The Niwano Peace Foundation on Monday presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to the Korean Seon (Zen) master Pomnyun Sunim* (법륜스님), who has earned renown in his native South Korea and around the world for his insightful yet accessible Dharma talks and accolades for his far-reaching humanitarian activities as a socially engaged Buddhist.
Rev. Dr. Susan Hayward, a member of the International Committee for the Niwano Peace Prize stated: “On behalf of the Niwano Peace Prize Committee, it is my pleasure to announce that the 37th Niwano Peace Prize shall be given to Zen Master the Venerable Pomnyun of South Korea in recognition of his extraordinary humanitarian work, environmental and social activism, and his inspiring effort to build relationships of trust and good will between those of different faiths and cultures as a central component of his work for peace. Venerable Pomnyun’s work serves as a poignant illustration of the Buddhist ideals that inspire it.”
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects that are active across the world. Among them, Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living, and sustainability, is dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering, including environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict. Join Together Society, an international aid organization, works to eradicate poverty and hunger through humanitarian relief and sustainable development. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).
“I am truly honored to be selected as the recipient of the 2020 Niwano Peace Prize. I offer my sincere gratitude to the International Committee of the Niwano Peace Prize for bestowing such an honor on me,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim said in his acceptance speech on Monday. “I also would like to thank Ajahn Sulak Sivaraksa of Thailand, a respected Buddhist philosopher, activist, and co-founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, for nominating me for this prize.”
The selection of Ven. Pomnyun Sunim for this year’s prize was announced in February. In April, the foundation said that the presentation ceremony, originally scheduled for 3 June, would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In consideration of the evolving global situation, the foundation decided to hold the award ceremony online on 26 October.
The Niwano Peace Prize takes the form of a medal, a certificate, and a grant of ¥20 million (US$190,000). Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has said that he plans to donate the monetary award to COVID-19 relief in Myanmar and to INEB’s education program for women in Southeast Asia.
“The Niwano Peace Foundation, although based on Buddhist teachings, has led the way to peace through interfaith cooperation. In my own humble fashion, I have worked with leaders in other faith traditions over the last 20 years to provide humanitarian support to North Korea and encourage peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula,” said Ven. Pomnyun Sunim. “My organizations have also supported the Dalits in India, civil war refugees in Afghanistan, and the indigenous and Muslim groups in the Philippines. I have come to realize that underlying the hunger, disease, illiteracy, and abject poverty suffered by these peoples are conflicts and hostilities. Without resolving the underlying hostilities, neither humanitarian support nor human rights can be achieved or sustained. If all the religions of the world could come together and act for the cause of peace based on mutual acknowledgment and understanding of our differences, the conflicts and hostilities we see in the world today would be greatly reduced. Peace can only take root when we let go of hostilities. Peace can only blossom in soil enriched with deep respect and understanding of one another. Peace without such reconciliation cannot be achieved. . . .
“The world is facing a huge crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of whether you live in an advanced country or developing one; whether you live in the northern or southern hemisphere; whether you live in the East or West; whether you are a Christian or Buddhist; there is no place on Earth that is safe from COVID-19. Collective action at a global scale is essential. Unfortunately, each nation is only looking out for itself and passing the blame and responsibility to other countries. The real danger is not the virus but the dissolution of the collective “We” in the face of common danger; this has become the biggest obstacle to resolving the pandemic. However, in the face of crisis, we humans have often gone past our limits to perform miracle-like feats to ensure our survival. We can do so again as long as we work together based on hope and faith in one another.
“It is no longer possible to attain peace just for one particular region, religion, or nation. It is no longer possible to achieve safety just for one particular region, religion, or people.
“Resolving the issues of peace, environmental conservation, and structural inequality, and preventing the spread of infectious diseases are urgent tasks to which all humanity must jointly respond. Therefore, collective action by countries and religions around the world is more important than ever. To this end, if peace activists and political and religious leaders from all over the world cooperate together, even the most difficult problems can be solved. When people come together, miracles happen.
“To emphasize, in terms of peace, nations must coexist peacefully without the threat of war. As for the environment, people must coexist in harmony with nature. To resolve structural inequality, structural violence must be eradicated so that different genders, races, and social classes can coexist peacefully. The essence of my message today is peace. We must choose coexistence over mutual destruction.
“May all living beings be happy and peaceful.”
Established by Nikkyo Niwano (1906–99), co-founder and the first president of the Rissho Kosei Kai Buddhist organization in Japan, the Niwano Peace Foundation was chartered in 1978 with the aspiration of working toward the realization of world peace. The foundation promotes research and other activities in fields such as education, science, culture, and philosophy. The foundation established the Niwano Peace Prize, which has been awarded annually since 1983 “to honor and encourage those who are devoting themselves to inter-religious cooperation in the cause of peace, and to make their achievements known.” (Niwano Peace Foundation)
Past recipients include INEB founder and Thai social activist Sulak Sivaraksa, who won the award in 2011; Taiwanese Buddhist nun Master Cheng Yen, founder of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, who was awarded the prize in 2007; and Cambodian monk and peace activist Ven. Maha Ghosananda, who won the award in 1998.
* Sunim is a Korean title of respect for Buddhist monastics.