“Nostra Aetate” in our modern times

17 Dec 2015

The Reverend Kosho Niwano

Good evening eminences, excellencies, distinguished guests, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the convener that I am given this precious opportunity of speaking the theme of “Liberation and Illumination: Reflections on Creating a Culture of Dialogue and Peace” on this very important occasion of reflecting on the Nostra Aetate in our modern times.

I am Kosho Niwano from Rissho Kosei-kai, a Japanese Buddhist organization.  I am now serving as one of the KAICIID Board members.

The word “Nostra Aetate” reminds me of a very special feeling.  It was the fact that my grandfather Nikkyo Niwano was invited as a guest to the opening of the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago. On that occasion, my grandfather met with then Pope Paul 6th and that meeting gave a very crucial influence on Rissho Kosei-kai, as well as on my own life.

Shakyamuni Buddha spoke 2500 years ago, “Some people say it is truth, but other say it is false. In this way, people speak against each other with prejudice. Why don’t people following the path of faith speak about the common point?”

“Religion fundamentally do not exclude others. The essence of religion is the oneness between self and others, which enables humans to love others as they love themselves.” “It is a discrepancy that religions divide themselves and fight each other. All religions should learn from each other, speak about common points and cooperate together for realizing peace, based on these disciplines.” “There is no other way than religious cooperation in which modern world and human kinds will be given substantial salvation.” These are my grandfather’s convictions. He was given an invitation to the Vatican Council through Cardinal Morella, the first President of the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue of Vatican.  My grandfather visited Vatican in September 1965.

The words of Pope Paul 6th at the opening ceremony of Vatican Council were firmly hold on the spirit of “Nostra Aetate.” On the following day of his private audience with my grandfather, Pope said to him: “I know the religious cooperation you are endeavoring.  Please promote it wholeheartedly.  I am convinced that all mighty God will surely bless and protect your activities.”

My grandfather was deeply moved and the Pope’s words became his strong conviction. Nikkyo Niwano, my grandfather, determined himself firmly, “I cannot fulfill the sacred mission of religious person as long as I only think of my own religion or religious denomination.” He started taking actions toward founding World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP).

It was about the time when I was born. For example, my grandfather was in Kyoto on January 22nd, 1968, just 3 days after my birth. Over there, discussions were held among Japanese and American religious leaders toward realization of the WCRP concept.  Also there was an episode among my grandfather and a representative of American religious leaders, which demonstrates mutual respect and consideration.

In my infant memory, there always exists the image of my grandfather travelling around the world. The topics around the dining table at home were always religious dialogue, religious cooperation and world peace. There had to be many hurdles and problems in implementing those activities. But my grandfather always shared many stories with us grandchildren with his brilliant eyes like a boy. “Today, I met such a wonderful person.” “I had a wonderful experience today.” as such. I loved and always enjoyed his stories. Thus, I was brought up with growing my idea that there are so many wonderful religions and people in the world.

As a result of unimaginable and tireless efforts, the first WCRP General Assembly was held in Kyoto, in 1970, 5 years after the “Nostra Aetate.”

What my grandfather cherished was that interreligious dialogue and cooperation shall not be exclusively for people directly involved in the actions. At any occasions and any places, he shared with particularly young people the very importance of the interreligious dialogue, cooperation and concrete actions. Thanks to his efforts, there are many young people in Rissho Kosei-kai movement, who wishes to dedicate themselves to religious dialogue with firm belief in dialogue.    

There is an episode when the Body meeting of Rissho Kosei-kai was formulating the following year’s action plan, my grandfather said, “We should not make a plan only aiming at our own growth and development. Instead, we should have a plan which enables other religions and organizations to grow and develop together.”

 For my grandfather, who devoted more than half of his life time to realizing peace of the world through interreligious dialogue and cooperation, it was a great joy superior to any other when the Pope John Paul II  attended and delivered a commemorative speech at the opening ceremony of the 6th World Assembly of WCRP held at Synods Hall of Vatican, in November, 1994.

   I myself humbly dedicate to the activities of interreligious dialogue and cooperation.  As I mentioned earlier that I am one of the 4 co-moderators of Religions for Peace (RfP), which used to be called WCRP, and I am very happy to be actively engaged in KAICIID.

  I remembered my grandfather’s words. “When I called religious leaders for religious cooperation, almost everyone ridiculed me saying religious cooperation is nonsense.  Other said you speak of religious cooperation because you don’t have confidence in your own faith and religion.” I am sure that people my grandfather met while he was running around Japan and the world, as well as religious leaders who ridiculed and criticized my grandfather must have been filled with fear, doubt and denial. Human beings are weak as such, including myself.

Our forerunners who took a very courageous first step of “Nostra Aetate” and the founding member of WCRP finally realized the so called “Miracle of humankind: WCRP”, overcoming various obstacles and hurdles with the firm conviction that the world peace cannot be created without interreligious dialogue and cooperation, that creating a platform of dialogue is inevitable, in the face of dangers that nuclear war will annihilate all humankind.

  During 50 years since its initiative, interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding have been steadily advancing. However, unfortunately, the world is being divided by ignorance, doubt and fear against each other, and directed toward the conflict and antagonism. We have to take over the steps of our forerunners, ask ourselves again what dialogue is most needed now, and upgrade the operation system of dialogue.

   Vatican participates in KAICIID as an observer, which was launched by the initiative of former King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. It can be said to have borne a new fruit by the spirit of 50 years ago “Nostra Aetate.” Respecting, supporting, cooperating and backing the will of an open dialogue provide a chance of realizing society which makes diversities more affluent in a true sense, not resort only to value systems of western world.

   Gathering among people having same opinions must be very pleasant and self-satisfactory. But, “chatting” is not dialogue. Dialogue is “to communicate or interact with difference from oneself or different being from oneself.” There exists “something to be transcend or overcome.” “Dialogue” is an interaction with “will or intension trying to overcome discrepancy and conflict” which are generated by the encounter with different values while recognizing and admitting difference as it is.

   I spoke about the upgrade on dialogue at the event of 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” held at Gregorian University of Rome in last month, many participants generously talked to me after my presentation. It is easier said than done. I would firstly like to cherish “proving others.” Although we are very good at insisting our own standing points and values, we seldom listen to other’s voices. Even if we are ready to listen to, their voices will easily pass through us. But if we are really sincere in proving others, proving values of others, we will challenge ourselves to listening seriously to, and finding good points of others. When we work hard to find out good points of others, our eyes are warm, and our hearts and minds are rich and affluent.

I would like to close my speech by promising you all that I will continue with my friends and colleagues the dialogue of “proving others”, even though it may be a humble challenge.

Thank you very much.