Will the 11 March earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-plant accident cause the Japanese people to re-evaluate their society and re-consider the balance between spiritual and material things? What role does religion have in this environment?
These were some of the questions considered at a 10 October interfaith symposium in Tokyo called 'Thinking about Natural Disasters and Religion: Looking for Another Way of Living,' supported by several Buddhist groups and the Japan Religion Coordinating Project for Disaster Relief - writes Hisashi Yukimoto.
Spiritual-material balance is the key for building a new civilisation following the 11 March disasters, said Ahangamage Tuda Ariyaratne, leader of Sri Lanka's Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement,a Buddhist-based relief and development organisation centered on small communities.
"The role of religion should be mainly to help us ... to overcome three evils we have: our greed, our ill-will, and our ignorance ... Religions should teach us not to be greedy, not to be angry, not to be selfish," said Ariyaratne.
"Japan is in a great situation to give the leadership to the world in the right kind of economics, right kind of politics, right kind of education, right kind of help, right kind of social organisation, because a new civilisation has to emerge after this terrible disaster," said Ariyaratne, whose home country was hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
"We can build a new world based on communities," said Ariyaratne, whose movement has worked with 15,000 villages in Sri Lanka for 53 years.
His view was echoed by Sokyu Genyu, a Japanese Buddhist priest and award-winning author from Fukushima, where the Daiichi nuclear plant was crippled by the tsunami. "I strongly feel that the government and prefectural governments do not protect people," he said.
"I think that we must close ourselves to the huge system of globalised economy as represented by nuclear power plants through small-scale, local autonomy," he said. "Religious communities should think that economy is not just about cash value."
Seiken Sugiura, a Buddhist lawyer and former justice minister who experienced the devastation of World War II, said that Japan is at a turning point following the disaster. "The Japanese should take it as an opportunity to reconsider the affluent society. And I believe that Japan will recover for certain," he said.
Sr Yoshiko Takagi, a Catholic sister of the Society of Helpers, shared her experience of being accepted by a bereaved wife of a victim of the 11 March tsunami. "I think it is difficult to take what one does not experience as his or her own," said Takagi, who lived through the 1995 Kobe earthquake. "Sympathising with people's pain, sadness and negative aspects even though he or she does not experience them is how religion should be."
"Different levels of reactions to disaster cannot be helped. But the role of religion should be to fill in that [difference]," said Takagi, professor at the Institute for Grief Care at Sophia University in Tokyo.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]