When we try to imagine what our world will be like in the future, we tend to have grand dreams and hopes. We wonder how society will change, what daily life will be like. Yet as we see from the fast pace of life today, society is already undergoing a dizzying transformation.
We recently greeted the arrival of the twenty-first century. We know that the dawn of a new century does not mean that the world will greatly change, but still we cannot help hoping the future will be brighter.
When we look around us today, however, we see a world plagued by destruction of the natural environment, acid rain, an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases creating the greenhouse effect, a worsening population explosion, the depletion of our fossil fuel resources, and the arms race. The bright future that we envision is dimmed by these perilous conditions that spell danger not only for the human race but also for our planet itself, and we are forced to contemplate a bleaker future.
Scientific progress has improved our quality of life, making it more pleasant and convenient. Yet our incessant desires drive us in pursuit of even greater pleasure and convenience, and we are now about to permanently damage the global environment, on which our very survival depends.
Many countries are adopting measures to protect the environment, such as developing technologies to prevent pollution and undertaking projects to arrest desertification. But destruction of the environment is proceeding faster than we imagine, and the problems besetting our environment are more serious than we think.
When we trace environmental problems to their source, we always come to the way in which people live. In that it teaches us to live in a way that allows us to solve these problems, religion will play a vital role in the future.
To live in harmony with nature, it is important that we accept the universal truths that are acknowledged by all religions and follow the teaching of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, that we should be satisfied with little. When every member of the human race recognizes this, the global environment will be preserved in true harmony and a peaceful world supported by trust will be built. That is why the twenty-first century is expected to be a century of religion, in which the task of consoling and comforting those who suffer will fall to religious believers.
The universal truths that Buddhism teaches as guides for living can be summed up in the two statements "All things are impermanent" and "All things are interrelated." The tenets of Buddhism can also be epitomized as teachings on life and death--the unalterable reality that everything that lives must die. In his great compassion, the Buddha teaches us to live our lives in a meaningful way, so that we regret nothing.
The way we go about living differs according to whether we truly consider the meaning of life and death or ignore it; thus our lives naturally differ, too. If we think deeply about life and death, we realize that our own existence is the product of an immeasurable chain of ancestors and that we live each day dependent on both a vast number of other people and our global environment. Though we may think we live by our own efforts alone, life is in fact a gift. As we deepen our awareness of this, we recognize the dignity of life and the marvel that all living beings coexist with one another's help.
When we view life in this spirit, we realize that true happiness and peace of mind are achieved through not desiring too much, through being satisfied with what we have, through not thinking only of ourselves, and through serving others (what Mahayana Buddhism terms "the bodhisattva practice"), so that eventually we wish to serve others and undertake bodhisattva practice of our own accord. For Buddhists this realization entails not only cultivating and practicing a way of seeing and thinking that allows us to live as human beings should but also sharing this realization with those who have not yet had the opportunity to encounter the teachings of the Buddha, so that they too may find happiness.
The people of the world are now seeking religion. Religious believers must hear their urgent cries and respond, working as hard as possible. Such efforts also contribute to the discovery of our own purpose in life.
It will take a long time to restore the global environment, learn to live once again in harmony with nature, and build trust among all human beings. Yet if we only look on and wring our hands, nothing will improve in the least; we will simply move further along the road to destruction.
When people are driven by necessity, they finally awaken to reality and seek truth. It is important that those who awaken act. With faith and commitment, they must awaken the same faith and commitment in others in every part of the world. For Buddhists, this means that all of us, as individuals, must pray for peace as we devote ourselves to spreading our faith, fostering interreligious cooperation, and fulfilling our daily responsibilities. We must go forth to light the lamp of the Buddha's teachings in the heart of one person after another.