Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 83/Apr. 15, 1998


Okochi Hidehito
(Ayus Buddhist International Cooperation Network)

The - Life - Network
The Buddhist International Cooperation Network, Ayus, was established in 1993 by a group of monks of several Buddhist sects active in peace movements and international cooperation programs.
Ayus is a sanskrit word which means - life - . Human life as well as all life existing in nature are mutually interlinked and dependent on each other. This Buddhist concept aims at creating a global society of coexistence and co-prosperity.
Ayus, in solidarity not only with Buddhists but also with other citizens, NGOs and various other groups, is dedicated to ecological, development and human rights issues.

Ayus: NGO Assisting Other NGOs
Our age is characterized by exchanges at global levels and by pluralistic value systems. These days, non-government organizations (ngos) have become the focus of expectations, overpassing national frontiers and the barriers of political administrators, as the true moving force of our age.
Although such organizations started to produce good results and have been, at last, recognized in Japan, their existence is still precarious and weak. It is there where Ayus decided to support Japanese NGOs, focusing mainly on “training persons” who are the key to the continuation and development of the NGOs.
At the zenith of bubble economic activities with an increase of so-called international contributions, Japanese NGOs were receiving lots of public and private funds. The trend at the time was the funding of projects which received wide public coverage and were materially visible. Since there were no funds available for salaries and administration costs that promote those activities, the personnel staff worked as volunteers. As a result, the staff, well trained in expertise did not remain long in the organization, and the invaluable experiences obtained got lost. On top of that, unless the administrative qualities of the staff match the size of the projects undertaken, not only resources and the good will of people get lost, but as one can often hear and observe in the field visits, there are contrary cases of negative results. Ayus desires a healthy development of Japanese NGOs and helps them to maintain a good staff, in order to strengthen their organizations.
Linking With the World Through the NGOs
There are today many Japanese NGOs conducting all kinds of activities throughout the country. The carefully thought out simple activities of grass-rooted people, conducted by relationships of deep trust, are not the result of text books or of mass media coverage; nevertheless, they transmit true human images to us. In general, they might be dealing with unattractive and unpopular issues, but they make us aware of large existing problems. Through them, one can meet truths that otherwise are impossible to be observed from the `high` attitudes of the industrial countries or of the providers of aid. We must accept that, as a result of our profit-led activities to try to sell our goods everywhere and to collect the resources of the world to use and throw them away, that the problems of poverty and wars, violations of human rights and the destruction of the environment are our own personal problems.

People`s Empowerment

NGOs and non-profit organizations (NPOs) are in much request nowadays, but the Japanese who continue actively and consciously involved in them are still few in number.

Ayus, by activating the social functions of Buddhists and temples, has decided to support basically those organizations.
We desire not only quantitative growth but also qualitative betterment of those groups. Most people are not able, perhaps, to participate directly in their activities, but by watching the activities of NGOs with warm interest and critical eyes they could help NGOs to engage in relevant self-criticism so that they enjoy a healthy growth in society. This is why Ayus gives weight to activities which help citizens promote solidarity with NGOs.
This does not mean an attitude of telling people, from above, what to do. Their motto is to be “facilitators”, to help people start activities by themselves, so that they look at social problems as their own concern, and reflect by themselves on the remedies they should take. By “global citizens” we usually mean those persons with international links who make social contributions with awareness and responsibility. This is also in the line of Buddhist `satori` or enlightment. These are the persons who, as leaders at community levels, increase the possibilities to solve social problems and bring about self-reliance and peace.
Concept of Buddhist Volunteer Spirit
A volunteer, according to Ayus thinking, is not a person who provides his/her cheap labor to fill in cracks left by the administration, or a person looking for his/her own satisfaction. Volunteers look for the true nature of the problems and promote movements oriented towards social reforms.
They should start by getting involved in the problems. They should take the side of the weaker (the people) and not the strong side of the system. They begin by experiencing problems of suffering. Then, they move to reflect on the structures and the mechanisms concerning those issues. At such a stage it is important that the local people search for solutions appropriate to the culture of that region. When volunteers join the local people in doing this, they gain strong trust and understanding from them. Experienced volunteers know quite well that methods coming from above or from outside will not last. On the other hand, outsiders with a different culture telling the people: “The real problem is this” or “You must do this and that” are missing the point and doing a meaningless job. At the same time, it is irresponsible and arrogant to take for granted that we can not do anything or that we do not have anything to do with that situation or problem.
Precisely, those volunteers rich in work experiences with NGOs show us the face of Buddha and famous Buddhist saints.

Ayus` Image of NGOs

There are many opinions concerning NGOs, their activities and organizational shapes. Groups working for welfare, groups with religious or political backing, etc. The following are the criteria by which Ayus judges citizens` NGOs and supports them.

  1. - Are they aware of the structural issues concerned to give basic solutions, or do they just conduct welfare activities?
  2. - Do they care for the weaker people there, and do they aim at self-sufficiency of the locals in the long run?
  3. - Do they, in their activities, aim at a deep awareness of the Japanese social situation?
  4. - Is their organization open enough to look for the participation and understanding of as many as possible?
  5. - Are they socially accountable so that they try to strengthen their operations and management?
  6. - Do they have an attitude of cooperation and dialogue with other groups and in fields besides their own?
Ayus` Main Programs
Bsed on the criteria mentioned above, Ayus performs the following programs
  1. - Support of NGOs
    • financial assistance for the salaries of the staff of Japanese local NGOs
    • financial assistance for staff training
    • financial assistance for evaluation of projects
  2. - Development education programs
    • development of educational material
    • study tours
    • providing lecturers

Ayus Assistance to North Korea
Following our collaboration with the campaign to ban landmines last year, we continue working together with Catholics and Protestants in the campaign of food assistance for North Korean citizens.
Ayus is convinced that the situation of hunger in North Korea is an urgent problem and something must be, immediately, done.
If we just wait for the policies of the government to go into operation, the current situation of hunger will become very dangerous and will produce instability, not only in North Korea, but will also create an Asian crisis. Following the principles on which Ayus has been established, we promote assistance of our neighbors as citizens of the world transcending all political barriers. Sections of the Japanese government and Japanese society are so much attached to political positions that they take a negative attitude towards food assistance to North Korea. Nevertheless it is urgent to assist the children who, because of hunger, easily become victims. Together with Japan`s Volunteer Center (JVC) and the “Network to Assist North Korean Children” we are planning a food assistance program, under the motto: “Now that the government is unable to take action it is time for the NGOs. Let`s cross national frontiers as true citizens of the world” . Because there are still doubts and difficulties left, we desire to build up relationships of trust with the local people by continuing simple private contacts with North Korea.
I think that we should not stop such an emergency campaign with just a once-and-for-all movement. We should profit from the building up of a cooperation network with other groups, to create and keep alive a deep understanding of Korean issues in Japan.