by Kyoko Isa
Asahi Shimbun March 21, 2012
The Japan Buddhist Federation has called for a society that does not depend on nuclear power not to repeat the mistake Buddhist organizations made during World War II by silently following government policies, its president said.
“If we remain quiet, we will follow the same path, and Buddhist organizations will lose their significance of existence in Japanese society,” Taitsu Kono told The Asahi Shimbun in a recent interview.
In an appeal in December, the federation, made up of traditional Buddhist denominations, emphasized the risks of nuclear power and promised to work toward a society not dependent on this energy source.
“Maybe it is too idealistic to call for a society without war, but we have to keep saying this. It is the same with a society not dependent on nuclear power,” Kono said.
“Our society is imperfect forever, but we aim to make it perfect. That is the ideal we have to advocate.”
Excerpts from the interview follow:
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Question: After the Great East Japan Earthquake, many temples and churches accepted evacuees, and religious leaders from around the country came to their support.
Answer: I visited damaged temples in three prefectures in the Tohoku region, hit hardest by the disaster, and made a round of evacuation centers.
I was a chief priest of a temple in Kobe when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck the city and surrounding areas (in 1995). I keenly felt the brutality and horror of the tsunami, which we did not experience at that time.
At a temporary burial site in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, I recited a sutra before as many as 190 bodies that were left unclaimed.
Q: You had complained that Buddhist denominations tended not to shift into action immediately even if they come across people in trouble.
A: There are some monks who work on social problems, but Buddhist denominations are slow to take action.
In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge government committed a massacre in Cambodia, persecuting monks and burning scriptures.
I collected contributions and visited refugee camps, thinking that Japan, a nearby Buddhist country (if you categorize it by religion), cannot just sit back and watch the situation.
But what I did never developed into a movement across the Buddhist world in Japan.
A: One reason is that Buddhist denominations are led by good-natured people.
They think they want to help people in trouble. But when they hear why it happened, they show understanding to it, too. Time passes while they debate what they should do.
We face a number of problems if we decide to go and help them. But there should be some people brave enough to go. Unfortunately, there are only a few such people.
Q: Your federation has issued an appeal for a society not dependent on nuclear power, its first statement directed at the public.
A: Only after the Fukushima nuclear accident, I learned how dangerous and destructive nuclear power can be and how much radioactive waste has been piling up in ordinary times.
It is time to say in a loud voice that we must put an end to it.
But we tend to conclude that we cannot express opposition when we consider the benefits of electricity we receive and the situations of local governments that host nuclear power plants and the people who work there.
It is not what we should do. During World War II, Buddhist denominations followed government policies without saying anything, giving momentum to the path to war.
If we remain quiet, we will follow the same path, and Buddhist organizations will lose their significance of existence in Japanese society.
Q: Wasn’t there opposition from member denominations?
A: Unexpectedly, there was not. Just as it was difficult to oppose war, I suppose it was difficult to oppose nuclear power.
But the hardest part starts from here. It is not enough to say we are opposed.
The root of Buddhism is the respect of the sanctity of life and human rights. That is why we are opposed to war, which claims the lives of people, and the reason I became a monk.
Maybe it is too idealistic to call for a society without war, but we have to keep saying this. It is the same with a society not dependent on nuclear power.
Our society is imperfect forever, but we aim to make it perfect. That is the ideal we have to advocate.
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The story is based on an interview by staff writer Kyoko Isa.