Photo credit: Chris Clem
This past Memorial Day, the Shinnyo-en Order conducted its 16th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii on the shores of Ala Moana Beach in Honolulu. The Lantern Floating is a traditional Buddhist Ceremony held to honor and remember ancestors who have passed before us. Names of the deceased are written on lanterns, which are then lit from within and gently let go on a body of water. The Shinnyo-en ceremony is unique in its scale and setting on the warm waters of Hawaii at sunset. Over the years, the healing power and serene sight of flickering lanterns on the ocean as the sun drops beneath the horizon has attracted a local and international crowd of over 40,000 people. People wait in line from dawn to receive one of 6,000 hand-built lanterns that have been recycled from the previous years, and throughout the day, people relax on the sandy shores of a half-mile long cove until twilight when the ceremony begins.
This year, the Foundation sponsored an interfaith program which brought eight faith leaders together to experience and engage in dialogue around the lantern floating. They are religious scholars and leaders, or champions of interfaith activities within Shinnyo-en USA temple communities, and we were honored to spend a couple days leading up to the ceremony sharing meals with them and learning about each other and each others’ faiths.
Front row, left to right: Poori Parekh, Gagandeep Mann, Milia Islam-Majeed, Dr. Heidi Hadsell, and Dr. Mark Markuly. Back row, left to right: Shinnyo-en Foundation staff Rev. Ben Takagi and Ineko Tsuchida, Rev. Nobuko Adachi, Prof. Elavie Ndura, Lionel Engelmen and Rev. Beth Collier.
On the day of the lantern floating, guests were given a chance to write their own lanterns and witness the ceremony before the floating began. Deep dialogue about faith, healing and friendship ensued that evening and the throughout the following day when each guest sat on a panel to discuss with a small audience the impact of lantern floating, as well as to contrast and compare this traditional Buddhist ceremony with beliefs about afterlife and healing within their own faith.
For the first time, the President of the Foundation’s Board of Directors joined us for this program. Reverend Nobuko Adachi has served on the Board since the Foundation’s beginnings in 1994. In 2013, she stepped up as President, while continuing to work for Shinnyo-en in Tokyo where she has been since 1991. In her service of more than two decades in the International Affairs Department, Ms. Adachi has led efforts in the translation of a number of publications, as well as in the finance area. In her travels to other countries as a visiting dharma teacher and reverend, she has counseled and supported practitioners in their practice of the Shinnyo-en teachings and has also served as a spiritual guide for “sesshin” meditative insight training for over 15 years. Ms. Adachi shared with our guests that she first became introduced to Shinnyo-en by a friend in New York City where she lived and worked for ten years. She found a community through Shinnyo-en and when asked to work for the Order, she chose that path and has served ever since. Her knowledge of Shinnyo-en and Buddhism, and her generous spirit was invaluable for our guests. Ms. Adachi kindly shared a few words about the experience.
This was the first time I was able to attend the Lantern Floating in Hawaii and it left a deep impression on me. Not only was it something beautiful to watch as the lanterns illuminated the shoreline, but I also felt a deep sense of togetherness and healing, in common bonds of experience and the knowledge that we do not need to grieve alone. I felt the strength that comes from sharing friendship, joy and sorrow. I felt the healing found in the act of reconciliation both with those around us and with those who had departed.
It was also inspiring to spend time together interacting with people from different faith traditions. I feel we became closer as time went on having had the opportunity to share time together during ceremonies and at meals. Being able to talk to one another on a deeper level felt to me as if we were creating a world of friendship and illustrating what that kind of world could be like despite our different backgrounds. It was a heart-warming experience and I look forward to the next opportunity to spend time together with everyone again.
The Foundation also looks forward to the next time we can be together to continue our support of interfaith work in Shinnyo-en USA communities.