world council of churches

A Commitment to Globalization to Promote Interfaith Dialogue
Yasutomo Sawahata

As the title suggests I would like to offer another aspect of the word globalization. I see the phenomenon globalization also as a potential in interfaith relations and dialogue. To begin with, I would like to share with you an experience which dates back some years. I have always been interested in Christianity, especially its peace and justice involvement and wanted to learn more. Eventually I found a Christian seminary in the US and got permission to study there. I was a bit concerned about how I would get along with the other students and with the faculty. After all, they were Christians, I was not.

Needless to say the other students were curious about this student, foreign in so many ways. They were wondering what I was doing in this Christian institution. However, they were all helpful, proofread my papers and organized a study group for me. When I was faced with intricate concepts in my study, e.g., the Trinity, eschatology, atonement, salvation, many friends supported me. I was moved by their kindness and generosity and asked myself about the teachings which may have prompted this kindness and openness.

I remember particularly how they responded to my inviting them for dinner as a token of thanks for their kindness and generosity. I was not at all sure that they would even show up. It was not self-evident to me that they would think of me as a close friend. I thought of them as my friends. They had gone out of their way to help me. I needed them, but did they need me? I was pleasantly surprised seeing so many accepting my invitation. We had a very good time together. It was a memorable evening.

Years later, I still think back to those days and realize that they gave me a key to understanding some of the fundamentals of the Christian faith, and not only as a theoretical phenomenon. I understand, through the example of my friends, what Christian love might mean. Together with people from the US, Mexico, India, Korea, the UK and other countries, with Protestants -- and among them so-called "conservative Christians" -- and Catholics, I was in the midst of a Christian globalization or a local "global community."

But in spite of this particular dimension of globalization, there are important differences. There are those who believe that there is only one truth. It goes almost without saying that they will not find it essential to relate to others as people of faith. Their position is exclusivist. In my opinion such an assertion leads to self-righteousness. My experience was however, that even those who seemed to be conservative or traditional Christians or Jews, appreciated that I spoke respectfully but honestly and frankly. The encounter with them in this way was not difficult. They may not have accepted my beliefs but we had begun talking with each other. Unless we begin to talk with the other, we cannot realize who they are.

Others are more open and inclusive and seem to accept your beliefs, but are adamant in presupposing that, in the final analysis, the truth is what they believe. There is an acceptance but it is wrapped up in self-righteousness. Again, there are others who will accept your way of religion and who expect you to do the same about their religion. They view the manifold of religion from a perspective of plurality. Each religion contains truth, the absolute, the ultimate reality, transcendence. There is an expression of acceptance and tolerance to others, allowing them their own identity.

Globalization is not one thing only, and cannot be reduced to one understanding alone. It is sometimes a positive phenomenon and sometimes a negative phenomenon. It is ambiguous. Globalization exists in us and we exist in globalization. In the secular society, it is obvious that the European countries, while accepting countries like Japan and Korea, provide the dominant cultural expressions and the languages used for communication. The pressure of globalization cannot be avoided in Japan. The Japanese way of life and thinking tends, especially among the young generation, to go the Western way; sometimes, they are not willing to maintain Japanese traditional customs. These aspects of globalization oblige us to rethink who we are and what we would like to be, so as not to give in to domineering and restrictive globalization with little space for diversity.

However, in terms of religion, globalization is not necessarily identical with this more secular form of globalization. Globalization is a reality in religious life. Many religions can be practiced in many places. Encountering other faiths is a way into globalization. As religious people we would do well to reflect upon the words of the president of Rissho Kosei-kai, Nichiko Niwano, who has said: "Cultivate a field of every person's mind and heart."

This expression has its origins in a dialogue between Sakyamuni Buddha and a Brahmin in one of the oldest Buddhist sutras called "Sutta-nipata." Sakyamuni Buddha first teaches that the first seed to sow in the cultivated field of the mind is faith itself. However, the seed cannot grow only by sowing. It needs water and sunlight. What does it mean to "cultivate a field of mind and heart?" The saying foresees that people become instruments of generosity and compassion, human beings with a warm and flexible heart. Such persons can respect every other person and every life, and eventually all forms of life. This is the way our spirituality is enhanced. And this is what I believe is the golden principle of Buddha's teachings.

Cultivating a field of mind and heart will lead towards an encounter in faith with people of other faiths. In 1965 the founder of Rissho Kosei-kai, Nikkyo Niwano, was invited as a Buddhist to meet Pope Paul VI. The pope said: "Christians shall pray for Buddhists and Buddhists shall pray for Christians from now onwards. Otherwise, there will be no way for religions to contribute towards world peace.

Mr Yasutomo Sawahata is a member of the Japanese Lay Buddhist organization RKK and serves in the external relations section in Tokyo.

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