Sending a Message of Peace to the World: Fire, Water, and the Power of 'We'

Lantern Floating Ceremony 2012
Lantern Floating Ceremony 2012

Our ability to communicate today has never been greater. We convey messages around the world with a click of a mouse or by hitting "send" on a cell phone; television viewers have the choice of hundreds of channels; news never stops. Yet all that information is frequently disturbing and upsetting, and it can shake us to our core. International crises in the Middle East and challenges like suffering, poverty and climate change can make us feel anxious and insignificant. Do our lives make any difference? Can we help make real change in the world?

The answers are yes, and yes. My parents were both Buddhist priests, and my father enjoyed expressing his views on Buddha nature through art. He created many different sculptures of Buddha. By doing so, he tried to convey that we all have an inner Buddha, an awakened Self. A Buddha is one who responds to others with wisdom, warmth and kindness. And since everything in the world is dependent upon something else, if we strive for peace in our own lives, this striving can have an impact on others and the world around us.

Coming to that understanding is not necessarily easy. It is an individual journey, and a life-long one. And yet there are times when we may want to comprehend this truth collectively, rather than apart, and take the time to focus our attention and energy together on healing and peace.

That is why we are creating a major lantern floating ceremony on September 22, one day before the United Nations convenes in New York City. This ceremony is based on the traditional Buddhist fire and water ceremony and has been adapted to provide an opportunity for anyone to offer his or her message for peace. Fire and water are as eternal as our own hope for peace, both in our individual lives and the world. Anyone can attend the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Ceremony that day and write their own personal messages of peace on a paper lantern, setting it afloat in Central Park's Trump Rink, which will be transformed into a reflecting pool for the occasion.

As scores of national leaders arrive at the U.N., the expressed intentions of everyday people on behalf of peace are powerful messages. And it is so fitting that the ceremony take place in New York City, a city with the most languages in the world -- by some estimates, 800 languages are spoken there. Yet when we speak of peace, we speak with one voice, and one heart, one intent.

This ceremony is one that I have conducted before, in settings as diverse as Hawaii and the plains of Africa. But for this occasion, I wish to highlight and honor the work of four women peacemakers, and the often-anonymous work women often do behind the scenes for the cause of peace. I believe peacemaking is second nature to all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or religious tradition. It is impossible to have a secure peace without the perspective and participation of everyone.

Prayer is empowered when it accompanies action; it is essential to look for ways to express our prayer and meditation for world peace through action. I conduct these services in the hope that they awaken others to the kindness that each one of us possesses as part of our Buddha nature, the wisdom that may guide us in our behavior, and the spirit of loving kindness and compassion to treat others with greater warmth and care. The positive effects of these small steps in the right direction, I believe, will then resonate outward. We should not underestimate the power each one of us has to create a stronger force for peace in our communities and globally. Our aspirations and our vision do make a difference.

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