On Sunday, July 19th 2015, members of the Lotus Heart Zen sangha, in Oneida, NY traveled to visit the Grafton Peace Pagoda in Petersburgh, NY. Starting out, it was a partly sunny, warm and very humid morning. We traveled in two cars, comfortably air-conditioned (thankfully!) on an easy two and a half hour drive to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, which was nestled in rolling green hills.
It was a spectacular sight to see the brilliant white pagoda against the backdrop of green trees and clouded blue sky. We wandered about the Peace Pagoda for a short time, then lined up and began chanting "Namo Shakyamuni Buddha, Namo Amitabha Buddha, Namo Cundi Bodhisattva" while walking slowly around the two levels of the pagoda.
Then we headed over to the temple, passing the beautiful waterlily and cattail pond on our way. At the temple, we met the resident nun Jun Yasuda. She lead us in a ceremony to honor our
ancestors and all those who have passed on before us. Chanting the mantra, NA-MO-MYO-HO-REN-GE-KYO, the chant of devotion to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra--the signature chant of the Nipponzan Myohoji order. The Lotus Heart Zen sangha approached the altar one-by-one, lit incense and bowed three times, while Jun Yasuda chanted and beat a large temple drum. Before returning to their cushions, each sangha member picked up a hand drum and joined Jun Yasuda in the chanting and drumming.
After the short ceremony, she invited us for tea in the back room of the temple. She brewed some delicious barley tea and we all sat together while she told us about her background and her practice. She came to America in 1978 to participate in the Longest Walk, a peace walk for Native American rights that crossed the country from San Francisco to Washington DC. Since then she has walked across the US several times, including from the Peace Pagoda to Oneida, NY to the Oneida Indian Reservation located there. She walked throughout the world, including walking through the Himalayas from Kathmandu to Lombini, India. All the time she walked, she chanted and beat her hand drum. She walks and sleeps outside or in homes, shelters, churches generously offered to her.When she is not walking for peace, she resides at the Grafton Peace Pagoda.
In 1983 the land the pagoda now sits on was donated by Hank Hazleton--a fellow supporter of Native American rights. In 1985, the Peace Pagoda began construction and was completed in 1993. During its building Jun Yasuda gathered what she could from what others tossed away as trash. For example, she found discarded tools, collected old wood, even pulling out bent nails and worked at straightening them. Soon, others began to donate materials and still others donated labor. The entire pagoda was build by volunteers and donated materials.
Jun Yasuda described her practice as bowing to all she encounters, acknowledging all beings as a Buddha-yet to be. She chants, walks, and bows to everyone. She recognized the extent of suffering in so many and she works to help alleviate suffering. It was this suffering that brought her to America and why she participated in the Longest Walk back in 1978. She explained that as a monastic she has given up family, given up owning anything, and she is completely free, which allows her to do the work she does and to walk for peace all over and anywhere. She was a delight to talk with, very compassionate and generous. After a short time, she said she had spoken too much, and expressed an interest in learning more about each of us. She encouraged us to go get our lunch and we would all sit and talk more. Before we left to retrieve our food, she asked us to choose from a collection of paper cranes strung on a string of beads with a NA-MO-MYO-HO-REN-GE-KYO mantra printed on a paper attached at the end. The paper cranes are to commemorate the tragedy of the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagaski, Japan. A ceremony commemorating the bombings will be held in early August at the Peace Pagoda.
During our lunch we shared our personal stories and learned more about Jun Yasuda's life, practice and the various vistors and events at the Peace Pagoda. She gave the sangha a few copies of I Bow to the Buddha in You written by her teacher Nichidatsu Fujii. He was the founder of the Nipponzan Myohoj order, which came out of the Nichiren Buddhist order. She presented Rev. Do'an with a beautiful indigo Samue (a kind of traditional Zen work clothing worn by monks engaged in mindful work practice). We could have spent hours sitting and talking with Jun Yasuda, but she had other visitors to greet and we still had to wander about the grounds.
The weather was absolutely ideal. It was several degrees cooler than back home, still somewhat humid, but a refreshing breeze kept us comfortable. This exploring included checking out a Japanese style hot tub made from an old oil drum and built over a stone fireplace. She encouraged us to try it out, offering towels for us to use. Some of the sangha members were very tempted, but the time to head home was drawing close. We left inspired by the events of the day and to celebrate, on the way home we were treated to ice-cream by two of our sangha members (it was National Ice Cream Day afterall!)
The Lotus Heart Zen Sangha plans to return to the Grafton Peace Pagoda in early October to celebration the Peace Pagoda's Anniverary and Gandhi's birthday. It will be an interfaith event drawing spiritual practitioners and nonviolent and peace groups from all over the world. All are welcome and hopefully we will see some other members of the Five Mountain Zen sangha there too!
The Grafton Peace Pagoda
Grafton Peace Pagoda
87 Crandall Road
Petersburgh, NY 12138
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