Celebrate our Peace Pagoda

THIS month, the Peace Pagoda at Willen Lake is 31 years old.

There are many memorials and monuments in the country commemorating wars, people or the end of a war and the sacrifice of people in such wars.

There are not a lot of memorials dedicated entirely to peace, but the Peace Pagoda is such a monument.

The inspiration behind the Peace Pagoda is a Japanese Buddhist monk, the most venerable Nichidatsu Fujii, who lived from 1885-1985. He became a monk in a time of growing militarism in his country, and was dedicated to the practice of his faith out here in the world rather than in a secluded temple.

In 1918 he chanted alone outside the imperial palace in Tokyo. From then, until the end of his life he never ceased this form of continual prayer and reminder to the world.

In the 1930s he spent many years in India, meeting Mahatma Gandhi and strengthening his belief in the fusion of spiritual life and witness for peace by non-violent action.

He continued his practice everywhere, including the battlefields of the Second World War without fear or aversion. Entering Hiroshima soon after the nuclear bomb was dropped there, to help where he could, was a profound experience.

He turned to an ancient Buddhist practice: the building of Peace Pagodas, initially in Japan but later spreading over the world, to fulfil a prophecy and touching on a deep need in humanity for fresh symbols of peace.

The Peace Pagoda in Milton Keynes was the first to appear in the West. Though a very traditional Buddhist structure, its purpose and message is not just to be a centre for Buddhists or to spread a religious teaching. It is there to point at the sacredness of life, and to awaken and appeal to our common human desire for peace.

The Peace Pagoda has been a focal point for many gatherings and actions for peace- both locally, nationally and internationally.

Every year the monks and nuns who live in the Temple nearby organise ceremonies- like the one on August 6 –Hiroshima Day – where local people float candle lanterns on Willen Lake to remember those who died in wars and pledge themselves to work for peace.

The Peace Pagoda has been the starting point of a historical Run for Mother Earth by some 50 Native Americans running to Moscow, and the stage for countless people speaking out for non-violent action in many parts of the world.

Most recently, following the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear plant crisis in Japan, many local people held fundraising events in the area.

The Temple opened an emergency fund to help them get the donations to the right places, as well as organising prayers for the victims.

On Sunday, June 19, there will be an anniversary event at the Peace Pagoda.

Starting from 10.30am until 3 pm, the programme will include a Buddhist ceremony, prayers for peace from the world religions, speeches by people working for peace and justice in specific areas, and a multi-cultural celebration with music, dance and more – a fitting programme for this special place.