- Sudden News Shocks a Peaceful Community
Nestled within a beautiful natural setting, the town of Wipperfürth exudes an aura of ancient history. The warmth and simplicity of the city’s lifestyle, nurtured by the tranquility of the surrounding fields, can be clearly sensed even today. The community radiates a mysterious power of attraction that captures the hearts of visitors and will not let go.
In early 1999, the peaceful valley was shaken by a report that grabbed newspaper headlines. Buddhists from a foreign country were proposing to build a facility known as Daiseion-ji Temple (an international center for exchange among different religions) in this town comprised of pious Catholics (nearly 70%) and devout Protestants (over 22%) and endowed with a rich historical tradition. Daiseion-ji Temple originated in Japan, a country on the easternmost edge of Asia, far distant from Germany.
Such news was unprecedented in the city’s 782-year history. It was perhaps only natural that some would be opposed to the idea, particularly when they remained unaware of the actual situation. One conjecture led to another and the city council was soon swept up in a whirlwind of protest. In response, people from many quarters recommended that the project’s aims and objectives as well as the details of its proposed activities be publicly clarified to facilitate an accurate and informed assessment of the project’s merit. Accordingly, the following summary of the content and objectives was presented.
- The Purpose of the International Exchange Center (Daiseion-ji Temple)
First, we must assure you that the objective of the plan to establish the International Exchange Center (Daiseion-ji Temple) is not to convert Christians to Buddhism. Rather, its primary purpose is to promote inter-religious cooperation and inter-religious dialogue among members of different faiths.
Inter-religious cooperation is, without exception, the direction towards which the world’s religions are currently aiming, and in the broad sense it refers to “activities carried out in cooperation with different religions and sects.” This naturally suggests cooperation among the followers of different faiths in order to solve the various problems facing society as a whole. Thus, concrete inter-religious cooperative action can only be achieved through the efforts of the leaders and adherents of each religion.
The concept of “inter-religious cooperation” is, in fact, a theme that first emerged from the Christian faith. Pope Paul VI proclaimed in the Encyclical “Peace on Earth” addressed to all people that “true and lasting peace among nations cannot consist in the possession of an equal supply of armaments but only in mutual trust.” He convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), a truly historic undertaking, and made an unprecedented world-wide appeal for peaceful co-existence among differing religions.
Following the passing of Pope Paul VI, the Vatican continued this approach, and the Council issued the Decree on Ecumenism in November 1964. This message declared a distinct change in the Catholic views on the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church and Protestant Churches, relationships with which had been characterized by centuries-long mutual separation. This Decree also declared the intention to promote dialogue and harmonious cooperation with members of all the world’s religions and with the non-religious. The results have been of profound historical significance.
A parallel movement took place within Protestantism with the establishment of the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva to unite all Protestant churches. The WCC was invested with the tasks of studying and promoting unity, agreement and cooperation among Protestant doctrines, organizations and activities.
- Why Religious Cooperation Must Be Promoted by All Religions
(1) The Need for Separation of Religion and State
If a state wields its power to restrict religion, manipulates religion as a means of state control, or awards special privileges to a specific religion and discriminates against others, then it becomes very difficult to achieve inter-religious cooperation. If, on the other hand, a government achieves separation of religion and state in an amicable rather than a discriminatory form that is based on an accurate understanding of the true nature of religion, every faith can remain independent of the state and generate reciprocal, equal and friendly relations with other religions. These relations form the requisite foundation for ideal inter-religious cooperation.
There is, however, one case in which governments may need to resolutely apply sanctions against a religion: in the case of a cult that deliberately masquerades as a religion despite being totally different in nature. Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult the violent actions of which shocked the world only a few years ago, is a representative example.
The essential difference between a “religion” and a “cult” can be stated as the presence within religion of a solid “universal philosophy.” This philosophy is an intrinsic component of any religion and may be defined as the ideological foundation that clearly and logically proves the human and social value of the religion’s existence.
A cult, on the other hand, may appear at first glance to be a religion, yet it differs sharply in that it uses only mystic supernatural phenomena to attract followers. It self-righteously imposes values that lead to the destruction of social norms and the breakdown of the universally accepted social order. As such cults inevitably form exclusive groups totally isolated from an open society, violent sanctions are meted out to those within their ranks who voice heretical opinions and this can escalate to the point where a cult sanctions vengeance against those in society who criticize the group or its organization.
(2) Religions of the World in the Historical Context of 21st Century Must Recognize Religious Diversity to Contribute to an Open Society
Religions in the 21st century have been thrust into a situation in which they must pursue the profound philosophy underlying their own faith and, at the same time, give due consideration to the building of better relationships with other religions. The astonishing speed of globalization has been the primary force behind this. The rapid acceleration of information exchange, communications, shipping and movement are shrinking the world into a single, small village. Viewed from Japan, the German town of Wipperfürth is no longer far away. It is a place with potential for mutual exchange that can be reached in only fifteen hours.
Judging from the present situation, it is obvious that the religions of the world can no longer avoid the path of coexistence and cooperation with the followers of countless other faiths. In this sense, looking back upon the history of the Catholic Church, it is a virtual certainty that the peoples of the world will, in the future, extol for eternity the courageous decision of the Second Vatican Council that advocated inter-religious cooperation.
If the present and future need of global society is the coexistence of multiple and various religions, then fateful indeed is the choice between a coexistence characterized by harmony and cooperation, or one characterized by isolation and opposition. Any religion that mistakenly selects opposition will assuredly vanish from the face of the earth within a few short years or decades. This process will occur at a speed unthinkable from the perspective of past history or contemporary commonsense, with devastating results. It is more apparent than light itself that such a religion would lose its followers both dramatically and unbelievably swiftly.
The 21st century will be a period in which the self-righteous and dogmatic philosophies and actions heretofore seen in the context of human society will be almost completely rejected, and world of religion will be no exception. In the past, religion fostered isolation, antagonism, hostility and strife, and the historical record shows many tragic instances that came about because of this. For this reason alone, there are many people in the world today who have become estranged from religion.
Autonomously renouncing the scourge of self-righteousness, each religion must seriously pursue the uniqueness of their faith, identify its distinguishing values and proclaim to the world the universal aspects contained therein. That is, each religion must advance its teachings together with the philosophical proof that supports them, while at the same time promoting dialogue, harmony and cooperative relations with other religions.
In order to prevent any misunderstanding, however, it should be unequivocally noted that the inter-religious dialogue and cooperation that we advocate is not a simple compromise-oriented amalgamation of differing faiths. It is clear that to forcefully amalgamate the various religions is not only impossible but also undesirable. A plurality of values with respect to religion in society can only exist when we have fulfilled two conditions: unity in diversity and diversity in unity
Religion characterized by diversity alone with no element of agreement lacks direction and is in danger of becoming irresponsible, lacking in actual religious substance. On the other hand, religion characterized by unanimity alone and lacking in diversity will degenerate into a self-righteous dogma. This would lead to a state of uniformity, rather than unity, in which the followers would stand to lose their individuality completely.
- Inter-Religious Dialogue Can Contribute to the Mutual Development and Consolidation of Different Religious Doctrines
In the past, relations between different religions were generally hostile and antagonistic; dialogue and cooperation were inconceivable. Founded as they were on the premise that one’s own religion was superior to all others, doctrinal debates led only to conflict.
The world today, however, is seeking dialogue as a new component of future discussions among different religions. True dialogue consists of the heart-to-heart expression of constructive intentions that are based on the mutual recognition of the other as a follower of religion and, as such, it transcends the destructive intentions that drive antagonistic confrontations.
Obviously, there exist certain areas in each person’s beliefs that allow no room for compromise. Even then, however, it is essential that we ask ourselves the extent to which we have accurately understood the content of the other person’s assertions. A dialogue that is not approached with this attitude of humility, even if the conclusions satisfy the parties directly involved, the natural outcome will be failure to win the support of most other people.
The majority of intelligent people in contemporary society long for bold debate on common themes, based on an accurate and mutual understanding of the other person’s claims and essential nature. Surely this is a desirable form of interchange. The different religions must achieve a compassionate understanding of the importance of dialogue, instead of confrontation.
There is a saying that dogma divides people. Such an outlook, we believe, originates with those who doubt that the believers of different doctrines can carry on a friendly dialogue. Those of us who are promoting construction of the Exchange Center do not agree. Rather, we think that to prohibit mutual exchange concerning one’s beliefs with members of other faiths is highly undesirable. So long as religions continue to adopt such attitudes, there can be no move away from religious self-righteous, and the very existence of all religion in the future will be threatened.
Religions must actively seek to learn from one another, to engage in give-and-take concerning their respective teachings. The purpose of dialogue as we interpret the term is not to refute another person’s argument but to stand in the other’s shoes, to listen with a fully open mind and heart, to strive to understand.
The result will be a firm conviction that such exchange always generates new and important insights into one’s own beliefs; it can inspire reflection and examination of one’s tenets and doctrines from a totally different perspective. We are convinced that dialogue with different religions can provide the ultimate opportunity for a clearer understanding of the value of one’s own religious faith.
The most important point in this endeavor, in terms of religion in the 21st century, is to avoid self-perception rooted in religious absolutism. We must adopt an attitude of humility that is derived from the recognition of our limitation as sinful human beings. This recognition is a prerequisite to accepting God’s will as God intended. It is an absolutely fundamental requirement because, while it is true that the God in which one believes is absolute, the state of the individual believer is not. It is only when we live our lives with this attitude of submission before God that it becomes possible for us, as human beings, to become that which God desired us to be.
In this way, even among people who subscribe to different doctrines, active and humble association with others can be pursued without sacrificing individuality. At the same time, it also promotes one’s own and the other’s personal growth while refining one’s self-identity through new experiences and influences gained through that association. Many people realize that this is the only way in which humankind can avoid falling into the trap of self-righteous thinking. We have witnessed with our own eyes many examples demonstrating that it is those religious individuals most deeply involved in dialogue with people of other persuasions who most treasure their own faith.
- The Aims and Objectives of Daiseion-ji Temple (International Exchange Center)
Up to this period in time, the main emphasis in religion has been salvation of the individual’s inner spirit and spiritual support. These themes, which are central to our ethical lives, will naturally continue to be of highest priority. If, however, religion’s role in the future remains thus restricted, the religion will almost certainly fall into steady decline, particularly in the more industrialized nations.
Religion must go beyond merely providing individuals with ethical guidelines for their personal inner lives to construct a philosophical ethic that can effectively deal with the various global issues enveloping the economy, society and the world. General society expects no less.
It is, of course, impossible for one church or temple to attempt this immense task alone. What I wish to emphasize here is that leaders concerned with religion in whatever form must keep these themes in mind. The sight of the world’s religious leaders seriously pondering these issues will inspire a great empathy in their congregations and a profound respect among the majority of observers for the strength of their resolve.
As expressed by the foregoing, it is our sincere desire that Daiseion-ji Temple (International Exchange Center) will serve as a center for research and exchange concerning the various problems confronting contemporary society from the perspective of religion.
The proposed activities of the Exchange Center (Daiseion-ji Temple) include the following:
- Promotion of inter-religious dialogue and cooperation among Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and other faiths, and research and exchange activities for this purpose.
- The study and realization of a network that will promote fruitful international relations through cultural exchange between Germany and Japan.
- Promotion of economic exchange between medium and small businesses in Germany and Japan and friendly association among company owners and managers.
- Study and training in business strategies and leadership for businessmen employed by German and Japanese companies.
- The establishment and operation of the International Institute for Integration Research, to further scholarly interchange between Germany and Japan.
These activities, of course, cannot be undertaken immediately. Although our organization has already been legally established as a foundation, we intend in the future to devote ourselves to strengthening the bonds of trust and peace between Japan and Germany through advice from and the exchange of information with various non-profit organizations that are promoting activities under the guidance of universities, research institutes and government agencies within Germany, as well as with the many private organizations active in this field.
Abt. Nissho Takeuchi, Chairman
Rev. Shokei Stephens, Deputy Director
Daiseion-ji Temple (International Exchange Center), in Support of Inter-Religious Dialogue