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Q&A: Peace activist and Buddhist thinker to visit Oxford

When Robert Harrap was 21 he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk for a year.

The incident changed his life by introducing him to Nichiren Buddhism, which to his surprise allowed him to transform his perspective of the significance o the accident and raise his life condition in order to achieve a full recovery.

Since then he has developed a diligent Buddhist practice, focussing on supporting people to become happy.

The University College London graduate worked as a barrister for 16 years but gave up the job in 2013 to contribute to peace, culture and education as the General Director of SGI-UK.

The organisation is part of SGI (Soka Gakkai International), which is a humanistic network for peace.

Tomorrow at 3pm he will speak at the Oxford Union, with tickets for non-members priced at £10.

Q: How did you become a Buddhist?

A: When I was 21, I had a motorcycle accident and spent a long time waiting for my leg to mend. During that time I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism and started to practise soon after that.

Q: What’s Nichiren Buddhism?

A: There are many different Buddhist traditions, but I like the Nichiren approach because it provides a clear way to enable ordinary people to feel empowered and take responsibility for their lives. 

Q: Can you describe the practice?

A: The main thing we do is to chant the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. We believe that this phrase is the key to unlock in our lives the same wisdom, compassion, courage and life force that the Buddha had.  The meetings I enjoy the most are monthly discussion meetings,where people share how they have benefited from their Buddhist practice.

Q: How is life different in your role for SGI-UK?

A: I am still an advocate, but now it’s for a Buddhist movement which I believe passionately about. I am based at our beautiful centre, Taplow Court near Maidenhead, which has open days through the summer. I travel around the country to encourage our members, introductory talks on Buddhism and talks about our international leader’s activities for peace. His name is Daisaku Ikeda.

Q: What sort of things do you do for peace?

A: The main tool is dialogue. We believe in the dignity of all human life, so we promote dialogue as the way to make a difference. Daisaku Ikeda writes an annual proposal for peace to the United Nations, and I do talks introducing people to those.

Q: You are a contributor to BBC Radio 2’s ‘Pause for Thought’ – how is that?

A: It’s a great opportunity to raise the profile of the Buddhist way of thinking in British society. I think the Buddhist perspective has something really valuable to offer people, whatever their personal religious position may be. It’s a hopeful philosophy which shows how to transform situations. 

Q: What is the kind of message you will be delivering when you give your lecture at the Oxford Union?

A: I will be introducing the audience to Nichiren Buddhism and saying a little more about how it can contribute to making the world a peaceful and more harmonious place.

The lecture at the Oxford Union will start at 3pm. Entry for non-Union members is £10 per person, payable on the door. 

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