Japanese Language Verison Here / 日本語記事
Reimagining Interfaith - the Basics
I was in Washington, D.C. from July 29 to 31 to take part in the conference of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). I was able to take part in this international interfaith conference as a delegate from the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Community, of which I am a member.
The conference was held at the George Washington University Marvin Center and my estimate is that about 400 people attended. There was a large delegation from Japan -about 1/3 to half of all attendees. Others came from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, France, India, Pakistan and from the West to East Coasts of the United States.
The Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Sikh, Shinto and other Japanese denominations, Pagan, Jewish, and Unitarian Universalist / Free Religious Congregation religions were represented (I may have missed a group). Secular Humanists also had a small delegation present.
Theme and Programs
The theme of the conference was "Reimagining Interfaith." Interfaith work has been about building bridges and fostering cooperation among religious / spiritual communities to work together for common goals. In that light, the theme was chosen to look at the bridges that the interfaith community has not been so good at building.
Further, the conference also addressed current topics such as immigration, racism, Islamophobia, climate change, discrimination in general and other timely topics. Several panels were held to touch on these issues.
For example, one panelist has been very involved in immigration issues and spoke about how the interfaith community has been rallying to protect immigrants -both legal and illegal. The recent actions of the Trump administration were discussed. Someone also pointed out that, although Trump's immigration policies are troubling, the USA has a long history of treating undocumented immigrants poorly.
Conversation was also held on Human Rights issues around the world and right here in the United States too.
We also broke off into smaller groups for more discussion. My group included Buddhists, a UUA member, a Pagan and members of the Free Religious Congregation from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
On the morning of July 30 the Japanese delegation led a prayer service. Priests from the Shinto, Buddhist, Konkokyo and Ittoen Japanese faiths gave traditional prayers and rituals.
This was my first time attending a program of the IARF. As an international relations undergrad student and as someone who has long been interested in world religion, this was a great experience. I was particularly glad that I was able to meet and discuss with Japanese Shinto and Buddhist priests as I have a deep interest in Japanese spirituality.
Having lived in Japan and been to many temples and shrines, I am very grateful for this opportunity. Also, the fact that such a large number of Japanese people were present put my Japanese language abilities to the test! So, overall it was a wonderful experience.
I thought that much of the discussion was good and timely. It is important for various religious communities to work together on shared areas of concern.
寺院は1986年に建てられました。シュリー・スワミー・サチナンダーは創業者です。シュリー・スワミ・サッチャンダはヒンドゥー教の司祭だった。 彼は1914年から2002年に住んでいた。彼はインドで生まれ、1960年代にアメリカに来た。寺院は世界の宗教と平和に捧げられています。寺院はヨガヴィルの町の一部です。 ヨガヴィルは1980年に建てられました。
これらは：神道, 仏教, キリスト教, イスラム教, シク教, ヒンドゥー教, ジャイナ教, バハーイー教, ネイティブアメリカン宗教, アフリカの宗教, ゾロアスター教, 道教, ユダヤ教, 太平洋島の宗派。
寺院の内部は非常に大きいです。 世界の宗教のための祭壇があります。内部には多くのライトがあります。 とても美しいです。 私は寺の内部で瞑想しました。 私は世界平和のために祈りました。
シヴァのために造られた小さなガラスの寺院があります。 シヴァはヒンドゥー教の神です。 シヴァは創造と破壊の神です。シヴァ寺院で私は世界平和と幸福のために祈った。LOTUS寺院は美しいです。 ヨーガビルは平和な場所です。 私はLOTUS寺院を訪問してとても幸せです。
In July my mother and I took a summer trip to Virginia where, among a number of places, we pulled into the visitor parking lot at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville (commonly called Yogaville). I can not remember how or when I first heard about this place. Although it was several years ago that I first heard about it, I never forgot about it and when we were planning our trip we added it to our itinerary.
Yogaville is a community founded in the 1980's by Sri Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002) who had a lotus shaped interfaith temple built on the site and dedicated it to world peace and inter-religious cooperation in 1986. The temple is named LOTUS which stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine.
Sri Swami Satchidananda was born in India and came to the United States in the 1960s. He was the opening speaker at Woodstock in 1969. He authored several books and traveled throughout the USA. He died at Yogaville in 2002.
In addition to the lotus shaped temple, there is a Hindu temple and a special temple that enshrines the ashes of Sri Swami Satchidananda. There are also severals houses, apartments, a community hall, a hotel, a school and a library, as well as a farm and many gardens.
The temple is located at the bottom of a hill from the Yogaville community and sits next to a large lake. Forests surround it on all sides. My mother and I walked through the gates, down a path complete with fountains and Hindu artwork to the main entrance of LOTUS.
We entered the shrine on the first floor, which houses a small museum dedicated to a number of religions. We went to the second level which houses the shrine room itself. Twelve altars (Judaism, Native / Indigenous Faiths, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Islam, African Religions, Sikhism, Taoism, Other Known Faiths, Faiths Still Unknown) were set up along the walls. A pillar of light shot up from a central altar.
The museum's displays were interesting. Each had articles and photos from various faiths with some information on the items and the religion in general. In all there were large displays for Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikh, African Traditional Faiths, Native American Religions, Shinto and Taoism. In addition to these there were small displays for the Baha'i Faith, Pacific Island religions, Zoroastrianism and Jainism. There was also a display for secular /humanistic ethics and principles.
At the topic of a hill that overlooks the LOTUS is a small temple dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu deity of creation and destruction. I paid my respects to the statue for what it represents: people's faith. My mother and I took in the view from the hilltop. The hills and mountains reminded me of Ome City, Japan, where I lived a few years ago. The whole view was amazing.
All in all, visiting Yogaville was worth the trip. I am glad we were able to include a stop here on our vacation. I have been interested in world religion and spiritual beliefs for many years, so coming to an interfaith lotus shaped temple in the countryside is something that was special for me.
The people we met at Yogaville were very friendly and the whole community had a peaceful feeling to it. If you are planning a trip to Virginia, if you can include Yogaville, do it! It offers a unique experience. PEACE!
Laying in bed
The Moon shines through the open window
Illuminating the reclining Buddha statue
Illuminating my tired face in bed
In this moment I know that I will die someday
As we all must do
And this body to which I cling will be knowing but a pile of bones white as tonight's Moon
In this moment I am alive
In this moment I embrace the gift of life
In this moment I am
In this moment I
In this moment
Written by Robert C. Piemme
There was a bright full moon when I wrote this. I first spontaneously recited the poem as I lay in bed, then put it to paper.
In October 2017 Baha'i Faith communities across the globe celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, Baha'u'llah. I took part in celebrations with the local Baha'i community in Pittsburgh, with whom I have had a friendly relationship with for several years.
Born in modern-day Iran in 1817, Baha’u’llah is the founder of the Baha’i religion, often referred to as the Baha’i Faith.
Estimates for Baha’i Faith membership are between 5 and 7 million members. In fact, the Baha’i religion is the second-most geographically widespread religion in the world (Christianity is the first). To give a brief summary of the religion, the Baha’i Faith teaches that there is one God who has sent messengers to guide humankind. These messengers include figures such as Moses (Judaism), Krishna (Hinduism), Jesus (Christianity), the Buddha (Buddhism), Muhammad (Islam) and Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism).
The Baha’i Faith regards Baha’u’llah as the most recent messenger for humankind. Baha’u’llah taught that God has revealed his message through progressive revelation, that men and women are equal and that all races are part of one human family. He wrote volumes of letters, books and other papers. Because of the progressive and unorthodox nature of his message for that time, Baha’u’llah suffered several persecutions; he was imprisoned on occasions and exiled a number of times. Expelled from his native Persia (modern-day Iran) Baha’u’llah and his family eventually came to live in Israel. He spent that last twelve years of his life in Acre, Israel. He died in 1892.
When I was about 12 I became interested in religions and since that time have made efforts to study different teachings and meet people from various religions. I have studied with religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormon Church, Soka Gakkai, Konkokyo, Zen Buddhism, New Age faiths, Islam and many other groups.
About ten years ago I began attending local gatherings of the Baha’i Faith community in Pittsburgh. Baha’i communities tend to meet in the homes of their members, although some communities are large enough that they have centers. At the time that I began taking part in Baha’i gatherings the local community meant in the home of Astrid and her husband Mohammed. They welcomed me into their home for monthly ‘unity gatherings’ and I soon became a familiar face at these monthly meetings.
Although I never became an official member of the Baha’i Faith, I agreed with many of their central principles: the equality of men and women, the importance of education, the nobility of humankind and the need to end prejudices, among others.
In 2014 I moved to Japan for a year and when I returned to the U.S. I fell out of contact with the Baha’i community. However, beginning in 2016 I did get back in touch with Dr. Mary, a Baha’i who would often take me to meetings as I did not drive at that time. She invited me to the local celebration of Baha’u’llah’s birthday and it was nice to meet people who I had not seen in a few years. At the celebration I presented her with the Baha'i ringstone calligraphy, which I made for her on special Japanese stationery. The Baha'i ringstone is one of the symbols of the Baha'i Faith. Going forward, I hope to be able to take part in future gatherings of the Baha’i community.
Looking back on my decade of friendship with the local Baha’i community, I can say that I have benefited from the warm atmosphere of peace and friendship fostered by the Baha’i religion.
Part One: Buddhism Arrives in Japan
Scholars today give the years 552 CE or 538 CE as the most likely dates for Buddhism’s introduction to Japan. During this period King Seong Myong of Baekje (a kingdom located on the western Korean peninsula) sent a political mission to Japan that included Buddhist monks and nuns who brought with them sutras and Buddhist art.
They also brought with them a writing system; Japan did not have a writing system and as the sutras were written in classical Chinese, many of the court aristocrats had to learn to read Chinese to learn more about Buddhism. Eventually Chinese symbols were adopted by the Japanese and became the kanji that comprise much of Japan’s writing system today.
Buddhism was met with mixed attitudes among the nobility, but with support from the powerful Soga clan, opposition to Buddhism by conservative forces was defeated. In 592 CE Japan’s regent Prince Shotoku proclaimed Buddhism the official state religion and began the construction of Shitennō-ji (四天王寺) in 593. Shitennō-ji is often viewed as Japan’s first Buddhist temple and it still stands today.
Prince Shotoku, often referred to as the ‘father of Japanese Buddhism’ worked to promote Buddhism and in 604 CE authored the ‘Seventeen Article Constitution’ that was both influenced by and promoted Confucian and Buddhist philosophy and ethics.
When the prince died in 622 CE Buddhism was flourishing among the nobility. Buddhism gave Japan a writing system and a sophisticated philosophy that would inspire new forms of art and culture and shape Japanese society in many positive ways.
WrPart Two: Buddhism Takes Root and Gains Influence
By the mid seventh century C.E. Buddhism had firmly taken root in Japan. To facilitate the growth of the religion the imperial court sent delegations to Korea and China to obtain sutras. By this time there were a number of temples, religious orders, priests and icons in the capital and throughout the nation.
By the eighth century monks such as Saichō and Kūkai had established monasteries that became prominent centers of study. Both Saichō (767–822) and Kūkai (774–835) had studied in China and brought back sutras, teachings and ritual practices to Japan. Kūkai established a monastery on Mount Kōya and developed Shingon Buddhism. Shingon is one of the few surviving Vajrayana Buddhist lineages in East Asia, and today is a major denomination in Japan.
Saichō is the founder of Tendai Buddhism and his teachings would influence later monks such as Dōgen (Zen), Hōnen and Shinran (Pure Land) and Nichiren (Nichiren Buddhism). While in China Saichō copied and translated numerous sutras and brought these back to Japan with him.
Despite differences in theology, both Saichō and Kūkai supported one another in their efforts to spread Buddhism and develop their monasteries.
During this time Buddhism began to play a role in government; many powerful clans belonged to various denominations and Buddhist temples were both influenced by government and at the same time influencing government themselves. For example, the Tendai school was popular with the upper class and imperial court. As such it not only developed respect, but began to gain both military and political power.
Nor was this limited to just the Tendai school. Other forms of Buddhism competed for power and influence. At times this led to conflict among the denominations as well as conflict among different political factions. Unlike today, where Japan’s constitution enshrines separation of church and state, religion played a strong role in state affairs.
Written by Robert C. Piemme
This will be my first article in a series about my travels. I lived in Japan for one year and took every opportunity I could to travel and visit historical sites. In December 2014, while living in Japan, I went with a friend and her family to Minobu-san, the headquarters of Nichiren-shu (a Buddhist organization) and the place where Japanese Buddhist saint Nichiren spent his last years teaching. I hope you enjoy the article!
Minobu-san refers to Minobu Mountain and the Kuonji-Temple located at its base. Kuonji-Temple (called Minobu-san) is the grand head temple for the Nichiren Shu Buddhist Order. On December 30, 2014 I had the privilege of being able to join a Japanese friend and her family on a trip to the temple
The temple was founded in 1281 by Nichiren (1222-1282) who is one of the most interesting and certainly the most controversial figure in the history of Japanese Buddhism.
Today Minobu-san is home to the Kuonji Temple, Founder's Hall (a memorial temple to Nichiren), a newly built white colored temple which enshrines most of Nichiren's ashes and is generally not open to the public, a red pagoda and several buildings (lecture halls, administrative building, pilgrimage complex etc.)
At the top of Minobu Mountain is a temple dedicated to the parents of Nichiren. I was told that it was his habit to climb to the summit every day and pray for his parents. He planted four trees at the temple entrance, which still grow to this day! The temple is also home to a gray colored tower that housed his ashes until the new tomb was built. Although his home has long since disappeared, the area where it stood has a stone fence built around it.
Although I am not a Nichiren Buddhist, I find Nichiren to be a fascinating figure and have deep respect for him. In all, I visited four temples related to his life, teaching, persecution and death and I will be writing about those visits.
Nichiren taught that the Lotus Sutra was the highest teaching of the Buddha and that one could be saved by chanting the mantra: Namu Myoho Renge Kyo (praise to the lotus teaching). Because he also criticized the religious and government leaders of his day for what he understood as corruption and false teachings, he was exiled twice and nearly beheaded on one occasion.
Nichiren retired to Minobu in 1274 where he established a small home for himself.There he wrote numerous letters to his followers and taught students. When he died in modern day Tokyo in 1282, he was cremated and his ashes were returned and entombed in a stupa (Buddhist tower) near his home in Minobu.
Today there are roughly 20 million Nichiren Buddhists worldwide belonging to organizations such as Nichiren Shu, Soka Gakkai International, Nichiren Shoshu and Nipponzan Myohoji, among others. Kuonji is the head temple of Nichiren Shu which has about 3 million members.
I joined a Japanese friend and her family on a visit to Minobu on December 30, 2014. It was an amazing experience. Having study the life and teachings of Nichiren and read many of his letters, I have developed not only interest in Nichiren, but a respect for him and his 'always victorious spirit' as I call it. Being able to chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo at his tomb and meditate underneath the beautifully painted Japanese dragon on the ceiling of Kuonji, was surreal.
Being able to see the site where his house had been located was also particularly moving. Climbing the steps on the top of Minobu mountain past the trees he planted to the temple built in honor of his parents was another amazing moment.
Having been to Japan three times, including living there for a year, I have traveled through Tokyo and to Kamakura, Osaka and Kyoto. I have visited many famous shrines and temples, taken part in Shinto rituals and a tea ceremony. Of all my experiences in Japan, this simple and humble visit to Minobu-san stands out as one of the most cherished. I hope to return to Japan in 2022 to take part in Nichiren Shu's commemoration of the 800th anniversary of Nichiren's birth.
I did not have much cash on me, but I did buy a few omamori at Minobu. Omamori are religious charms that are sold at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. I collect them and purchased many while living in Japan. The black charm featuring a dragon -a depiction of the one painted on the ceiling of Kuonji -is a charm for victory. I was told that I should keep it one me so I could have the power to overcome obstacles and reach my goals. I actually keep it in my humble Buddhist meditation altar. I do not keep it on me out of fear that it may become damaged or lost.
I also picked up a small green charm that has a picture on Nichiren on it. It is designed to be kept in the wallet to ward off misfortunes.
I also bought a small green and gold talisman that was meant to be a charm you put on your juzu (Buddhist prayer beads). Instead I turned it into a pendant.
This is a poem I wrote shortly after returning from a visit to Washington D.C. with my father in 2017. As both a undergraduate student of political science and a Buddhist I have been using meditation hand in hand with studying politics and navigating the political landscape these past few years. I humbly submit this poem.
The Buddha sits still in Washington D.C.
In the seat of the world's power - the Buddha sits still.
Through all the protests and marches, the cheers and the jeers -the Buddha sits still.
With the wars raging in congress halls and behind white house doors -the Buddha sits still.
The country's young buried in Arlington killed in old men's wars -the Buddha sits still.
Great men have walked these streets and died there too -the Buddha sits still.
Crooks and liars, or politicians as they are often called, call this city home -and the Buddha sits still.
The whole nation is in chaos and yet the Buddha sits still. Immovable, unflinching and unafraid.
Do not mistake his meditation for inaction.
He has seen the illusion and crossed to the other shore. He has met every challenge with peace and dignity. He has had the strength to prevail.
Fall down seven, he has stood up an eighth.
He has fought the injustices of racism, sexism, hate in all its ugly kinds, the prejudices and discriminations of all kinds... and he has prevailed.
He has prevailed. Prevailed. Prevailed.
Who is this Buddha who sits still in Washington D.C.? Who is this Buddha who has met hate and fought it with peace and prevailed?
This unshakable Buddha is you and I. It is the best and it is the worst. It is the potential we all have to prevail.
In the city of chaos, in the place of the world's power, in the mists of battles and wars, in the presence of protests and marches, in the shadows of George Washington to Dr. King, is the Buddha who sits still.
The Buddha sits still but he is not stone nor dead.
He sits still but shakes the whole world.
The Buddha sits still in Washington D.C.
This is a photo I took at the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. overlooking the National Mall. The Washington Monument and the Capitol Building are in the background. The Buddha is a small Nepali style metal Buddha I have had for many years. It was with me while I lived in Japan.
This is a poem that I wrote spontaneously. What is the meaning? Well, what meaning do you get from it?
I would rather have people create their own conclusions from this poem and to give it meaning. It has a meaning to me, but that is my meaning. I will only add this: On the memorial to Martin Luther King in D.C. are carved the words, ‘Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.’
Out of despair -hope.
Robert C. Piemme is an undergraduate student (international relations) and avid gardener, hiker and writer.