Reflections on “Buddhist Hate Speech”

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Posted on September 20, 2010

Bill Aiken
Director of Public Affairs
Soka Gakkai International-USA

In a lecture delivered on July 11, 2010, Yuzui Murata, Chief Priest of the Nichiren Shoshu Myosen-ji Temple launched a vicious attack on the Abrahamic faith traditions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam), calling them “truly erroneous” and blaming them for the “sufferings and uncertainties which seem to be multiplying in this country and throughout the world.”

I believe that it is fair to engage in open religious dialogue and to rigorously examine the beliefs that we hold; that religious beliefs like all other ideologies can be debated and discussed in the free marketplace of ideas. But I find Murata’s remarks to be unacceptably disrespectful in their tone and overly simplistic in their content. By characterizing only the most extreme expressions of other-dependency found in some Abrahamic traditions, he fails entirely to recognize the diverse expressions of these traditions some of which are deeply compassionate and humanistic.

Maybe he thought that by criticizing other religions he would be more like Nichiren Daishonin. After all, wasn’t Nichiren critical of the dominant teachings of his day? This is sad indeed! The Daishonin’s efforts to differentiate and establish his teachings arose from a profound compassion for the people of his day. His boundless sense of responsibility and wisdom led him to the means he chose. To simply parrot Nichiren’s words without a similar compassion, wisdom or sense of responsibility is nothing but empty fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, Murata’s “us vs. them” fundamentalism is old news both in the world of religion and (sadly) in the world of Nichiren Shoshu. Indeed his speech is all too consistent with the demonizing of Islam by the head of the sect’s New York temple in the days following September 11, 2001. And his words resonate well with the Nichiren Shoshu priest from Argentina who referred to (Roman Catholic nun and Nobel Peace Laureate) Mother Theresa as “the devil incarnate”.

We live today not in feudal Japan where the state determines the status of religion, but in a democratic, pluralist society where people of all faiths and cultures need to live side-by-side with a sense of mutual respect. Of course, as we reach out to friends who are suffering it makes sense – in the spirit of compassionate Buddhist dialogue – to point out how attachment to certain viewpoints (like extreme other-dependence) can deepen or prolong suffering, and help them experience how practice based on a deep conviction in their inherent Buddha nature will enable them to break through their suffering. But without a real sense of respect for the other – indeed bowing to their innate Buddha nature – abstract speeches like Murata’s that characterize other people’s faiths as “truly erroneous” are themselves truly out-of-touch, and only fan the flames of separation and mistrust. Indeed it is just this type of rigid fundamentalist thinking that really lies at the heart of many of the sufferings and uncertainties facing the globe.