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World Religions in Assisi with Pope Francis


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September 8 2014 09:30 | Auditorium Elzenveld


Masahiro Sato

Director of Intercultural Research Institute of Meiji Jingu, Japan
If you look up the word “peace” in the dictionary, it says “a situation in which there is no war or fighting.” In short, today’s theme is about how to educate in order to eliminate war and fighting. 
To this day, a lot of fighting still goes on in the world. Especially when it comes to international wars, we all know that they have severe consequences, not only for the parties in the war, but also globally. Even with such consequences, wars do not cease to exist. If anything, it seems that recent media coverage - the use of the word “conflict” instead of “war,” or matter-of-fact statements like “a missile attack was launched” - is trivializing the gravity of the situation 
more often than before. There is this sense that a “war” is disastrous, but a “skirmish” is quickly settled. The fact that “war” is even being perceived as a common occurrence may be a reason to be apprehensive. 
Japan has not experienced a “war” in the 70 years since the end of World War II in 1945. While this is due to a variety of factors, the fact of the matter is that “peace” has been maintained and Japan is very fortunate. However, it is also true that like video games, Japanese young people are losing touch with what the “wars” and “conflicts” on TV are really about. 
Here lies the first need for education. 
What does “war” lead to? Our forefathers in Japan experienced immeasurable hardships due to the burning down of Tokyo, the dropping of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the occupation by another country 70 years ago. The “war” also took the lives of many people of other nationalities. In other words, it is important to communicate to the generations that did not live through the war that war only brings about harm, irrespective of victory or defeat, and that this brings along 
sadness and hardships. 
Such efforts to educate are also being made in Japan. 
However, is it adequate to simply convey the “horrors of war”? 
For example, as I noted moments ago, Japan has not experienced a war in 70 years. Considering that very few people in present day are able to give first hand accounts of the “horrors of war,” it may be inevitable that people eventually become less and less conscious about “war.” This year, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. The sadness that this war brought – is it still being told even now? Regrettably, I’m afraid it is not. That is precisely why today, fighting continues to be repeated even by countries that experienced wars in the recent past. I should say that the goal of Educating to Peace is the maintenance of peace over several centuries. However, today when not many people have experienced war, only so much can be achieved by continuing to communicate the sadness and hardships brought about by “war” and educating that “that is why we shall not engage in war.” 
Then how should we educate people? 
I propose that the causes of fighting can be simplified into: “things we need to protect” and “things that threaten them.” 
As long as we are living as individuals, or as long as we are living collectively, we will unavoidably have “things we need to protect.” I too have an identity, a family, a career, a society, and a nation I need to protect. I’m sure the same goes for all of you. Considering that there are many people of different faiths in this room, perhaps the list also includes a god that should be protected. 
Then secondly, we need to educate people “not to pose any threats.” 
“Love your neighbor” is a wonderful principle. If everyone practices this, there will be no more fighting I’m sure. Mother Teresa once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” In an ideal world, all of humankind will have an unending interest in others, and attain selfless and limitless love that does not turn into hatred. Unfortunately, I am not enough of an optimist to believe that this will be realized anytime soon. Nevertheless, it is very important to love your neighbor - in other words, to care about your neighbor. 
Based on this premise, we need to educate and offer deep insight into what it is that we “need to protect.” and at the same time what our neighbors “need to protect”. 
Incidentally, I have given some thought as to what is considered “important” in Japan’s unique religion of Shinto. Shinto neither has a founder nor any sacred texts. Therefore, there are no revelations of god which believers must adhere to. In thinking along the lines of today’s theme, perhaps the closest thing to such a revelation is the “spirit of wa,” meaning “spirit of harmony.” In the 7th century, Prince Shotoku, a prominent political and religious figure, set out in Article 1 of the Seventeen-Article Constitution that “Harmony is to be valued above all else.” 
In Shinto, gods are to be found in the nature. The nature gives us blessings. Though it is sometimes harsh, it provides us with providence and harmony. Humans are also harnessed as constituents of nature. In Shinto, humans in symbiosis with nature, find “harmony”. Similarly, in the relation between gods or between humans, the harmony is considered as an important factor.
In Shinto, instead of a single almighty god of monotheistic religions, there are separate gods for the ocean and mountain, respectively, and humans are harnessed under the protection of infinite gods. Because such recognition pervades among Japanese people, Buddhism was accepted when the religion came to Japan in the 6th century. Even though they are not Christians, many Japanese couples are willing to have their wedding ceremony in churches. This may come across as a mystery or irreverence from the perspective of other religions. However, in the minds of Japanese people, the array of gods, including God, Buddha, Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, as well as the gods of Hinduism, Jainism, and Greek mythology can all be revered as gods. Religion, which ought to be the farthest thing from “fighting,” is often its cause. If fighting is stemming from “threats” posed to “a god sublime to others” then this is very regrettable. 
Not only in religion, but if people acknowledge what is dear to each other and harness each other, I believe there will be less acts that “threaten” these things. 
In any case, I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone to recognize deep in their hearts that others also have things they need to protect, just as you have things you need to protect, and to appreciate that all human beings are harnessed in “harmony” with each other. 
“Peace” is written “??” (heiwa) in Japanese. It means a state in which there is all-around “harmony.” It is my hope that the world will be filled with various “harmonies.” Continuing to communicate this concept of “harmony” to this end is, I believe, Educating to Peace. 
Thank you very much.




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