Series 4

Series 4
Let’s Deeply Consider Things from the Side of Suffering:
The State of Society Can be Changed

Rev. Hidehito Okochi
Bukkyo (Buddhist) Times
June 23, 2011

Rev. Hidehito Okochi was born in 1957. He is the abbot of Juko-in temple in Edogawa ward, Tokyo, where he helps run a variety of local NGOs focused on ecological living, community support, and activism in various social issues, such as the Palestine Children’s Campaign and the Citizens Network for Thinking about Global Warming. He is also a good friend in our JNEB network. See a profile of his work here: Shift the Power: Building a Buddhist Temple Community as a Mechanism for Environmental and Social Change

In commemorating the 800th anniversary of the death of its founder Honen Shonin, the Jodo Pure Land denomination created two themes to mark the event. The first is the shift of Kamakura Buddhism (of which Honen was one of the principal architects) to the side of the people through developing a faith based in the value of community. In this different age, democracy has been as a virtue of contemporary society, yet I would like to ask, ”Is it really the case that we have taken responsibility to ensure such a society?” The other theme is the vow to emancipate all life. Honen demonstrated through his encounters with both the warrior Kumagai Naozane and the prostitute at the port of Muro that life should never be thrown away. Rather, the deeper a person’s failings are should lead us to help them all the more. From these two themes, I believe we should develop a way of thinking that is exactly opposite to nuclear power.

Concerning the theme of supporting all life, we can see that when nuclear power becomes operable, it is inevitable that radiation will eat away at the health and lives of sentient life. The Inter Faith Forum for the Review of National Nuclear Policy to which I belong has been connecting with families who’s loved ones have lost their health and even their lives as radioactive poisoned workers at the nuclear power plants. We have also turned our attention to the voices of parents with children who have shown congenital illnesses and/or illnesses connected to radioactive contamination like cancer to internal organs and leukemia. The very nature of nuclear power tolerates this kind of sacrifice and buries it in darkness.

The Trick of Nuclear Power

However, there is this continual insistence that we must have it in order that to enjoy prosperity and convenience. In other words, our lifestyles require nuclear power – but is this really so? For myself, I thought that this is the trick, the problem of nuclear power at its root, which is that the democracy that we first championed cannot advance under such influence. It is clear that living in this contemporary society, we use electricity extravagantly and surround ourselves with wasteful things. But in the end, the things that we buy and use are not really things we need but rather have been designed for us to consume. We have been induced into using these things even though we don’t need them. Until we investigate and interrogate this system, that is, changing the political and economic system, then the tragedies that hit the young will continue to be repeated. In the Buddhist discipline (sila), it is worse to sell alcohol thank to drink it.

From the beginning, Japanese have been weak in facing the authorities while keeping a strong sense for regulations and rules. Now, we our own lifestyles have been condemned and we feel ashamed, but this diverts us from investigating the real structural problems. The result has been that many Japanese have given up thinking “deeply” for themselves and “taking responsibility for the final consequences”.

A few days ago, I was invited as a panelist for a talk on thinking about the state of society at a university in Tokyo. When it was pointed out that there are very few students who have been participating in the anit-nuclear protests over the past months, one person said in response, “I don’t think there is much meaning in protesting. For myself, I’d rather do a candlelight vigil with friends and develop an attitude to saving electricity.” Unfortunately, this sentiment is just what the promoters of nuclear power want. Certainly developing an attitude towards saving electricity is not bad and it would be good to do on a large scale. However, the most important thing now is changing the way electricity is generated and delivered. This kind of thinking does not lead towards such a change while it helps to conceal the suffering of people and prevents a deepening awareness of the problem.

Towards a Cyclical Society

The authorities have been denying the effects of the influence of radiation for years and have ordered the fraudulent recording of deaths to the laborers within the nuclear power plants and the residents in the area of the plants. The causes of death has been written down as “heart failure” though they died while they were fighting the effects of cancer and leukemia. In the area of Wakasa in Fukui prefecture (which hosts the “Nuclear Ginza” of 17 reactors) patients were transferred to the Kansai Electric Power Company Hospital in Osaka so that their true conditions could be hidden. A few people fought this, but most have been buried in darkness. It is the role of religious people to discern the true reality by experiencing the ground level where people are thrown away and then present a way of living and the way society should be.

For the past 20 years, some residents from my area of Edogawa ward in Tokyo and I have visited the location of where waste from dams and nuclear power plants are dealt with. Listening to the local people who have been forced to suffer for the comforts of our present society, we came to think this is “the place” where society and nature are destroyed. Therefore, I think that we must do some kind of activity somehow that leads to self-awareness and personal responsibility towards where one lives as “the place” for determining consumption patterns and policy making. Starting with the real situation of electricity, we should thoroughly clarify the mechanism of financial system. This begins by examining system of gross cost as well as the government financing system. With the goal of a “non-nuclear low carbon society”, we can combine a loan financing system with clean energy. From the maintenance of social capital at the community level, we can present the model of a cyclical society (in which production, consumption, and waste feedback into each other). The should be something that we should all feel is within reach.

However, we must now bear the burden of the suffering of radioactivity that will last for some decades or even centuries. This is an irreparable situation that will effect our children and grandchildren, but we must now become intimate with the tragedy and squeeze out as much positive energy as we can to link to the future. I think this is the mission of those who are living now to truly make a common connection between the past and future. In order to realize a “true society”, it will require the utmost commitment to serving society. Together with the silent victims, we are working to recover hope for 300 years into the future.

Translated by Jonathan Watts

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