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Interreligious Vedanta in Japan

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Interreligious Vedanta in Japan

مُساهمة من طرف شاعر في الخميس 13 سبتمبر 2012, 12:04 am

Interreligious Vedanta in Japan



This afternoon (May 30, 2010), starting from 14:00, there were two
significant events at Gotanda Seisen University: (1) "Golden Jubilee [of
the Japan Vedanta Society (JVS)] Celebration Closing Ceremony" and (2)
"Swami Vivekananda's 148th Birthday Celebration." Although I am not a
member of the JVS, thanks to another professor, I received information
about the celebration and was tempted by an invitation card. So
although at Sophia University, there were Sophia Alumni Day
celebrations, I opted to skip them and go to Gotanda. It took about 20
minutes from Yotsuya to Gotanda by train, via Yoyogi, and then about a
10-minute walk to the university. Surprisingly, there were a couple of
Seisen student volunteers at Gotanda station and a few other spots,
standing with a sign pointing to "Seisen University."

Thanks to
the invitation, I was given a VIP tag and led into the hall before the
'ordinary' crowd and given a preferential seat in front. Very soon the
hall was full (a few hundred guests) and the events began 15 minutes
late... perhaps to remind all that the events are 'Indian' and will
follow the "Indian timetable." Smile



The MC was a Japanese lady who spoke beautiful English and Japanese.
There were altogether eight 'talks' or 'discourses', one each by the
following: (1) Sr. Junko Shioya (Chair of the Seisen Managing Board),
(2) Swami Medhasananda (President of JVS), (3) Swami Smaranandaji (Vice
President, Ramakrishna Mission), (4)Rev. Takeo Okada (Catholic
Archbishop of Tokyo), (5) His Eminence H.K.Singh (Ambassador of India),
(6) Rev. Ryojun Sato (Buddhist Priest of Jodo Sect & Prof. Emeritus
of Taisho University), (7) Prof. Yasuji Yamaguchi (Professor of Meiji
University), and (Cool Prof. Tsuyoshi Nara (Vice President of JVS).
Fortunately, most spoke briefly. Prof. Sato spoke longest, and Prof.
Yamaguchi perhaps second longest. Being academics, they were perhaps
asked to give serious lectures. The non-academic VIPs were reasonably
brief.

The non-academic VIPs gave the general soft
salutations--with the usual words of thanks and pleasure at being
invited, etc.--mingled with a personal note of how they got involved in
Vedanta Society and how they happened to be there. The two Swamijis
gave a short history of the Vedanta Society's founding in Japan 50 years
ago, noting the role played by Vivekananda himself, who had been in
Japan and impressed everyone with his eloquence and wisdom, as he had
done at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. The Swamijis also
referred to the Japanese and Indian contributions, especially the
cooperation extended by the Indian Embassy and the several Ambassadors.
The Ambassador spoke briefly wishing all the best to the Society and
assuring support.



The Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo, Okada Takeo, was perhaps the most
misfitting among the group (for he was neither an Indian nor a Japanese
engaged in Vedanta research or acquainted with India, as every other
speaker sitting on stage was), but the most forthright and simple. He
confessed that he knew little about India or Hinduism and was reluctant
to accept the invitation, but was told to say 'anything' he wanted to
say, and so accepted the invitation. As he continued speaking, however,
he came across as extremely honest, spontaneous, plain, unassuming, and
impressive. He did refer to the general ignorance of the Japanese
about India and Indian religious thoughts--except for the great Buddha
and Buddhism. Few Japanese, he said, seem familiar with Hinduism, and
it was interesting to read about Hinduism in novels like Endo Shusaku's Deep River.
He recalled Mother Theresa and her example of universal love, and the
image of India as a poor or suffering nation, although currently
undergoing changes due to economic prosperity. The Archbishop also tied
up Indian poverty with the current Japanese situation asking the
audience if Japan is any better, especially morally, spiritually, and
psychologically--even as the population is graying and children are
rare. He referred to the nearly 30,000 suicides taking place in Japan
every year, and asked what contributions the Religions in Japan make to
alleviate such hopelessness among the population. Confessing his faith
in Christ and recalling Christ's commandments to love others as oneself,
he reiterated the obligations of all religions to work in harmony for
the alleviation of human suffering, which, he reminded all, was also one
of the major aims of the Buddha.

Rev. Ryojun Sato gave perhaps
the most academic paper, on "Buddhist Sangha and its Idea of
Co-living." He bagan humorously with the three Hindi words he learned
while he was in India in the early 1960s: pani 'water', kana 'food', and sona
'sleep'. He said he could get along well in India with only these
three words, but today the only word he would consider necessary for
survival is ... dharma. (Dharma is one of those 'magnet' words
of India that can attract to itself a variety of meanings such as
'duty', 'obligation', 'commitment', 'God's will', etc., etc., depending
on the exponent.) Elaborating Dharma and Buddhism, Rev. Sato stressed
the need to 'co-live' or live harmoniously with all beings (humans,
animals, and plants), recalling the ecological connection we all have
with everything around us.

Prof. Yasuji Yamaguchi, a
philosopher by profession, spoke of his beginnings in Western Philosophy
and how he remained unsatisfied and unfufiflled until he encountered
Eastern ideas in Sri Aurobindo's works. Since Sri Aurobindo
acknowledged Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Vivekananda as his
guides, Prof. Yamaguchi's talk was the most appropriate for the
occasion. Prof. Yamaguchi referred to various works of Sri Aurobindo,
citing key passages from Aurobindo's Life Divine and other writings.



After the talks, i.e., around 5:30, there were light refreshments--spicy
bits of crackers, a samosa with curried potato, a sweet laddu ball,
etc.--thanks to Mr Chandrani, a restaureteur in Tokyo. The audience was
then entertained from 6:00 by Santoor Pundit Shivkumar Sharma and
various other groups. Unfortunately I had to leave the great
performance around 6:30 and so I could only hear the first performance
of the Pundit. That was perhaps the first time I saw and heard Santoor,
a small boxlike 'portable piano' with 100 strings! The performer uses
two strikers (like chopsticks or unscrewed hands of thin scissors) to
tap the strings and produce sounds of three octaves!

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Vedanta, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda:

Vedanta:
'The end of Vedas', literally with reference to the last books of the
Vedic Canon, namely, the Upanishads [coming after a series of books
classified as Samhitas, Brahmanas, and the Aranyakas], and figuratively,
as the definitive end and purpose of all the Vedas (the Hindu/Indian
Sacred Scriptures). As the Vedas have no namable authors, the Vedanta
too is authorless, but there are several major exponents, the most
significant being the eminnet theologian-philosopher-mystic Sankara of
8th century. There are different versions and contradictory
interpretations of Vedanta. Currently in the West, perhaps Deepak
Chopra, the New Age and Hollywood Guru, is perhaps a well-known and
popular exponent.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836-1886): An
extrordinary Hindu sage, mystic, and teacher, who was not
'academically' learned, but whom great academics sought after to learn
from. Although a Hindu, he was most notable for sponsoring religious
harmony, interreligious dialog, and ecumenism, significantly much
earlier than the Catholic Church (which began its journey of
interreligious dialog only after the Second Vatican Council in the
1960s). Many are the minds that have been influenced by this little
man, who lived a simple life, seeking neither fame nor glory.

Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902):
If Ramakrishna were Jesus, Vivekananda would be St. Paul, or if
Ramakrishna were St. Ignatius, Vivekananda would be St. Francis Xavier. A
brash atheist and rationalist when young, he was touched by
Ramakrishna's sanctity and became his ardent missionary. He is most
notable for his eloquent and articulate presentation of Hinduism at the
First World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893), where he rebutted
counterarguments and impressed many with his magnanimous and rational
views. His International travels took him also to other countries like
Japan, UK, etc. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission on May 1, 1897
(perhaps on the model of Catholic Religious Orders?) to keep
Ramakrishna's messages alive. Although at times a sharp critic of the
West and Christianity, he essentially followed the lead of Ramakrishna
in exhorting people of all religions to live in harmony respecting each
other.

Ramakrishna Mission: While we
read frequently of Hindus who hate or injure non-Hindus, most Hindus
love peace with other religions, and Ramakrishna's contribution here has
been significant. In India, the Ramakrishna Mission often celebrates
Christmas inviting Catholic priests. In Japan, too, the Mission has
among its members a Jesuit Priest and perhaps several nuns and lay
Catholics.
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