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Hawaii Lantern Floating Memorial Day Weekend 2012 Many Rivers, One Ocean

Three Interfaith Youth Groups from Northern and Southern California joined Shinnyo-en Foundation in Honolulu, Hawaii to attend the annual Shinnyo-en Lantern Floating event this year.  The youths, ranging in age from 15 to 18, are part of interfaith youth groups whose main goal is to come together from different faith traditions to discuss their respective faiths and share in their spiritual growth and quest for peace.

What better venue than the Shinnyo-en Hawaii Lantern Floating – a Buddhist event, bringing people together from all over the world to pray for peace and light lanterns with messages of love to those who have departed this world.  This may all sound a little far-fetched, but for those who were willing to open their hearts and minds, it was a transformative experience.  In fact, there were times leading to, during and following the Lantern Floating that most participants in the group were moved to tears to be able to express our hope or sorrow with one another and to see a bay dotted with lanterns full of the hope of humanity.  We were moved by the sense of oneness we were able to experience and express.

Orientation – May 26th
We started on Saturday midday with a luncheon and orientation meeting at our Waikiki Resort Hotel – just a few blocks from the famous beach.   Ben Takagi, vice president of Shinnyo-en Foundation and Reverend of Shinnyo-en’s Redwood City, California temple welcomed the group, made up of Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims and Zoroastrians as well as those who consider themselves Agnostics and Spiritual.  Following self-introductions, we took part in an ice-breaker activity, saw a video about the Lantern Floating Ceremony and about the Foundation’s work.

Water Consolatory Service
In the afternoon we piled into vans and made the short trip to the Convention Center to watch the head of the Shinnyo-en Order, Her Holiness Shinso Ito perform the Water Consolatory Service.  The purpose of the service is to pray for those killed in war and natural disasters, without distinguishing between friend or foe, and for departed friends and family.  The Convention Center was full of Shinnyo-en Members who had come from all over the globe to witness this event.  After the service Her Holiness made an inspiring and endearing speech to those gathered and encouraged the youth to let their true uniqueness and goodness shine through the practice of polishing their Buddha nature.   Our interfaith youths were surprised at how bubbly and cheerful she was after watching her perform the solemn consolatory service in her priestly robes.  As she departed the Convention Center, the members were waving goodbye, shouting “Keishu-sama!”

Tour of Shinnyo-en’s Hawaii Temple
Following the Service we piled back into our vans and headed a few miles away to visit and tour the Shinnyo-en Hawaii temple.  After removing our shoes, we were graciously welcomed by temple staff and shown the main worship hall of the temple.  Afterwards, the youths were shown to the Annex where the parent lanterns were on display.  These were the lanterns that would be leading the way in the Lantern Floating Ceremony on Monday.    That evening we returned to the hotel for dinner and continued with our orientation and reflection on the Water Consolatory Service.

Pearl Harbor Visit – May 27th
The next day we were up at the crack of dawn so we could ensure we’d get tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, now called the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  Looking down into the still-oily water that encases the sunken ship, where so many souls were entombed, was a somber reminder of the devastating effects of war.

Beach Cleaning – Memorial Day – Service Day – May 28th

Early Monday morning our group rose, donned our 6 Billion Paths to Peace t-shirts, and trekked down to the Ala Moana beach where we were joined by other Shinnyo-en youth members.  With trash bags and gloves, we combed the area for stray pieces of trash and debris.  Many local families had either camped out or had come in the pre-dawn hours to set-up tents and their bar-b-que provisions for the long and special day ahead.

Once the beach was clean and pristine, the youths were joined by the other beach cleaners, a group of Shinnyo-en youths, for an ice-breaking exercise lead by Steve Herrera, a Senior Shinnyo Fellow and long-time friend of the Foundation.  Next, we went to the tented area where we were instructed by the event organizers on how to combine the varied parts of the lantern into a pre-packaged bundled lantern sets that would be given away later in the day to the public. We formed assembly lines and started packing up lantern sets, along with many other volunteers.

Following a mid-morning break we returned to the Lantern Request Tent, where the locals had formed a long line.  At around 1pm the requesters began streaming into the tent, splitting off into different lines, where they were greeted warmly by our “now expert” volunteers and shown where and when the lanterns would be released that evening.  Each guest was given a kit for making their own lanterns.  At the next station they would be able to build and decorate their lanterns with loving messages and prayers to their departed family members.

Once our volunteer work was over, a few of the youths wandered into the lantern assembly area and witnessed firsthand the power of the Lantern Floating Ceremony.  People were gathered at tables, some of them streaming tears, sharing with strangers, as they built and decorated their memorials to their loved ones writing them sacred messages of love and remembrance.  Neela, a young woman in our group commented on how complete strangers were openly writing their deepest feelings, commenting and sharing with others about their losses – reflecting the profound beauty of love and remembrance, even more lovely than the beauty of our tropical surroundings.

The Lantern Floating

The Lantern Floating Ceremony began with local musicians and dancers, then Her Holiness, Shinso Ito, performed a brief ceremony, followed by a group of classical singers and musicians from Europe.  As the sun began to set, the lanterns were lit on cue and joyfully and tearfully people released their lanterns, while outrigger canoes set out to release the larger lanterns and encircle the bay.  Watching as the lanterns bobbed and floated away lit from within, they were, as Shinso Ito stated “a gift of light to the world in which people of all faiths and nations can live together peacefully.”

The interfaith youth group had gathered at the water’s edge with the boats they had made, with messages to their loved ones and prayers for peace.  They had become quite close, in spite of the short time they’d known each other.  Standing there arm in arm, as they watched their lanterns float away with the thousands of other lanterns appearing before their eyes, they were moved, some to tears, feeling a tremendous sense of release, peace and oneness.


For a look at some photos of this transforming experience, please click here.

Check out Steve Herrera’s You Tube video on the Lantern Floating 2012:


Photo and Video Credit: Steve Herrera