The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Commemoration For The People Of Japan

Two days ago, on a cold, blustery afternoon, we gathered at Dickinson College to offer support and remembrance for those who had lost their lives, family members, livelihoods, homes and comfort in the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Northern Japan.

The site of the gathering was ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu's bronze temple bell, much like the one in this photograph. Toshiko, who died in Hawaii two days before the earthquake,
had ties to the College and the bell, named Autumn ll, was installed in 2009.
From the moment it appeared in front of the Weiss Center For The Arts, I wanted to strike it, but I never imagined it would be for such a somber occasion.
The ceremony was attended by about 60 people from the town and College communities, and a few visiting students from the War College.

One of the Visiting Professors in East Asian Studies spoke about her home in Sendai. Yes, this splintered mass of earth had once been her home. Fortunately, her family had moved from the city some time ago, and so they were safe.
And then she did something quite amazing; struggling to maintain her composure, she described in present tense the beauty and merits of her beloved city of Sendai. She noted the gorgeous beaches, the mountains and trees, the rice paddies and vegetable farms, the excellent sushi fresh from the ocean and the saki, with a flavor that cannot be matched. She described a vibrant, living community, where people lived with ease and comfort and love, and my thought was, I defy anyone to imagine that this will once again be true.

As a Buddhist priest, I was asked to be one of the officiants and I was honored to wear the Kesa of the Buddha and open the simple butsudan--a pot of blue pansies, a candle that did not want to remain lit, an offering of incense to the Four Directions, Fudo, Kanzeon and Amida Buddha.

And then 3 strikes of the bell with a wooden mallet that was grey and splintered with age.

As I held the mallet with both hands, I was acutely aware of its weight, seemingly too light to evoke the deep mysteries of the bronze bell before me. Like driftwood, it was beautifully aged, and for a moment I imagined all the places this wood had been, from seed, to sapling, to mature tree, to hands of the artisan who created it, and then to the mallet's place out in the elements beside the bell, a living component of the bell's existence.

Without this mallet, the bell could not sing.

I struck the bell three times, and I hoped for consistency, but each strike was like a new dawn and I realized a little better the laws of impermanence, suffering, emptiness and love. The Marks of Existence were immediately apparent, and I could only hope that others realized this too, as I returned the mallet to lean against the bell frame and bowed deeply to the sound that still vibrated.

I could smell incense from the Butsudan, familiar incense, the sandlelwood that I light before every meditation with the community Sangha.
And there was utter silence.

Finishing, we read the Metta Suttra together and when I bowed at the end, others bowed in response.

May All Beings Be Free From Suffering and The Causes of Suffering
May All Beings Be Free!

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