Kyoto Prizes to Further Stress "Moral" Achievements

National Geographic News
February 8, 2002
Given the present turmoil in the world, the founder and sponsor of the
Kyoto Prizes said this week he may expand the awards program to
encourage greater moral and spiritual advancement.

The program,
which recognizes significant world achievements not covered by the Nobel
Prize, honors individuals and groups worldwide that have contributed to
scientific, cultural, and spiritual development.

"Since I founded the Kyoto Prizes 17 years ago to recognize those who further humanity through a balance of technology and spirituality, it has become even more critical to emphasize the moral and spiritual contribution," said Kazuo Inamori.

Inamori, a Japanese industrialist, established the Inamori Foundation, which sponsors the annual Kyoto Prizes.

The awards are are given in the categories of advanced technology, basic science, and arts and philosophy. Since 1984, Kyoto Prizes have been awarded to 57 people from 12 countries.

"Now I'm thinking of expanding the third category of arts and philosophy, to add perhaps two more categories, so that more focus can be put on those aspects of human achievement," said Inamori.

Inamori made a personal fortune by founding Kyocera Corporation, now a giant industrial group with holdings in Japan, the United States, and other countries. He was interviewed this week in San Diego, California, at a symposium in which the 2001 Kyoto Prize laureates discussed their work and contributions to world peace.

Jane Goodall Among Laureates

Kyoto Prize laureates have included scientists, researchers, composers, musicians, philosophers, architects, artists, linguists, and film directors. Among them is Jane Goodall, the distinguished primatologist and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. Goodall was awarded the Kyoto Prize in 1990.

The 2001 Kyoto Laureates Symposium was held at the University of San Diego's new Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice—the first time the event was held outside Japan.

Alice Hayes, president of the university, said she approached the Inamori Foundation to hold the laureate symposium at the Institute for Peace and Justice because the Kyoto Prizes epitomize the ideals the institute is striving to achieve.

"The Kyoto Prizes are about people working for the common good," said Hayes. The Institute for Peace and Justice, she added, "emphasizes building peace through human relationships."

Inamori said the Kyoto Prizes represent his belief that human beings have no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of humankind and for world peace.

"Today we are rushing ahead with incredible scientific and technological achievements, while understanding of our emotional and psychological development lags deplorably," he said. "It is my hope that the Kyoto Prizes will encourage balanced development of both our scientific and our spiritual sides, and hence provide new impetus toward the structuring of new philosophical paradigms."

Asked if the collapse of Enron was indicative of a widespread decline in business ethics, Inamori said: "As industrialists, we have to make sure that we are not deviating from the paths allowed to us, which is to do the right thing.

"This is the alarm I would like to sound—a call to every business leader to go back to fundamentals and do the right thing by rebuilding their businesses in the right way," he said.

"New Paradigms of Morality"

Inamori mused on why the world appears to be losing its way spiritually while making dramatic advances in science and technology.

"I may not be right, but I have started to wonder if it's somehow due to the fact that we are becoming agnostic," he said. "In both the West and the East, people are leaving religion, and with that they are abandoning the old paradigms and models of morality and ethics.

"I think that if we are to walk away from religion," he continued, "we should at least use our intelligence and develop a new paradigm of behavior, or else humankind is sure to destroy itself."

A deeply religious and spiritual man, Inamori has written several books about business ethics and personal growth and excellence. A few years ago he took time from his business duties to become a Buddhist monk. He regularly teaches Japanese and other business leaders around the world his secrets of corporate success.

At 70, Inamori said he feels he still has at least a decade remaining to help people, particularly through philanthropy. Apart from his volunteer activities, which include efforts to help children in need, he hopes to boost the Inamori Foundation and the Kyoto Prizes. He has already donated U.S. $500 million to the foundation.

Each Kyoto laureate receives academic honors, a gold medal, and a cash gift totaling up to 50 million Japanese yen (about $400,000). The prizes are awarded every year in November.

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