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2021 Peace Proposal(Part 2 of 13 Segments)" target="_blank">Value Creation in a Time of Crises

January 26, 2021

Shakyamuni uses this parable to encourage his disciples who have a tendency toward intellectualizing and theorizing on matters that actually affect human life.

The renowned 20th century religious scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-86) brought attention to this parable, Keenly observing that Shakyamuni’s teachings were not aimed at providing a systematic philosophical theory. Eliade positioned Shakyamuni’s teachings as a kind of medical treatment to heal human suffering. And indeed, Shakyamuni was wholly committed to removing the poisonous arrow; other words, removing the underlying causes of people's suffering. the living origin of what we know as the teachings of Buddhism is Shakyamuni’s ardent concern voiced in various settings and occasions.

Nichiren (1222-82), who expounded and spread the teachings of Buddhism in 13th century Japan based on the Lotus sutra which expresses the essence of Shakyamuni’s teachings, described their power as being like “oil added to a lamp or a staff presented to an elderly person.” In other words, Shakyamuni did not deploy superhuman powers to save human beings; rather, he dedicated himself to offering the people with whom he engaged the kind of words that would help them reveal the strength and potential already existing within their lives.

This same spirit animates the Buddhist teachings of Nichiren, who stressed the crucial importance of taking action to eliminate suffering and despair. His treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land” was written against the backdrop of a series of natural disasters, famine and widespread epidemics that tormented the people of Japan. It issued from his profound desire to eradicate human misery.

Three calamities and seven disasters

These catastrophes are described in various Buddhist sutras.

There are three greater calamities of fire water and wind, which are said to destroy the world, and three lesser calamities of high grain prices or inflation (especially that caused by famine), warfare and pestilence, all of which threaten human society.

The seven disasters differ slightly according to the source, but they include war, foreign invasion and natural disasters. Nichiren (1222-82) Combined these two different types of catastrophe in a single phrase to describe the disasters besetting Japan in his time.

In another of his writings, Nichiren describes the intense suffering of the people of Japan, afflicted by one disaster after another, as follows:

In this way the three calamities in the seven disasters have continued for several decades on end, and half the people have been wiped out. Those who remain are parted from their parents, their brothers and sisters, were their wives and children, and cry out in voices no less pitiful than those of autumn insects. Family after family has been scattered and destroyed like plants and trees broken down by the snow of winter.

It was during such an age of turmoil that Nichiren continued to offer people encouragement seeking to illuminate a society darkened by chaos and confusion with the light of hope.

Nichiren, who was repeatedly persecuted and exiled by the ruling authorities as a result of remaining steadfast to his beliefs, would often write letters to his disciples and in effort to impart courage, even while he was physically separated from them. On one occasion, he wrote the following words to a female disciple who had lost her husband:

Your late husband had an ailing son and a daughter. I cannot help thinking that he may have grieved that, if he were to abandon them and leave this world, his aged wife, as feeble as a withered tree, would be left alone, and would probably feel very sorry for these children.

And yet, he writes, “winter always turns to spring”. Through these words, Nichiren sought to convey the following message of encouragement: At present, you may be overwhelmed by despair as if the icy winds of winter were pressing upon you. But this will not continue forever. Winter never fails to turn to spring. I urge you to live out your life with courage and strength. Before concluding this letter, Nichiren that she should rest assured that he would always watch over her children, bringing the warm light of spring to this woman for whom time had stopped, her life frozen in winter as a result of her husband's death.

In this way, Nichiren entrusted his words with the task of conveying his heart to his reader. Traversing physical distance, his words, when read, would come alive, becoming firmly engraved in the life of the recipient.

Though our present circumstances differ from those Of Nichiren’s time, the widespread disorder brought about by this pandemic has taken many people to the edge of despair, sensing that their lives have come to an abrupt stop and finding themselves suddenly without any means of livelihood, unable to envision the future.

If a person in this state is forced to shoulder the burden of their sufferings alone, without the support of a social safety net or personal connections, their world will remain bleak. As soon as someone takes notice of their situation and reaches out to them, however, and they feel the warm and attentive light of others illuminating their circumstances, I believe it becomes possible for them to bring forth the strength needed to rebuild their lives and regain a sense of dignity.

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