“When the administrative staff informed us that it was the 100th degree to be conferred, I thought it couldn’t have been otherwise. Each graduate has marked an important moment in our journey, but the fact that the hundredth dissertation was to be conferred precisely on Akie Otomo, was significant for us.” comments Judith Povilus, vice-president of Sophia University Institute, who accompanied the academic path of Akie Otomo and Yukie Ohi, two students of the Buddhist movement, Risshō Kōsei-kai, who have completed a degree in Foundations and Perspectives of a Culture of Unity. Yukie Ohi graduated in the summer semester last year, while on 11 February 2016 it was Akie Otomo’s turn. The success of her research was greeted by a warm applause emphasizing its appreciation by the whole academic community.
The subject of the thesis, a comparison between “The hoza in Risshō Kōsei-kai” and “the life of unity in the spirituality of the Focolare Movement”, matured in a climate of mutual listening and acceptance with the active involvement of the two professors who guided the student: Anna Pelli, Professor of Philosophy, and Antonella Deponte, Professor of Psychology. “The focal point is of great interest as it deals with two such diverse associations, the Risshō Kōsei-kai and the Focolare Movement, yet their pulse beats as one: communion. And this was accomplished by implementing two unique practices: on the one hand the hoza, which is characteristic of the “cycle of compassion”, whereby a group of people meet to share their personal problems and find mutual support in the light of the teachings of Buddha, and on the other hand, the “spiritual communion” guided by the words of the Gospel, which makes it possible for people to share their experiences and to walk together towards God.”
As the work progressed, it became increasingly clear that it could only be understood if channelled into the prophetic experience resulting from the meetings of dialogue between Nikkyo Niwano and Chiara Lubich, two eminent figures of the twentieth century: the first, the Buddhist founder and leader of Risshō Kōsei-kai, the only non-Christian observer at Vatican II; and the second, a Catholic woman who inspired a worldwide movement of spiritual renewal that speaks to the hearts of men and women of different faiths and cultures.
Over the years, many similarities have led them to work together effectively for peace and mutual understanding between people and nations, reaching the point of giving their own particular experience of faith. Among other things, the thesis documents the exchange of correspondence between them, citing some paragraphs which allowed the Japanese student to focus in a surprising way on some of the cornerstones of the culture of unity, which, in her views, open up dialogue and sharing.
“It was on this foundation,” says Professor Pelli, “that the intuition that guided Akie in her research took shape. In the process, each of us experienced the meeting point of that which is real dwelling in ourselves and the truth dwelling in the other; we discovered that this connection was something that in a certain way already belonged to us while at the same time it opened us up to broader perspectives. I am convinced that this experience is the fruit of being in this privileged place, at Sophia University, which strives daily to ensure that life and thought, intellectual pursuit and existential approach work towards a substantial converging towards the good, through the reciprocal gift of our diversity.”
“I am very grateful for the time I spent in Sophia,” Akie concluded in her presentation. “Not only have I come closer to knowing Chiara Lubich’s thoughts, which I appreciate so much, but also to get to know more deeply the life and message of Nikkyo Niwano. I wish to take ahead this research. I want to be more committed in my daily life so that through the contribution of all religions, we can bring about harmony, unity and peace in the world.”