Japanese Language Verison Here / 日本語記事
Reimagining Interfaith - the Basics
I was in Washington, D.C. from July 29 to 31 to take part in the conference of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). I was able to take part in this international interfaith conference as a delegate from the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Community, of which I am a member.
The conference was held at the George Washington University Marvin Center and my estimate is that about 400 people attended. There was a large delegation from Japan -about 1/3 to half of all attendees. Others came from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, France, India, Pakistan and from the West to East Coasts of the United States.
The Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto and other Japanese denominations, Pagan, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist / Free Religious Congregation religions were represented (I may have missed a group). Secular Humanists also had a small delegation present.
Theme and Programs
The theme of the conference was "Reimagining Interfaith." Interfaith work has been about building bridges and fostering cooperation among religious / spiritual communities to work together for common goals. In that light, the theme was chosen to look at the bridges that the interfaith community has not been so good at building.
Further, the conference also addressed current topics such as immigration, racism, Islamophobia, climate change, discrimination in general and other timely topics. Several panels were held to touch on these issues.
For example, one panelist has been very involved in immigration issues and spoke about how the interfaith community has been rallying to protect immigrants -both legal and illegal. The recent actions of the Trump administration were discussed. Someone also pointed out that, although Trump's immigration policies are troubling, the USA has a long history of treating undocumented immigrants poorly.
Conversation was also held on Human Rights issues around the world and right here in the United States too.
We also broke off into smaller groups for more discussion. My group included Buddhists, a UUA member, a Pagan and members of the Free Religious Congregation from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
On the morning of July 30 the Japanese delegation led a prayer service. Priests from the Shinto, Buddhist, Konkokyo and Ittoen Japanese faiths gave traditional prayers and rituals.
This was my first time attending a program of the IARF. As an international relations undergrad student and as someone who has long been interested in world religion, this was a great experience. I was particularly glad that I was able to meet and discuss with Japanese Shinto and Buddhist priests as I have a deep interest in Japanese spirituality.
Having lived in Japan and been to many temples and shrines, I am very grateful for this opportunity. Also, the fact that such a large number of Japanese people were present put my Japanese language abilities to the test! So, overall it was a wonderful experience.
I thought that much of the discussion was good and timely. It is important for various religious communities to work together on shared areas of concern.
寺院は1986年に建てられました。シュリー・スワミー・サチナンダーは創業者です。シュリー・スワミ・サッチャンダはヒンドゥー教の司祭だった。 彼は1914年から2002年に住んでいた。彼はインドで生まれ、1960年代にアメリカに来た。寺院は世界の宗教と平和に捧げられています。寺院はヨガヴィルの町の一部です。 ヨガヴィルは1980年に建てられました。
これらは：神道, 仏教, キリスト教, イスラム教, シク教, ヒンドゥー教, ジャイナ教, バハーイー教, ネイティブアメリカン宗教, アフリカの宗教, ゾロアスター教, 道教, ユダヤ教, 太平洋島の宗派。
寺院の内部は非常に大きいです。 世界の宗教のための祭壇があります。内部には多くのライトがあります。 とても美しいです。 私は寺の内部で瞑想しました。 私は世界平和のために祈りました。
シヴァのために造られた小さなガラスの寺院があります。 シヴァはヒンドゥー教の神です。 シヴァは創造と破壊の神です。シヴァ寺院で私は世界平和と幸福のために祈った。LOTUS寺院は美しいです。 ヨーガビルは平和な場所です。 私はLOTUS寺院を訪問してとても幸せです。
In October 2017 Baha'i Faith communities across the globe celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, Baha'u'llah. I took part in celebrations with the local Baha'i community in Pittsburgh, with whom I have had a friendly relationship with for several years.
Born in modern-day Iran in 1817, Baha’u’llah is the founder of the Baha’i religion, often referred to as the Baha’i Faith.
Estimates for Baha’i Faith membership are between 5 and 7 million members. In fact, the Baha’i religion is the second-most geographically widespread religion in the world (Christianity is the first). To give a brief summary of the religion, the Baha’i Faith teaches that there is one God who has sent messengers to guide humankind. These messengers include figures such as Moses (Judaism), Krishna (Hinduism), Jesus (Christianity), the Buddha (Buddhism), Muhammad (Islam) and Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism).
The Baha’i Faith regards Baha’u’llah as the most recent messenger for humankind. Baha’u’llah taught that God has revealed his message through progressive revelation, that men and women are equal and that all races are part of one human family. He wrote volumes of letters, books and other papers. Because of the progressive and unorthodox nature of his message for that time, Baha’u’llah suffered several persecutions; he was imprisoned on occasions and exiled a number of times. Expelled from his native Persia (modern-day Iran) Baha’u’llah and his family eventually came to live in Israel. He spent that last twelve years of his life in Acre, Israel. He died in 1892.
When I was about 12 I became interested in religions and since that time have made efforts to study different teachings and meet people from various religions. I have studied with religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormon Church, Soka Gakkai, Konkokyo, Zen Buddhism, New Age faiths, Islam and many other groups.
About ten years ago I began attending local gatherings of the Baha’i Faith community in Pittsburgh. Baha’i communities tend to meet in the homes of their members, although some communities are large enough that they have centers. At the time that I began taking part in Baha’i gatherings the local community meant in the home of Astrid and her husband Mohammed. They welcomed me into their home for monthly ‘unity gatherings’ and I soon became a familiar face at these monthly meetings.
Although I never became an official member of the Baha’i Faith, I agreed with many of their central principles: the equality of men and women, the importance of education, the nobility of humankind and the need to end prejudices, among others.
In 2014 I moved to Japan for a year and when I returned to the U.S. I fell out of contact with the Baha’i community. However, beginning in 2016 I did get back in touch with Dr. Mary, a Baha’i who would often take me to meetings as I did not drive at that time. She invited me to the local celebration of Baha’u’llah’s birthday and it was nice to meet people who I had not seen in a few years. At the celebration I presented her with the Baha'i ringstone calligraphy, which I made for her on special Japanese stationery. The Baha'i ringstone is one of the symbols of the Baha'i Faith. Going forward, I hope to be able to take part in future gatherings of the Baha’i community.
Looking back on my decade of friendship with the local Baha’i community, I can say that I have benefited from the warm atmosphere of peace and friendship fostered by the Baha’i religion.
Part One: Buddhism Arrives in Japan
Scholars today give the years 552 CE or 538 CE as the most likely dates for Buddhism’s introduction to Japan. During this period King Seong Myong of Baekje (a kingdom located on the western Korean peninsula) sent a political mission to Japan that included Buddhist monks and nuns who brought with them sutras and Buddhist art.
They also brought with them a writing system; Japan did not have a writing system and as the sutras were written in classical Chinese, many of the court aristocrats had to learn to read Chinese to learn more about Buddhism. Eventually Chinese symbols were adopted by the Japanese and became the kanji that comprise much of Japan’s writing system today.
Buddhism was met with mixed attitudes among the nobility, but with support from the powerful Soga clan, opposition to Buddhism by conservative forces was defeated. In 592 CE Japan’s regent Prince Shotoku proclaimed Buddhism the official state religion and began the construction of Shitennō-ji (四天王寺) in 593. Shitennō-ji is often viewed as Japan’s first Buddhist temple and it still stands today.
Prince Shotoku, often referred to as the ‘father of Japanese Buddhism’ worked to promote Buddhism and in 604 CE authored the ‘Seventeen Article Constitution’ that was both influenced by and promoted Confucian and Buddhist philosophy and ethics.
When the prince died in 622 CE Buddhism was flourishing among the nobility. Buddhism gave Japan a writing system and a sophisticated philosophy that would inspire new forms of art and culture and shape Japanese society in many positive ways.
WrPart Two: Buddhism Takes Root and Gains Influence
By the mid seventh century C.E. Buddhism had firmly taken root in Japan. To facilitate the growth of the religion the imperial court sent delegations to Korea and China to obtain sutras. By this time there were a number of temples, religious orders, priests and icons in the capital and throughout the nation.
By the eighth century monks such as Saichō and Kūkai had established monasteries that became prominent centers of study. Both Saichō (767–822) and Kūkai (774–835) had studied in China and brought back sutras, teachings and ritual practices to Japan. Kūkai established a monastery on Mount Kōya and developed Shingon Buddhism. Shingon is one of the few surviving Vajrayana Buddhist lineages in East Asia, and today is a major denomination in Japan.
Saichō is the founder of Tendai Buddhism and his teachings would influence later monks such as Dōgen (Zen), Hōnen and Shinran (Pure Land) and Nichiren (Nichiren Buddhism). While in China Saichō copied and translated numerous sutras and brought these back to Japan with him.
Despite differences in theology, both Saichō and Kūkai supported one another in their efforts to spread Buddhism and develop their monasteries.
During this time Buddhism began to play a role in government; many powerful clans belonged to various denominations and Buddhist temples were both influenced by government and at the same time influencing government themselves. For example, the Tendai school was popular with the upper class and imperial court. As such it not only developed respect, but began to gain both military and political power.
Nor was this limited to just the Tendai school. Other forms of Buddhism competed for power and influence. At times this led to conflict among the denominations as well as conflict among different political factions. Unlike today, where Japan’s constitution enshrines separation of church and state, religion played a strong role in state affairs.
Written by Robert C. Piemme
Robert C. Piemme is an undergraduate student (international relations) and avid gardener, hiker and writer.