A Coming Together of Worlds, Friends and Light

By Jennifer Kim, Director of Shantideva Meditation Center
September 11, 2015

Left to right: Isabelle Bernard, Rev. Earl Ikeda, Jennifer Kim, <br />  Dr. Rev. Mark Unno and Cheryl Ikemiya<br /> (photo by David Okada)

Left to right: Isabelle Bernard, Rev. Earl Ikeda, Jennifer Kim,
Dr. Rev. Mark Unno and Cheryl Ikemiya
(photo by David Okada)

Our friends at the New York Buddhist Church held a beautiful ceremony on September 11th to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Shinran Shonin Statue Installation on their site. Shinran Shonin was the founder of the Jodo Shinshu (“True Pure Land”) school of Buddhism, which is practiced by the New York Buddhist Church today.

The first time I personally encountered this statue was a few years ago, on a hurried walk down Riverside Drive. Its strong, almost glowing presence literally stopped me in my tracks, and I stopped to learn that the statue had once stood in a Hiroshima park when the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945. Somehow, amid the devastation caused by the blast, the statue remained standing and unharmed. It was later offered to New York as an inspiration for peace, wisdom, and compassion, and was dedicated at the New York Buddhist Church on September 11, 1955.

Shinran Shonin statue outside the NY Buddhist Church (photo by Mitch Waxman)

Shinran Shonin statue outside the NY Buddhist Church
(photo by Mitch Waxman)

On this special evening 60 years later, which also served as an anniversary of 9/11’s crippling devastation, there was a remembrance of destruction caused by human brutality and its calling to invigorate our efforts for peace and loving kindness instead of vengeance and despair. Following a touching remembrance from Hoshina Seki, whose father Rev. Hozen Seki founded the New York Buddhist Church, Rev. Dr. Mark Unno offered a poignant speech about the role of death and difficulty in developing one’s path to awakening, and about his father’s struggles as a young spiritual seeker trying to make sense of tragedy, in this case – the suicide of his close friend.

Rev. Dr. Unno, who is an Associate Professor of East Asian Religions at the University of Oregon, also spoke of the myriad forms existing in our world for walking this path to infinite light. As a true proponent of interfaith harmony, he spoke about the Catholic Church’s Nostra Aetate, which was promulgated by Pope John Paul VI in 1965 and described the unity of all people and the acceptance of certain truths present in various world religions. Rev. Dr. Unno also shared the journey of one Jewish man who had converted to Catholicism and tried to convert others, only to rediscover the magnificence of his Jewish religion upon visiting his homeland.

Isabelle Bernard, Board Chair of the New York Buddhist Church, as well as Rev. Earl Ikeda, its Resident Minister, offered beautiful sentiments to greet and acknowledge the wider community of friends in attendance, which included Pare Rinpoche from Sera Je Cultural Center, Geshe Tashi Dorje from Sera Mey Monastic University, and representatives from various Buddhist traditions.

Kodo Umezu and Shinran Shonin Statue

Shinran Shonin Statue – 60th Anniversary Ceremony:
Talk by Bishop Rev. Kodo Umezu – Buddhist Churches of America

Similar to my first encounter with the New York Buddhist Church and the mysteriously beautiful glow of Shinran Shonin’s statue, I experienced a similar energy emanating from these sincere speakers sharing this universal essence of loving kindness, respect, and hope as modeled by Shinran Shonin and the numerous beings from different walks of life following a spiritual path. I was deeply touched by the wish to remember the devastation of Hiroshima and 9/11 in hopes of using these dark times in our history to bring to light our most profound and stirring human qualities.

This event was yet another encounter of friendship between our Centers and traditions.  Rev. Earl Ikeda offered prayers and touching words during the Opening Ceremony of our Relic Tour in 2014. He was also there to offer prayers to our community member, Jane Thurn, who suddenly passed away last year and lived a life of respect and openness to different religious traditions.

I am sincerely grateful for our friendship on this path to infinite light.

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