Monday, Oct. 13, 1952

The Buddhist Corner

Imperturbable and serene, the ideal

man practices no virtue;

Self-possessed and dispassionate, he

commits no sin.

—Buddhist Sutra

Buddhism is one of the most pervasive of all religions, and theologically one of the most accommodating. In the 2,500 years since Gautama Buddha first preached his doctrines in India, they have spread over Asia like a billowing saffron robe. In the process, Buddhist doctrines have been porous enough to admit and blend with local beliefs, such as spirit-worship in Burma, Confucianism in China, and the ancestor worship of Japanese Shinto.

Bones—and the Atomic Age. To keep alive a sense of Buddhist unity, despite these local religious differences, 200 representatives of Asia's 150 million Buddhists (plus a few Buddhists from Europe and the U.S.) met last week in Tokyo's Nishi Honganji Temple for the second conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Sitting under a forest of multicolored* Buddhist banners, they opened with a special anthem:

In unity,

Nations with boundaries abolished, Welded in common by our Buddha, We come over mountains and oceans...

Then, while robed priests shook incense and chanted the Buddhist sutras, they bowed before a golden reliquary containing a fragment of Buddha's bones. In a welcoming speech, Prince Mikasa, Emperor Hirohito's youngest brother, told them: "I believe a new mission has been added to Buddhist circles all over the world—a mission to cope with the present atomic age."

Trying its best to cope, the conference passed resolutions calling for: 1) a ceasefire in Korea, 2) release of all Japanese war criminals, 3) repatriation of Japanese prisoners still held by the Russians, 4) the abolition of war toys throughout the world. Said Fellowship President Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera of Ceylon: "We earnestly call upon the world's leaders . . . quickly to pay heed to the teaching of Sakyamuni,* so as to attain a world of selfless concord."

The World & the Self. Speaking for the continental Buddhists, Dr. Malalasekera told his hosts: "If Japan is to rehabilitate herself, she must again seek her inspiration in Buddhism . . . Her people must renounce the easy, attractive ways of imitation . . . Will Japan be prepared to abandon her false friends, who will use her difficulties to promote their own interests, or join [the Buddhist nations] who are her spiritual kindred?""

This advice seemed a little too political for the self-effacing philosophy of classic Buddhism. Delegates took more kindly to a message from Dr. Daisetz Suzuki, Japan's great Buddhist scholar, now teaching at Columbia University. He wrote: "We know that the [world] situation is beyond our immediate control . . . But let us try to reserve a small corner somewhere on the surface of the earth where we Buddhists can form a nucleus for world survival . . . My idea is that the corner is one's individual self. For when this self is disciplined in the spirit of Buddha, free from all forms of hate and revenge, it naturally and inevitably expands and grows and by degrees spreads itself to cover the whole earth."

*Green for the Buddha's hair, yellow for his body, red for his blood, white for his teeth, and tan for his clothes.

*Another name for the Buddha.