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Illuminating Humanity With the Light of Hope

Interview with Carlos Rubio

Carlos Rubio is a Spanish scholar, authority on linguistics and translation theory professor at Compultense University of Madrid, and translator of the Spanish edition of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. He assisted publication of Puerta Spanish-Japanese Dictionary and Crown’s Japanese-Spanish Dictionary. Dr. Rubio was awarded Japan’s Foreign Minister’s Commendations for his contributions to promote mutual understanding between Japan and Spain. Photo by Seikyo Press.

Today, Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism of the Sun is bringing the light of hope and happiness to people around the globe. In this interview, Dr. Carlos Rubio, chief editor/supervisor of the Spanish edition of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, and a scholar in philosophy and Japanese literature, shares his thoughts on the prominence and universality of Nichiren Buddhism. This interview was originally published in the January 1, 2019, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.

More than 10 years have passed since the publication of the Spanish-
language edition of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. We want to take this opportunity to thank you again for your invaluable contributions.

Carlos Rubio: It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years! I remember working on it like it was yesterday.

Translating this work was a formidable challenge; we had to respect the literary style, tone and sophistication of the original text while still making it accessible for contemporary readers.

At the same time, translating Nichiren’s writings was the most fulfilling experience—both spiritually and academically—in my 35-year career in Japanese and Spanish translation and lexicography.

There are an estimated 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide. Making the Spanish edition of The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin was like planting a single seed of peace and happiness into the vast earth of the Spanish-speaking world. I firmly believe that sooner or later this seed will sprout and bear beautiful fruit in people’s hearts and change society for the better.

Much has happened throughout the world over the last 10 years since this volume was published. But the teachings of Buddhism and Nichiren Daishonin’s philosophy are universal and timeless. The seed of peace and happiness in his words will never expire. So there is no need to be impatient or anxious if they are not sprouting right away.

The seed was planted in fertile soil, rich in people’s desire to seek answers to the vast array of issues that society and humanity at large is facing. I am sure the seed will bud at the best time and grow into a towering tree of spirituality for all.

Professor Rubio lectures at the “Humanism of the Lotus Sutra” exhibition held at the SGI-Spain Culture Center in Madrid, 2012. He asserted that the Lotus Sutra is an expression of humanism, and is the greatest and most profound universal philosophy for people living in the modern age. Photo by Seikyo Press.

What aspects of Nichiren Daishonin as an individual do you find interesting?

Dr. Rubio: For starters, I was intrigued by Nichiren’s courageous character and his refusal to succumb to power and authority.

Secondly, I was impressed by his philosophy and his initiative to carry out societal change.

I would say these two factors alone would appeal to young people today.

Thirdly, I was struck by his warmth and genuine humanism as a person.

His letters exude sincerity, warmth and intellect that transcend denominational differences and distinguish him as a towering figure in the realm of spirituality. I am probably not alone in saying that I feel a personal connection with Nichiren Daishonin.

These three universal qualities draw people to his humanity and his life, regardless of what country they are from.

Nichiren also declared that religion exists to transform society. This is a profound statement of truth.

Our society is grappling with many serious problems and challenges, stemming from social division and isolation to a lack of human-to-human communication due to an excessive dependency on technology.

Under these circumstances, I would imagine Nichiren Buddhism would make an excellent physician for ailing individuals. As we all know, a truly great physician will not hesitate to prescribe bitter-tasting medicine whether you like it or not.

In the Kamakura era, the political and religious authorities rejected the medicine that Nichiren Daishonin prescribed for all the suffering he witnessed. They proceeded to oppress the Daishonin with various tactics including the Tatsunokuchi Persecution.

We in contemporary society can learn a very important lesson from his example. That is, we must never remain silent in the face of evil or injustice. Also, Nichiren proved through his resolute actions that the role of religion should not be limited to discussions on the mysteries of life, preparing for death or to guarantee your eternal salvation.

In Japan, Buddhism traditionally served to bring stability to the authority of the state. In contrast, Nichiren said that religion exists to solve problems in the real world and to lead people to happiness. In other words, Nichiren’s admonitions to the highest authority of the state demonstrate his awareness of his mission and responsibility to his fellow human beings.

In the world today with pressing global issues, Nichiren’s example from 13th-century Japan is the model we need. His undying spiritual legacy spurs us to speak out fearlessly and take action to change society. For this I am truly grateful.

What aspects of Nichiren Buddhism stand out to you?

Dr. Rubio: I find Nichiren’s courage fascinating, especially considering the period in which he lived. Nichiren calls for awakening to one’s duty and responsibility to one’s society. It shines as a model of a nobler and higher spirituality.

I spent five years in Japan from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. While there, I learned that people in Japan value the collective and being able to work well with others. Maintaining harmony was paramount in group settings, so people would naturally adopt a nonconfrontational “public stance,” and carefully choose the right moment to express what they were really thinking.

I am not sure what Japan was like in the 13th century, but if the same social norms existed back then, Nichiren’s statements such as, “Even if it seems that, because I was born in the ruler’s domain, I follow him in my actions, I will never follow him in my heart” (“The Selection of the Time” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 579) would seem remarkably courageous and even shocking.

Nichiren’s teachings contain elements of progressive individualism, and it is no exaggeration to say that he was challenging society’s norms in the best sense of the word.

And not only did Nichiren say this, he left his ideas in writing, which makes them all the more significant.

Next, I found quite interesting his interpretation of the Buddhist principle “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.” T’ien-t’ai introduced this principle in his teachings, but Nichiren understood this to mean that all the phenomena of the universe (three thousand realms) exist within the life of an individual (single life moment).

When Abutsu-bo asked Nichiren what the appearance of the Treasure Tower signified, he replied, “Abutsu-bo is therefore the treasure tower itself, and the treasure tower is Abutsu-bo himself” (“On the Treasure Tower,” WND-1, 299). With such simplicity and directness, Nichiren conveyed the idea of the supreme dignity of the life of an individual.

To the lay nun Nichinyo the Daishonin writes, “Never seek this Gohonzon outside yourself” (“The Real Aspect of the Gohonzon,” WND-1, 832). He teaches her that one’s mind of faith is more important than religious formalities.

Not only his doctrinal interpretations but the personal relationships that he cultivated with each of his disciples and their correspondences are what I find most appealing in Nichiren Buddhism and its relevancy to modern times.

Unlike other pre-Lotus Sutra teachings that discriminated against women, the Lotus Sutra depicts a half-dragon girl who attained enlightenment without undergoing any change. This was truly remarkable.

Nichiren viewed men and women as equals. This egalitarian outlook is one of the reasons that this Buddhism has spread so quickly in the modern age when women’s rights are being recognized more than ever.

Please share your expectations for SGI’s peace movement.

Dr. Rubio: Even in Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, most people have a positive image of Buddhism, associating it with tolerance, respect, freshness and spirituality.

Unfortunately, many young people today are convinced that religion is antiquated and doesn’t offer solutions to real-life problems. Others are simply not interested in spirituality in a mass consumption-driven society.

I personally believe that Nichiren Buddhism’s universal message to become actively involved in solving global issues is exactly what we need to fill this spiritual void in society and in the hearts of people.

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