. You can appreciate the idea of memorializing trees that people have cut down. 

Hongaku Shiso is an idea unique to Japan. In Indian and Chinese Buddhism, the Buddha Nature is limited to animals and they don’t accept the divine in plants. I believe one of the reason why Japanese Buddhism believes in the Buddha Nature in plants is the rich nature in Japan. Since the ancient time, Japanese people have received the blessing of Nature, filled with warm sun and plenty of water, in the cultivation of rice field. These conditions must have nurtured the feeling of respect for nature among the Japanese people. 

Three years ago Japan experienced a catastrophe which was a national crisis - ‘The Great East Japan Earthquake.’ Although numerous human lives were lost due to the earthquake and the huge tsunami, we do not feel resentment toward nature because it is also the provider of our daily bread since the time of our ancestors until today.  

What is rich and what is poor. This is the time for us to reevaluate the values which we have acquired. 

First of all it is necessary to abolish nuclear arms. Hiroshima and Nagasaki ---  Japan is the only country to be devastated by nuclear weapon. Even though we still don’t know the accurate number of people who perished because of the atomic bombs, it is estimated that about 140,000 people died by the end of December of 1945. We cannot repeat such tragedy. 

Individualism is the basis of Western people’s thinking, but that is not the case in Asia. 

We think about life within a long span of history. Human beings repeat life and death again and again. Of course an individual person is born and dies, but we don’t think about it from an individual’s perspective. We perceive that one’s DNA is continuing the cycle of life and death. My DNA will passed down to my children and it continues life and death again.

Given this way of thinking, we perceive continuity. Within my life, there is a past and future. At the same time, it is not limited to humanity, but it exists in everything in the universe. This is the Tendai philosophy. Therefore we value others as we value ourselves. This is the meaning of coexistence with others. We put importance in people’s lives together. We need to create a world in which we respect each faith tradition and ethnic group in order to help each other. 

Thank you very much for listening.




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