We now live in the 21st century.
The great image of the Buddha carved into the sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan in Afghanistan was destroyed by the Taliban during March of the first year of this century. And just half a year after that, on September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed, almost as if signaling that this will be a most terrible century.
The 20th century was a time during which our material culture developed at a astonishing rate because the peoples of our world sought a happier life. And yet, because of ruinous world wars unprecedented in history that have taken place twice, it was also a most calamitous century.
The environment has become an acute problem because of the destruction of nature, particularly during the latter part of the 20th century. We have the problems of indiscriminate killings, murdering people for their insurance, mistreatment of children, bullying among school children,… the list can go on and on, all pointing to the fact that we as a society have lost our hearts.
There are also the problems of terminal care, and dying peacefully and with dignity. Because of the great advances in the life sciences, we now have problems regarding the ethics of prolonging lifem and stem-cell research.
The ideal of a materialist culture has collapsed because of these problems, and at least in Japan, the 21st century is considered to be a period of the heart – when what was lacking in the 20th century must be brought back into our culture. In Japan, there is now a slight regret for having hidden within the shadow of a materialist culture, and I believe this is a period during which we must turn our eyes to religion – true religion – in order for true happiness to be experienced by the peoples of the world.
Religions can be defined in many different ways. And because there are so many religions, it can also be said that there are many ways of expressing what religion is. I believe true religion is what confers peace and tranquility, and teaches us how to live correctly. Further, I believe the teaching of Jodo-Shinshu that the Venerable Master Shinran (1173-1263 CE) taught is a true religion that combines both these aspects.