The Rinbutsuken Institute for Socially Engaged Buddhism
2008 public symposium on
Environment, Peace, and Socio-Spiritual Development
A.T. Ariyaratne, Joanna Macy,
Helena Norberg-Hodge, and Ven. Paisan Visalo
November 17, 2008
13:00 ? 17:00
Takeda Hall, Tokyo University
In our present society, amidst the heavy storm of economic globalization, we are faced with a variety of problems here in Japan. Since the end of the economic boom and the abandonment of social security, there has been the emergence of a large number of social problems like suicide, working poor, and internet cafe “refugees”. Amongst the young, there is the advancing dilution of human relationships, the increase in young “shut-ins” (hikikomori), and incomprehensible crimes towards random people. It has become an observable fact that our daily lives are in critical danger.
A globalization that aims at economic development alone brings about the destruction of regional economies, communities, and traditions, while giving rise to poverty, war, and environmental destruction in the developing world and social inbalances in even so-called developed countries like Japan. It seems that we have gone beyond the limits of the value system that pursues short-term happiness on the basis of measuring money and possessions.
Amidst this widespread feeling of blockage in our society, the Rinbutsuken Institute for Engaged Buddhism affiliated with the Zenseikyo Foundation & Buddhist Council for Youth and Child Edification sponsored its 2008 Symposium on “interbeing” (kyo-sei) in order to search for another way of living. As this symposium was coordinated with 32nd Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, the program could be realized with the cooperation of various Buddhist groups and civil NGOs, such as the Japan Buddhist Federation, the AYUS International Cooperation Network of Buddhism, the Development Education Association and Resource Center (DEAR), the Shanti International Volunteer Association, and Julay Ladakh. In this way, we would like to give a summary of each speaker’s presentation.
Social Participation Based in Spirituality: Prof. Susumu Shimazono (Tokyo University)
The symposium began with a talk by Prof. Susumu Shimazono, who serves on the Board of Directors of Rinbutsuken. His talk dealt with the search for another way of living and the theme of an interdependent society and spirituality. In terms of religion, especially Buddhist spirituality and social participation, Prof. Shimazono raised various issues and problems in dealing with the young in Japan.
Prof. Shimazono noted that Buddhism in relation to society in Japan has had a history of social participation in a negative sense, such as during the second World War. At this time, Buddhism provided a psychological disposition for young men going off to battle. In this way, social participation in such a random fashion is at odds with the origins of Buddhism. If we look at the explanations of Buddhism in the novels of Kenji Miyazawa, we find a Buddhist who becomes aware of a new spiritual culture while being anti war and helping the lifestyle of poor farmers by entering the village. However, the Buddhist world ultimately faced the difficult reality of being swallowed by Japanese nationalism.
After this experience, Buddhism in the post-war period lost its connection to society and was transformed into the “Funeral Buddhism” of the family. In contemporary Japanese society, Buddhism is barely alive, and for young Japanese today, it can be said that they have no interest in religion. However, there are many people who have an interest in spirituality. Among the young, there is a big interest. However, this is not a feeling of religion, but rather a trend that can be seen in anime and such media. For the young, there is the high possibility of a spiritual base in religion, but the question is how to communicate it. From now, a major theme should become this idea of an interdependent society or “interbeing” (kyo-sei). Prof. Shimazono concluded by expressing his hope that some hints towards this end would emerge from the day’s discussions.
Localization ? Helena Norberg-Hodge (Sweden)
After listening to Prof. Shimazono’s talk, the guest speakers related the possibilities of another way of living based on the Buddhist spirit and various activities they have taken on. Helena Norberg Hodge was born in Sweden and got involved in environmental activities. Now based in the United Kingdom, she is developing her activities, such as localization as a sustainable form of development in response to economic led development. This work has made her a global opinion leader.
Norberg-Hodge began by noting that over 40 years she has come to develop a high awareness of how to overcome the problem of economic development and GDP, and thus is focused on sounding the alarm of the way that economic trade is deregulated and causes the destruction of humans and the environment. At present, there is the incorrect recognition that free trade makes us all one. This is a misguided view. In reality, the economics of the world market known as “globalization” destroys local markets, greatly increases poverty in every country in the world, and at the same time destroys the diversity of cultures. In this process, many people lose their own self?respect.
In recent years, stock markets have become increasingly divorced from reality. A bubble of 600 trillion dollars, or 10 times actual GDP, has been created. At this point, even economists who track the free economy have begun to speak of the need to gradually gain control of this force. However, it is not about just controlling. Poverty also cannot be eradicated, and environmental destruction cannot be made fruitful. From now, we must begin to live in a way based on new and different rules. There must be a special emphasis on food and on small-scale agriculture based on locales that produce food. Norberg-Hodge noted that she became aware of this when she visited a region in Northern India called Ladakh in the 1970s. At that time, the Ladakhi people lived in small communities based in mutual coexistence ? a way that had crossed centuries and had changed little since the time of the Buddha. They had been maintaining a system of lifestyle based on local production and consumption.
Today, when we buy goods at a supermarket, we are unaware that there is melanin in the food and that is has been produced through the exploitation of child labor. We need to have the place of production and the place of consumption connected in a smaller economic unit. Norberg-Hodge expressed that significant, key words are “decentralization and localization”, which create a cooperative society of happiness for all people. This movement that supports localization has already begun around the world. After the main symposium, there was a special screening of Norberg-Hodge’s new film called “The Economics of Happiness”.
Development Based in the Teachings of the Buddha ? Pra Paisan Visalo (Thailand)
Pra Paisan bases himself in a rural temple in Thailand’s northeast region where he is the key person for a group that works on non-violence and religious issues. Over the years he has worked in environmental conservation, conflict resolution, and community development. At present, he is very actively involved in a network of religious and medical professionals supporting spiritual and clinical care for the dying.
He began by noting that up to now, we have given birth to the development and prosperity of a materialistic society by working ourselves death. However, the time has come that we have to change this way of life. People have come to gain increasing incomes and have become more self-absorbed and utilitarian in outlook. They think only for themselves and look at things in a dualistic way without thinking about the connection to these things. These things have arisen through mutual confrontation, and as consumerism is promoted, the social problem of dependence on prescription medicines arises.
Over the past 10 years, Thai monks and temples have engaged in social services related to improving the physical and material welfare of the people. These activities have succeeded in no small numbers. Nevertheless, many monks have gradually come to the awareness of the limits of this approach. It has begun to be pointed out that community development based around not just physical and material welfare but also social and spiritual sufficiency is important.
Ven. Phaisan then began to talk about a holistic socio-spiritual development (kaihotsu) model based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. In his teachings, the Buddha referred to the four requisites for “development” or “cultivation” (bhavana): the physical (kaya), the social (sila), the mind/heart (citta), and the spiritual (panna). These four can become the basis of a holistic form of development.
This way of thinking is called development based in Dharma or “Dharmic Development” and is becoming more common in Thai society. Buddhist style social service has the meaning of accomplishing development based on these four requisites. Humans do not simply aspire for liberation from poverty, environmental degradation, disasters and war, and human rights violations and discrimination. They also should aim to bring about peace based in the wisdom and compassion of the heart. In this way, we can realize the giving of peace, and not just its eradication. Ven. Phaisan noted that though people seem to want to become happy through possessing things, in reality they want to become happy through giving. This is the realization of mental and social peace.
Community and Spiritual Development ? A.T. Ariyaratne (Sri Lanka)
Dr. Ariyaratne is the founder of Sri Lanka’s largest NGO, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, which has been working on rural development for over 50 years. The Sarvodaya movement is a comprehensive one aiming at development, peace building, and spiritual awakening and proposes a new society based on multi-religious perspectives that protect traditional values.
The macro economic system has brought forth violence to society and civil war in a variety of countries. Macro economics has until now always destroyed local society while at the same time, destroying people’s minds and the environment. The people in the United States have made a conversion in their consciousness in this past presidential election. It is an expression of their feeling of being fed up with the strategy of multinational corporations that exploit the world. GDP, if it is compared with GNH (Gross National Happiness), seems to have no meaning at all.
What we should aspire to these days is the revitalization of local community while at the same time a consciousness of the existence of one global community. Sri Lanka was one of many countries colonized by Europe for a long time. During this time, there is the history of losing our vital power because of the way we were governed. Thus, Sarvodaya has up to this time poured our energy into village self-governance or gramswaraj. Dr. Ariyaratne noted that the viewpoint of self-governance is an important one for the whole world.
Furthermore, people’s spirits must be developed. The rediscovery of spiritual power is called dharma shakti or “the power of truth”. The power of truth encourages the people. From this, the power of wisdom or jnana shakti is born. From this jnana shakti, the power of the people comes to life. There is the need to choose a path in which we come together and live together to never engage in destruction. If we do this, we can create an environment of heart and peace, society and peace, nature and peace. This is true development.
The System of Life on Earth ? Joanna Macy (USA)
Joanna Macy encountered Buddhism during her visit to India some 50 years ago. Since then, she has poured her energy into the comparative study of General Systems Theory and Mutual Causality ? in Buddhism, dependent origination - as well as creating activities which weave together her own philosophy of civic activism concerning peace and the environment.
Concerning our present society that promotes industrialization, the standard value for measuring success is market share. The concept of “market share” has spread everywhere and has become the essential measuring stick for business and individuals as well. The purpose of television commercials and advertising is how to create human desires. The thinking continues on that creating human desires will create more consumption. The amount of consumption is the way the success of various countries is measured.
Amidst this, the nature of spirit has been totally forgotten. Our original human nature has been gradually destroyed, and the result is there are many people in the world who have become depressed. This is something that cannot be solved on the individual level. Because we feel that we are mutually connected, we can solve this through caring. People who understand this have begun to speak openly about their own feelings, and mutual understanding and the work of mutual aid has begun. There is a feeling that we ourselves are one part of the universe, and thus it is important to help each to develop.
Dependent Origination, which was taught by the Buddha, is a system of mutual relationship. Beyond the earth, we are mutually connected. Science also understands that the world is a living system. The meaning of this is that if we exploit the earth, then we will also injure ourselves. Right now, the thing we must do is together to work person by person and commit to this experience. In this way, we can mutually create a wonderful world. The creation of a sustainable society can continue our lives. This is also the discovery of the meaning of our existence.