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2010 Fellow Reflections on the Peace Through Service Trip

Shinnyo-en Fellows Allie Bollaidlaw and Rebecca Richardson share reflections of their experiences on the 2010 Peace Through Service Japan trip.

Hiroshima used to be a textbook statistic.  Facts and numbers I learned in different history classes that sometimes even led to debates about nuclear weapons.  In sixth grade when I first learned about the horrifying details of WWII, I never expected that I would one day see the city that had been completely wiped-out in less than a second.  Yet I was given this opportunity, not as a casual tourist but as a global citizen, traveling throughout Japan with an amazing group of people on the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s inaugural “Peace Through Service” trip.

Hiroshima was our last stop of a whirl-wind ten day trip through Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima) which consisted of: participating in the Shinnyo-en World Festival of Joy, visits to shrines, religious temples and historical sites, meetings with dignitaries, and reflecting on cultural and personal experiences, service, and our own individual paths to peace.  As a Shinnyo-en Foundation Summer Fellow from Stanford University, the trip was more than I could have imagined.  I went into the trip with an open mind, trying to weed out expectations and just let myself experience all we were doing without mental blocks or blinders.

Our stay in Hiroshima and visit to the Peace Park and museum left me struggling for words.  What do you say when you are in one of the world’s most inspiring places, becoming the first “peace city” dedicated to making our planet a nuclear free place, after everything it consisted of was wiped away, children, families, workers, scholarly institutions, students, libraries, shops, restaurants, trees, plants and the list goes on and on, as an act of war?  The transformation of the city and transcendence over human responses of hate and revenge is something we can all learn from.

Entering the park by the Atomic dome we were greeted by a second-generation survivor who volunteers his time with a team of fellow survivors to share their stories with visitors.  The biggest lesson I took away from his story was when he finished and asked us, “don’t you want to know what we think of America?”  Afraid for the answer we listened intently as he explained how the survivors “never say remember Hiroshima, instead they just say no more Hiroshima.”  As a result they do not dwell on America dropping the bomb on them and destroying everything they knew, instead they live with the purpose to make the world a more peaceful place.

He then further explained the plaque at the Memorial Peace Cenotaph is left vague, with words for a peaceful future rather than a vengeful one.  Translated into English the plaque states, “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”  Their use of “we” is a powerful word, having everyone take ownership for the past present and future and take responsibility for making the world a more peaceful place.  This idea gave me a deeper insight into my need for inner peace as a way to serve others and walk my “path to peace.”

Figuring out my path to peace is something I have been working on ever since I was introduced to the Shinnyo-en Foundation.  Six Billion Paths to Peace is their initiative to make the world a more peaceful and harmonious place by teaching others that peace starts with yourself and your individual actions throughout the day.  The idea is that there are six billion people in the world and each person can have their own specific path towards peace, even if it is just helping a friend out or recycling.

This trip with the Shinnyo-en Foundation introduced me to new cultures and people with the goal of helping me reflect and figure out my own larger path to peace.  Being in Hiroshima, visiting the museum, leaving paper cranes at the children’s peace memorial and walking over the Aioi bridge gave me a deeper understanding of importance of peace and an inspiration for what can be done to accomplish peace.

Allie Bollaidlaw
Stanford Undergraduate
Shinnyo-en Summer Fellow

Throughout my time in Japan on the Peace through Service trip, I had so many unforgettable experiences. Having never been to Asia, the trip was my first introduction to the rich and unique Japanese culture. However, while I knew my trip to Japan would be an enriching cultural opportunity, I didn’t expect the personal and spiritual growth I would undergo in my ten days there. Along with discovering the many new sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan, I also uncovered more of who I am.

Although the Peace through Service journey provided me with countless memorable experiences, when I reflect on my time in Japan one experience sticks out in my mind. During our time to Kyoto, we had the opportunity to visit numerous gardens and temples that were historically significant to the area. One site that we visited was the Daigo-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex in Kyoto where the founder of the Shinnyo-en order, Shinjo Ito, received his training. It is hard to articulate how breathtaking the temple is. From its ancient structures to serene gardens, it was hard to believe that some parts of the Daigo-ji temple date back as far as 951 A.D. Every minute detail of the temple was intentional and yet somehow appeared effortlessly organic.

While we were touring the temple, we could hear faint chanting coming from somewhere in the distance. After following the sound of the voices, we found a small room of monks chanting a prayer together. I was mesmerized by the sound of their voices, so perfectly matched in time and tone.  Each member of our group was invited into the room to burn a pinch of incense if we wished. As I entered, there was something electric in the atmosphere. I immediately felt a surge of emotion that I could not explain. After placing my incense in the flame, I knelt to say a prayer, and then I did something that I did not expect to do. I cried.

Later I learned that the ceremony we happened upon was part of Obon, a Buddhist custom to honor departed ancestors. Something moved me to tears in that small room at Daigo-ji temple. Perhaps it was the reverberations of so many voices in unison or the awe that such concentrated devotion inspires. But although I’ve never been a particularly spiritual person, I can’t help but think that my ancestors were in that room with me that day, joining me in that special experience.

So often we are so caught up in our daily lives that we forget to think about the many who have helped bring us to this point. On that day at the Daigo-ji temple, I was reminded that there are so many people who have helped make me the person I am today. As someone who has decided to use service work to promote a more peaceful world, at Daigo-ji I was reminded that I am surrounded and supported by my family no matter how physically far away they may be. Knowing that acts of service are also a means of honoring my ancestors gives me even greater motivation to work towards a more peaceful tomorrow.

Rebecca Richardson
Stanford Undergraduate
Shinnyo-en Summer Fellow