Contributed by Dr. Nina LeNoir, Chapman University
Six American educators gathered as guests of Shinnyo-en Foundation to take part in a very special time in Honolulu, HI. It began on Saturday evening with a lovely dinner, a chance to meet and learn about each other and what brought us together to take part in this special event.
Sunday morning began with a trip to the Shinnyo-en Hawaii Temple, giving us all an opportunity to learn more about the traditions of Shinnyo-en Buddhism and to see the first temple established outside of Japan. Many photos graced the walls of the meeting room, telling the story of temple’s founding. Everyone in the temple was filled with a calm and focused energy as final preparations were underway for the upcoming Lantern Floating Ceremony, including the visit of Her Holiness Shinso Ito. The group then had the opportunity, along with several thousand other attendees from around the world gathered at the Honolulu Conference Center, to see and hear her Holiness. One of the educators commented, “Her Holiness radiates a profound sense of gentleness and caring, but also of inner strength. One really feels from her a sense of an enlightened person – a Buddha. This, in turn, instills in one a sense of peace when in her presence – and that it is possible to achieve such a state.” For all of us, it was an opportunity to experience her graciousness and wisdom as she shared her thoughts with all present.
Sunday afternoon we met with the Shinnyo-en youth members for a roundtable discussion focused on the topic of “implicit bias.” Each of us met with five to six youth members gathered from around the world to share in an open discussion about an issue chosen by them. The topic, implicit bias, was chosen by the young people themselves. It is an important one: how are we all, in some way, blind to and biased against others different from ourselves, without even knowing it? The youth members were eager to engage in discussion, sharing their experiences and understandings, and open to hearing from us as we did the same. It was our goal to bring to their way of knowing new ideas and different ways of thinking, allowing them to think differently and from a new perspective about how implicit bias works in all of our lives. At the same time, we all learned from them about how the world will be changing as they move forward to take on these challenges. An educator shared, “I was so impressed with the willingness of the students to delve into difficult conversations with an openness and honesty that I found refreshing, and another reflected that “the young people give me great hope for the future. They are truly willing to look at their own experiences and open to learn from those of others. . . I am sure future conversations will continue this growth and contribute to the power these young leaders will have to shape our future.” We were all heartened to meet and, if only briefly, get to know these young people who want to explore the challenges facing society, to learn as much as they can in order to make a difference, and to be a part of positive change in society and the world.
The Lantern Floating Ceremony was Monday. We were able to take time to make our lanterns, each alone in our thoughts of our loved ones, but united with all the thousands present at the Ala Moana Beach in creating expressions of love, hope and honor of all who have gone before us. An educator shared that “The ceremony before the lanterns were floated was moving and beautiful, creating a sense of spiritual calmness and openness in me that was special and unique. . . The opportunity to participate in this event was one that brought me to an awareness of the importance and necessity of being more open and deliberate in examining how spirituality can play a greater part in my life.”
The actual floating of the 7,000 lanterns by over 50,000 people was an amazing experience. Visually beautiful, but so much more, it was a brief period of time that was spiritual, emotional, and unique: a moment of peace and tranquility in a world and time in which such moments are very rare. One of the educators reflected, “Seeing the thousands of lanterns all floating out in the ocean together – it made me think of the meaning of my life, of my ancestors’ lives (my parents and grandparents), and indeed, of the lives in all humanity.” People of all races, religions, cultures and backgrounds stepped out of their regular lives to create an experience that had at its heart the desire to honor their loved ones who went before, to share their hopes for peace for the future, and to show love and respect for all. In that brief period of time, these many people created a sense of what the experience of all of us coming together with positive intent could create. It was moving and special.
The Reflection Luncheon the next day, which included all of the educators, the Shinnyo-en youth members we had met the day before, and members of the Shinnyo-en Hawaii community, brought a sense of closure. We had begun our experience as six educators, but left educated ourselves, touched by everyone we met and all we had experienced. We all came from different backgrounds, faiths and beliefs, and left united by a very special experience. We were able to take part in an important series of events, and to return to our regular lives, hopefully to begin ripples of our own so that we all can be a small part of the path toward peace.
Dr. Nina LeNoir is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Chapman University, where she is responsible for general education, freshman foundation courses, the honors program, academic advising, tutoring, undergraduate research and the Promising Futures program for first generation students.
More photos from the Memorial Day Weekend in Honolulu can be found by following the link here.
Please enjoy our short lantern floating reflection video by clicking the center of the screen below. This video was produced by Bill Paris, Producer/Director of Photography, Crew Hawaii Television LLC.