Kyoto, 5 a.m. March 6—
I have often spoken and written about the importance of hospitality–about how hospitality is a spiritual practice. In the first two days of our visit to Japan I have felt as though I were attending a workshop in advanced hospitality. Our friends and partners from the Rissho Kosei-kai (RKK) have extended hospitality that is both touching and humbling.
First, a quick word about the RKK. They are a Buddhist religious movement founded in 1938. While the RKK is relatively new, its size dwarfs the UUA. There are about 6.5 million followers. The ties between between our two faiths go back to the 1960’s, when the founder of the RKK, Nikkyo Niwano, and Dana Greeley, the UUA’s first president, formed a friendship. Their collaboration led to much interfaith work, including the founding of the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
My visit, then, is an extension of a long partnership. You may recall that the Rev. Kosho Niwano, the president designate of RKK, spoke at our 50th anniversary celebration at GA in Charlotte last summer. I had made a very quick visit to RKK headquarters in Tokyo a year and a half ago while on my way to the Philippines and a conference in India (where I met the Dalai Lama, among other things!). I had been most impressed then and expected a gracious welcome.
However, I was not at all prepared for the welcome we have received. It began with being met at the airport by staff and and a van. I am traveling with my wife Phyllis and Dea Brayden of my staff. Not only has our every need been met, it has been anticipated. The level of detail of their preparations and thoughtfulness is breathtaking.
For example, upon arriving at their beautiful hall to participate in their Founding Day celebration, our car is met outside and we are escorted to a sitting room. Tea is brought immediately. We are given headsets that have an English simultaneous translation as we are taken to our seats. Later, as I am taken to a “green room” before speaking, a couple of volunteers appear immediately to help me take off my shoes and put on the slippers that are worn on stage. Tea is again served.
After the ceremony, we are whisked away to the main train station. Again, two RKK staff help us with our luggage and guide us through the maze of the station. They accompany us to our train and help us place our luggage in the car. They show us our seats. As the train pulls away, they stand waving smiling goodbyes on the platform.
The effect of all of this is powerful and unforgettable. This level of hospitality is so very far beyond politeness. It isn’t about me. Indeed, hospitality at this level is a way of extending a welcome to all UU’s. In a way it isn’t even about this journey. It is a way of honoring the friendship and collaboration of two traditions, a way of honoring the work of our predecessors and all who have followed. It is a way of expressing respect and of laying a foundation for the future. In a deep sense, you were being welcomed; you were being offered tea; you were being helped onto the train.
I also realize that we have much to learn from our RKK friends about taking ourselves seriously. The attention they give to beauty, to every detail of their environment and their celebration, is a way of affirming that their spiritual path is vitally important and is worthy of their very best. Hospitality is, after all, a spiritual practice. Attentiveness to detail can be a form of worship. We have so much to learn from our friends.
Cross-posted from Beyond Belief.