As the New Year Begins

I wish you a very happy and peaceful year.
I am truly grateful that we are able to celebrate the New Year together at a time when there is much to be alarmed by in our communities and around the world.
On December 1, as 2007 neared its close, the Center held a most successful 2nd Gunma Regional Conference on Lifelong Integrated Education. In the last month of the same fiscal year, on March 22, we will hold the 6th Shizuoka Regional Conference.
I see great significance of the fact that the steering committee chairpersons of the two conventions were both born after the World War II. I take the meaning with gravity that the postwar generation take responsibility for organizing these events when a growing proportion of people belong to the generations reared during the years of plenty since the war.
Our Founding Director General Mrs. Yoshiko Nomura, who lived through the Showa era (1926-1989) that covered the prewar, wartime, and postwar years, constantly talked to us of what she believed were the most important considerations for us as human beings. The great thing was that she persevered even when we often failed to comprehend the depth of her message.
Only when Mrs. Nomura left us did we of the postwar generation gradually understand the importance of what she had been telling us. I think it is with a sense of gratitude for her precious teachings that members of our generation have begun to take initiatives in every region. This is the meaning of the two prefectural conferences.
I cannot help but feel how very difficult it is "to inherit" in the contemporary age.
For example, those who have experienced war would more easily understand the depth of the meaning of peace. Mrs. Nomura was trying to convey to us this very deep meaning of peace without having to experience war.
She repeatedly told us, "I don't want you to be unhappy.
I don't want the children of the future to be unhappy. That is why I want you to understand the meaning of peace in this time of peace. Any sacrifice we can make for this purpose is not a sacrifice." It took time but I believe her message gradually reached us.
What I feel strongly is the heavy responsibility those of us born since the war have to pass on this message to the next generation who know even less than we do about the preciousness of peace.
At the beginning of last year, I talked of the important and fast-disappearing values of "earnestness", "integrity" and "diligence" which were used to describe the disposition of the Japanese people in the past.
These were the spiritual values we were taught at the Center, and it was with these that I held the 9th International Forum on Lifelong Integrated Education. Last year I shared with you what Bogdan Bogdanov and Yordan Borisov of Bulgaria and Laila Takkash of Palestine had said to me at the Forum: that they dealt with people in a casual way because that was how others treated them. But they met Japanese people at the Forum who took them seriously and related to them with sincerity. They told me they decided they would do the same on returning to their countries.
This was wonderful proof that when we relate to people, especially younger generation, just as we have been treated and cultivated, the message could be passed on to others.
It made us feel that here was something we could contribute and give to the world.
On the other hand, at the end of the year the Chinese character chosen to best describe the state of Japan in 2007 was "deceit" or "falsehood." This was indeed heartbreaking. What had become of us?
But I take this issue from quite a different angle.
What we have tried last year was to make the hidden reality of our consciousness come to the surface. While we have tried to delve into ourselves in every day life context, the long hidden reality of society now have been revealed. I think this process might be the self-purification.
The New Year started with such terrible news from Pakistan and Kenya and many other parts of the world. What alarmed me even more was the report by scientists that global warming was proceeding at a much faster pace than we had estimated. There were quite a few programs on global warming on TV this new year's holidays and the mass media carried many troubling reports about the global environment, which is truly a very serious problem.
The Arctic icecap is diminishing dramatically. Since 1978 we have had the benefit of satellite observations of the area. In the last thirty years, one third of the icecap has already melted. The process has been rapidly accelerating since 2002. It was predicted a few years ago that the Arctic would be iceless in 2100. Now they say 2030. In twenty years or so there will be no more ice in the Arctic Ocean.
The region serves as the center of a circular pattern in which warm sea currents flow into the Arctic Ocean, where the water is cooled and then returned, thereby stabilizing the earth's temperature. The lack of Arctic ice means that the warm currents will no longer be cooled or follow the same circular pattern. The result will be a disruption of the ecological system, thereby greatly effecting the survival of the human race.
When we learn about such things it is natural for us to fear for our own survival, isn't it? But what is actually occurring is the competition among the great powers for ownership of deep sea resources such as petroleum and natural gas and who foresee advantages in the possibility of an open passage through an iceless Arctic Ocean. This is despite the dire warning by scientists that the loss of glaciers could result in a few decades in a rise of ocean levels that could cause the serious climate change, drastic environmental change and the extinction of thousands of plant and animal species.
Even when we are facing the pressing challenge of whether or not our earth can let all living creatures live, we are still competing to claim ownership of the planet's resources. It is so easy for us to say, "Well, that's a problem to be solved at the national level." No. This is "a human problem."
I think what seems far removed from our daily lives can be understood better if we said it is like arguing who is winning and who is losing, or who has a higher or lower social status, forgetting all about being thankful for "our very existence." It is the lack of a sense of crisis, even when exposed to dire risk, that I want us to face and work on.
And the other issue I would like to highlight is the prevalent so-called "me-generation" among younger people. Even a trivial matter appears to frustrate some to the point where they will stab others. It seems to me that we face a double phenomenon: the destruction of humanity and that of the planet that can be seen to be reflections of each other. That is to say, this self-centered "me-ism" is bound to lead to our destruction.
"I cannot live without being connected with others," but we think we can live on our own. Unless we could overcome this contradiction, there would be no way for humankind to survive.
I am able to think in this way only because our Founder has taught me that all living things are made to live according to the law and order of nature, in theory as well as in their practical application in our lives.
Mrs. Nomura has bequeathed the precious truth to us in "The Principles of Nomura Lifelong Integrated Education." What a great gift this was: Because of this, even before we know its meaning in the depth of its term we are creating harmony where there was discord among us. Therefore we should not waste our time in deepening our realization that there can be no such thing as happiness only for oneself.
Mrs. Nomura told us: "the greatest contribution we can make to humankind is to further the cause of peace." She also said: "I believe the cultural contribution has the greatest priority."
Because of the present urgency of environmental issues, Japanese society during the Edo era (1603-1867) is often cited as a perfect example of a self-sustaining society. Reading an article by Mr. Eisuke Ishikawa during the New Year holiday I learned that during that period ninety-nine per cent of power was provided manually; that agriculture, which was then the largest industry, was powered by man; that human and animal waste were used for fertilizer; and that a society dependent on manpower required high levels of skill and physical strength.
We tend to see such a society as inconvenient. What the author is pointing out is that it was 200,000 years ago that mankind evolved as homo sapiens, and that it is only 30,000 to 50,000 years since humans developed a physique very much like ours. He is saying that our bodily design is 30,000 years old, and that the Edo period provided just about the level of convenience suited to our bodies.
If somewhat more modern than the Edo period, Japanese society up to around 1955 still enjoyed a sustainable way of life, with per capita energy consumption one fifth to one tenth of what it is today.
In those days there was no such thing as the so-called metabolic syndrome that today is not confined to adults but effects children too. In other words, the so-called lifestyle diseases have emerged from around the late 1950's when mechanical civilization developed beyond providing convenience. Reading this article made me wonder if excessive convenience was not a cause of our ill-health.
This brings me back to what Mrs. Nomura has bequeathed to us in her Principles of education: the very essence of the spirituality of the Japanese people that she has patiently helped us discover.
The spirit is invisible, formless and intangible.
In a result-oriented society such as ours, the only things that matter are visible results. She challenged us to experience the rebirth of that invisible spirit. How difficult it must have been for her in such a context.
I strongly believe that we should be awakened to it to the depth what she meant. We must realize with deep gratitude how with good faith Mrs. Nomura constantly inquired and challenged our consciousness without ever giving us up.
I look forward to starting the New Year with all of you, mindful that the survival of humankind and the planet earth rests on the renaissance of our invisible, formless and intangible spirit, and in trying to be connected with others in this spirit and sharing this understanding with as many people as possible.

(New Year Address, January 8, 2008)
Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education
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