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Message for the Peace Seminar “Inclusive Peacebuilding Locally and Globally” (University of Ulster, Belfast, April 10, 2013)

(University of Ulster, Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 10, 2013)

As founder of Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research and on behalf of the members of Soka Gakkai International in 192 countries and territories around the world, allow me to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on the convening of the Seminar: "Inclusive Peacebuilding Locally and Globally."

Today, April 10, 2013, marks the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. One day prior to the signing, on April 9, I had the opportunity to meet in Tokyo with then Deputy President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki. Reflecting on the intense efforts of the people of South Africa to overcome the legacy of hatred and pain caused by the apartheid system, my heart earnestly yearned for the successful conclusion of the Northern Ireland peace agreement in the face of the looming deadline. In our talks, Deputy President Mbeki and I explored the challenge of building societies where an ethos of peaceful coexistence prevails. My heart thus soared when I heard the news the next day that the agreement had been successfully signed on April 10 even as talks continued past the midnight deadline.

I offered prayers for the repose of all those who had fallen victim during the three decades of the Troubles, and I deepened my resolve as a Buddhist to continue to engage in the kind of dialogue and activities that might free the world of needless suffering and misery.

To rid the world of misery--this was the heartfelt desire of Josei Toda, second president of the Soka Gakkai and my personal mentor after whom the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research is named. Since its founding in February 1996, the institute has upheld Josei Toda's spirit as it has continued to organise conferences and workshops around the world in the quest for the resolution of conflict and the construction of durable peace. It has also promoted various research projects focusing on the global issues that threaten people's lives and dignity, such as poverty and environmental degradation.

On December 2, 1999, the day autonomous government was realised in Northern Ireland based on the peace agreement, the Toda Institute, together with Queens College City University of New York, organised the Human Security and Global Governance Northern Ireland Conference with the attendance of Senator George Mitchell and representatives of the different parties in Northern Ireland.

In a dialogue that I published with Elise Boulding, the renowned peace scholar noted that her late husband, Kenneth Boulding, had often compared peace culture to a small island afloat in a vast sea of war culture. But he was also confident that such small islands of peace would inevitably replicate themselves over and over. This is the hope which we must never relinquish or abandon.

I hold the most profound respect for the people of Northern Ireland who have chosen the path of building a culture of peace despite the many difficulties to be surmounted, including the psychological barriers caused by years of strife and the trauma of protracted conflict. The people of Northern Ireland have fulfilled the expectations of the Bouldings and other people of good will. You have shown us, through your example, just how a culture of peace can be realised. I laud the tenacity and perseverance of the people who refused to give up hope and continued to push forward, one step at a time, toward the goals of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, voiced his empathy and support saying, "We have long admired the people of Northern Ireland, who have endured much, and who, like our own people in South Africa, are now working together to build a new society." Your example is a source of immeasurable hope and encouragement to all who struggle to transcend conflictual divisions and the terrible sufferings of internal strife.

Three years ago, Professor Pauline Murphy visited Tokyo Soka School. As the school's founder I was deeply grateful for the incisive vision which she shared with the students: "The twenty-first century may be the most dangerous century of all. Unless we uphold correct values, human life will be endangered."

As she aptly indicated, now is the time to share this message with the people of the world and shift global trends away from a culture of violence and war toward a new culture of peace.

What, then, are the "correct values" that we should uphold as people living in the twenty-first century?

Fifteen years ago, the people of Northern Ireland were impelled to choose the path of reconciliation and sign the peace treaty by the heartfelt cry that the cycles of violence, terror and meaningless death must be broken. This yearning, arising from the depths of the human heart, is the foundation for building solidarity across differences of race, ethnicity, religion or culture. It must be underpinned by the universal value of our commitment to the inherent dignity of life.

In my annual proposal for peace this year, I shared the story of the demoness Kishimojin (Skt. Hariti) as it appears in the Buddhist scriptures. Kishimojin had an enormous number of children and was said to kill other people's children to feed her own. When her youngest and most cherished child was hidden from her, she finally came to recognize the nature of the pain she had inflicted on so many other parents. From that point on, according to the scriptures, she reformed her evil ways and resolved to make the protection of all children her mission.

What I wished to convey through citing this ancient tale is that when we empathise with the sufferings of others and share the resolve that no one should have to endure that pain, we are empowered to break even the most entrenched cycles of violence and hatred. I am sure these were the feelings that moved the mothers of Belfast, outraged at the senseless loss of three children's lives in a conflict-related accident in 1976. These mothers rose up in courage and solidarity to start to break the chains of hatred. This is the powerful example set by the people of Northern Ireland.

It is indeed meaningful that this seminar on "Peacebuilding in Divided Societies" is being held here in Belfast on the anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. I would like to express my heartfelt prayers for the success of your deliberations, for the further flourishing of Incore and the University of Ulster and for the continued good health and happiness of all in attendance.

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