Short Theological Presentation

Buddhist Perspective on the Child

I am a priest from Jodo-shu, the “Pure Land” school of Japanese Buddhism. Japanese Buddhism is extremely diverse; in Jodo-shu, we focus on Amida Buddha, and our goal is to go to the pure land of ultimate bliss.

Buddhism pursues “awakening to the truth,” and Jodo-shu shares this aim. Since it is very difficult for human beings to reach that state, Jodo-shu teaches a two-stage path to enlightenment: Amida Buddha first helps us reach the pure land of ultimate bliss, where all people can live in peace, and then each person attains Buddhahood there.

As a Jodo-shu priest, I have very deep connections with the path of non-violence espoused by Honen, who founded the school 800 years ago when he discovered the power of Amida Buddha to save all human beings without any discrimination. As I practice this same faith every day as a priest, I think of peace and how human beings ought to be. This has led me to be an active proponent of child rights, and I have worked very hard to see the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child embraced in my sphere of influence.

Within Japanese Buddhism, different people perceive children in different ways. For instance, some say that children who die young are victims of bad karma from a former life and will not attain enlightenment because they are not mature practitioners of Buddhism yet. Fundamentally, however, I believe that Buddhism teaches us to pursue enlightenment while practicing acceptance of the way things are. In that sense, a child is a child: not merely a being “in the process” of someday becoming an adult. A child is neither inferior to an adult, nor just a “not-yet adult.” The existence of the child itself is fully precious as it is. One saying we have in Jodo-shu says that children have already achieved salvation, which I believe reflects the essence of our thinking.

I think this perception of the child overlaps with all the United Nation’s human rights treaties including the CRC and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Japan today, children face bullying, abuse, truancy, social withdrawal, poverty, and health issues caused by chemical substances. As Buddhists, we seek to identify the structural causes of these issues and resolve them.

In doing so, we must not forget that children are the protagonists. Of course, we should help and protect them, but the idea of the child as protagonist is often neglected in Japan. Too often, the common perception in Japan sees children as subjects of discipline, teaching, and control from above. This is a major problem, but the main source of children’s travails in Japan today is the same mechanism causing Japan’s other social problems, which is giving economic growth priority over human life and dignity.

I hate to say it, but we must admit that religious values are losing in Japan. Despite the recent terrible disasters, the idea that economy comes before life still holds sway. Simply put, the answer to this is putting ethics before power. I believe that Buddhists today in Japan must proactively reach out to the entire society to encourage ethical respect for human dignity.

In the same spirit as the CRC, these ideas can be shared not only among Buddhists, but also Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and many other people of faith. That should be our goal in this 21st century. As people of faith, we must genuinely draw on the power that rests in the human heart to build societies where life, dignity and awakening to the truth come first.