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The Art of Peace: a U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week Gathering

Contributed by Rev. Qalvy Grainzvolt, Shinnyo-en New York Temple

The Shinnyo Center for Meditation and Well-being (“the Shinnyo Center”) in New York City has been widening its circle of participation in United Nations’ events and observances, being only a stone’s throw from its front steps.  The Shinnyo Center provides guided meditations, cultural events, community service, and information about Shinnyo Buddhist practice in an environment curated to nourish balance and perspective for all who visit (www.shinnyocenternyc.org).  As one of the clergy of the Shinnyo-en New York Temple in White Plains who offers meditation at the Shinnyo Center regularly, I have often had an opportunity to be a representative from the Shinnyo-en Foundation to the United Nations DPI/NGO.  Together with Chiaki Yasue, another staff member from Shinnyo-en New York, the Shinnyo Center co-hosted a U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week registered event, “The Art of Peace” at the Shinnyo Center on February 3rd. This is the second time that the Shinnyo Center hosted an official event for the U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week together with the U.N. International Day of Yoga Committee. Please read along to learn more about this special gathering.

The Art of Peace: a U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week Gathering began with a viewing of the film “The Vision and Art of Shinjo Ito.” The film touched upon the dedication and artistry of Master Shinjo Ito, a founder of the Shinnyo Buddhist tradition, in sculpting his signature reclining Buddha image, and acted both as a source of contemplation and a soft opening for the gathering.  There was a blend of attendees including Shinnyo-en practitioners, members of the public whom attend Shinnyo Center meditation programs, as well as individuals from the U.N. faith and yoga communities.  The film provided a platform upon which we could discuss various ways of looking at peace, inclusivity, and interconnectedness- all core values of the Shinnyo teachings- that were shared by attendees of other backgrounds.

Shinnyo Center staff with Denise Scotto, chairperson of the U.N. International Day of Yoga Committee

As this event was co-hosted by the U.N. International Day of Yoga Committee, which is chaired and founded by an attorney and former legal counsel to the U.N. and a good friend of the Center, Denise Scotto, (shown in red top in the photo above), yoga was also offered to the attendees. Each of the roughly 20 attendees shared episodes of their unique stories, motivations, and creative efforts to take steps in cultivating harmony and understanding.  This led to sharing of individual perspectives and ways of looking at paths toward peace through different lens.  This portion of the event felt resonant with the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s initiative of “Infinite Paths to Peace”.   There was conversation around how we might cultivate new connections to step out of habitual patterns of thinking to more deeply bring out what is unique and authentic within.  Connecting with one’s inner authenticity and inherent goodness brings something unique, even artistic, into the world.  In the same way that Shinjo Ito carved the image of the Buddha in Nirvana, we ourselves become our own works of art that is shared in one’s immediate circles wherever it may be.

After many discussions on promoting a world of peace, additional themes of respect, acceptance, tolerance, kindness, fellowship and so forth also arose.  We concluded that such periodic discussions are always important. We recognized that taking the time to hear one another’s narratives and motivations are refreshing because it helps us all to return to what sparked our unique paths forward while becoming further inspired. Always rekindling that spark and inner light will help us cultivate the determination to make efforts no matter how small.

The event ended with a brief period of meditation offered by two of the center’s staff, one of which was an excerpted Jazz meditation. The meditative sound itself was meant to provide a creative doorway of time and space to inspire all to look through an artistic lens, and form new and creative ways to embody peace in one’s immediate circles. The event felt grounded in actionable steps. Finally, there was a schedule sharing of other events to be held at and around the U.N. during this special period of WIH (February 3-7) and a warm invitation, by Denise, to all to not be strangers at the U.N. which can often seem like a forum only meant for member states and large-scale initiatives. She further elaborated that the U.N. is, however, a place that citizens of the world can congregate and further the dialogue on various topics, all of which are aimed at enhancing the quality of life for all beings.

With Dr. Charles Chesnavage, the organizer of the interreligious prayer service

Lastly, with support from the Shinnyo-en New York temple in White Plains and its manager and Shinnyo-en Foundation board member, Rev. Eitaro Hayashi, Shinnyo-en also participated in a second officially registered U.N. Interfaith Harmony Week event at a synagogue, Bet-Am Shalom, in White Plains.  Representatives from various spiritual traditions shared prayers in the spirit of this observance and I was honored to represent not only Shinnyo-en, but Buddhism as a whole at this inter-religious prayer service.

Faith representatives at Bet-Am Shalom synagogue