Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

My thoughts in Delhi on India and Japan under the COVID-19 Pandemic
ANDO Yuka / Former Political Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs

March 15, 2022
While living in Delhi, India for two years and several months until last November, I was often taught what India and Japan have in common. Among others, I strongly felt the significance of our connection through Buddhism that was introduced to Japan from India, primarily via China.

Buddhism was born in the backdrop of Brahmanism which was based on Vedas, a group of religious texts, that developed into Hinduism after A.D.. Many Indians tend to view Buddhism, founded by Gautama Siddhartha, as a teaching derived from Hinduism. It was not rare to hear in Delhi the view that Buddhist teachings are a form of Hinduism despite the differences from Hindu teachings that adopt the caste system.

I often encountered Indians, especially Indian ladies, who would say when they found out that I’m Japanese, “I’m participating in the congregations of Soka Gakkai and following their teachings” or “I’m attending Soka Gakkai’s congregations as I find their teachings are wonderful as a guide of living daily life”. But when I asked them, “so you are a Buddhist, right?”, they replied with a quizzical look, “no, I’m Hindu”,. After several times I stopped asking the question. I was surprised to know that Soka Gakkai was active in India, but furthermore, I was impressed by the fact that the Hindu Indians don’t distance themselves from Buddhism as they see Hinduism and Buddhism have the same roots.

Japan, on the other hand, has a history of syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism, where Japan’s indigenous Shinto belief in polytheism integrated with Buddhism during the Nara Period around the 8th century. Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism were introduced to Japan with the arrival of Buddhism and strikingly they have become deeply rooted in the Japanese people; Shiva and Vishnu in Hindu have become Fudo Myoo and Vaisravana, for example.

It was the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the world from Wuhan, China at the beginning of 2020, which made me strongly aware of the historical Buddhist connection between Japan and India. Under one of the most stringent lockdown orders in the world which had been put in place all over India, I had a glimpse of how Indians viewed the question of life and death through exchanges with my friends in India spending their days at home during this period.

One of the most eye-opening comments was “while the Westerners are enthusiastic about exploring external existence, not only limited to the earth , but increasingly about the universe; we have a culture which emphasizes inner pursuit and exploration”. This friend of mine emphasized that there were many unexplained mysteries about the inner side of human beings and the unexplored universe within us; that meditation and pilgrimages of the Zen Buddhist monks and Indian Yogis (Yoga practitioners) were essentially the same as practices to pursue the inner side of human nature.

The Delta variant of Covid-19, which was highly contagious, started to wreak havoc in India in March 2021 and the number of new positive cases recorded several hundred thousand each day between April and May. The issue was that the number of serious cases and deaths ballooned, causing their healthcare system which had already been under serious strain, to collapse. I heard that this tragic situation in India was reported in Japan every day during this time. I felt as if the place were turning into a battlefield, as I started to hear stories of people dying because they couldn’t have access to oxygen cylinders.

I really keep wondering how they managed to avoid panic in such a dire situation. Of course, there were people who burst out in emotional protest over the critical conditions or deaths of their loved ones. But I cannot help but to feel that people in general, 1.3 billions of Indians, 24 millions in Delhi alone, accepting their respective plights, did the utmost they could do to protect themselves as they found themselves perilously close to death amidst the unprecedented pandemic. Somehow, I felt the inherent resilience of the Indian people, which the Japanese share, derived from their common quest for inner-self; a teaching of Buddha..

Yuka Ando is former Political Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

安藤 優香 / 元外務大臣政務秘書官

2022年 3月 15日



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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > My thoughts in Delhi on India and Japan under the COVID-19 Pandemic