|Jan 16 2002
An eternal flame of hope
The Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist temple has reflective surfaces that make the well-lit space seem even brighter.
Brocade cascades down five tiers of the altar like a metallic waterfall, while 1,000 gold and silver origami cranes circle, suspended on string. Across the altar’s highest tier, six golden bodhisattvas dance on massive tree trunks.
A small flame at the altar’s base, contained in glass like an ordinary oil lamp, appears modest by comparison. But the glass-enclosed flame was the focus for worshippers Monday night.
The kneeling men and women prayed to ready themselves for the Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage, which departed from Suquamish Jan. 15 and crosses Bainbridge today after a pause at the secluded temple off Lynwood Center Road.
It’s the first leg of a five-month walk to the East Coast, to promote peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons.
The flame is the heart of a pilgrimage, acknowledging victims of nuclear testing and development, including the Native Americans whose land has yielded much of the nation’s stockpile of uranium and plutonium.
The fire – lit from the embers of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 57 years ago and tended by the Yamamoto family ever since – is being carried by Jun Yasuda, a Nipponzan Myohoji nun who has walked thousands of miles for peace.
“Jun is the Mother Theresa of long-distance walking prayer,” said Tom Dostou, a Native American elder from Fall River, Mass., who has accompanied Yasuda on six walks and helped plan this year’s pilgrimage.
Yasuda’s order was founded by Fujii Guruji on the spiritual principles endorsed by Guruji’s fellow student in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi. The order promotes world peace by building “peace pagodas” – and by walking.
Members of the order have trekked to the sites of World War II concentration camps. They have retraced the path of the “underground railroad” that funneled American slaves from the antebellum South to freedom in the north.
In 1983, walkers carried the Hiroshima flame to the successful Russian-American nuclear disarmament talks at the United Nations.
Yasuda doesn’t think of the great distance she must cover. In truncated but evocative English, she describes the trip as a spiritual pilgrimage, in which the act of walking is a prayer.
“One step, one step, mindful, mindful,” Yatsuda said. “From rock, from wind, the answer comes.”
Walk veteran Margery Reynolds says that she, like others in the Nipponzan Myohoji sect, believes that people who hear walkers beating the drum have their hearts opened to the possibility of peace.
Walkers chant “Na mu nyo ho renge kyo,” the Buddhist prayer that means, roughly, “One earth, one sky, entirely at peace.”
“It’s hard to translate exactly,” Reynolds said, “but if you spend seven days fasting and praying, then you’ll know what it means.”
When Yasuda decided to walk across America for peace and disarmament, she knew she wanted to carry fire from the Hiroshima flame – guarded for more than a half century by Tatsuo Yamamato and the village of Hoshino on Kyushu Island, Japan.
She met with the Yamamoto family and asked if she could light a fire from the flame.
At first they refused, but agreed when Yasuda told them her plan for the flame once the walk was completed in late May. After vigils in Washington, D.C. and at the U.N., she will to take the flame to Arizona to bury it near the first uranium mines – in Dostou’s words, “putting that fire back where it belongs.”
Acquiring the Hiroshima flame was just the first step, said Marcus Bachina, who with his wife Shigeko brought the embers to Bainbridge this week.
“In the wake of 9-11, an open flame could no longer travel easily,” Bachina said. “The problem became how to get this thing from Japan to the States.”
Several shipping companies refused transport. Finally, they located an outfit whose sympathetic owner had lived in the Yamamotos’ village.
The flame traveled from Hawaii to Mexico by boat, then was moved to Los Angeles by car. The Bachinas picked up it up there on Jan. 9, and after a ceremony in Oregon, drove it to Bainbridge.
Long before the flame arrived in Puget Sound, coordinators like David A. Harrison of Seattle and Chisao Hata had been working out walk logistics. They found a driver to accompany the 44 walkers who will cross Washington State, located places for marchers to sleep and took donations of food and drink.
“There really is no funding,” Harrison said. “We’re mostly staying at churches and schools or at people’s homes.
“Anyone can walk for any time – even a few hours is support.”
Although Yasuda may be the only person to walk the entire breadth of the country, there will be hundreds who complete a portion of the pilgrimage, devotees who have their own reasons for walking.
Dostou takes his sixth walk with Yasuda to honor a friend.
“The first time, I happened to be in Japan when Yasuda was walking from Tokyo to Hiroshima in 1975 and just joined in,” Dostou said. “This year, it’s for Dorothy Pearly, a Pueblo friend I had stayed with in Laguna, New Mexico. She was sick from leukemia then. They had mined for uranium directly below her.
“Then, when I did the peace walk in Japan in 2000, a Japanese man asked me to carry a medicine bag for a woman who had died and to bury it in a mountain overlooking Hiroshima – and it was hers. So I’m walking in her honor and for ‘peace and love.’
“I may be older, but the message is the same.”
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