“Share Peace” is the 2014 theme for the Hongwanji temples of Hawai’i. A few months ago there was a photo/art contest for the upcoming 2014 calendar put out by Honpa Hongwanji. The contest asked, “Can you picture peace?” I thought long and hard about the different ways that peace can be manifested, and in the end decided to illustrate a path to finding peace within.
Inner peace is an essential component in being able to share peace with others. When you have peace in your heart, it radiates outward. The Nembutsu can not only lead to inner peace through entrusting Amida Buddha, but can also inspire compassion to share with others. The Japanese characters radiating outward are 南無阿弥陀仏 Namo Amida Butsu – mindfulness of Amida Buddha.
Hawai’i is the first state in the US to officially recognize Peace Day (September 21st, same as the United Nations International Peace Day). Peace starts as an idea, powerful enough to transcend all boundaries. A day when people of all backgrounds can come together to share their dreams of peace is very powerful. There are many roads to peace, but they all start with what you choose to share with others.
Seek the horizon
Never knowing what’s beyond
Explore a new shore
When leaving the familiar
What wonders you’ll find
As your travels grow
You’ll grow as a person too
Expanding your mind
Tourists rush around
Well beaten path tourist spots
Not meeting locals
Travelers stick around
Get to know the real place
See the unique
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Yet pumpkin carving is an art that I really should dabble in more often. It’s lots of fun, and with the right tools, not too difficult.
I picked this pumpkin at a local farm (yes there are pumpkin farms in Hawai’i). The weather was perfect, and it was fun to stroll through the rows of sunflowers, corn, green beans, and pumpkins. A friend and I each carved our own pumpkin. I was surprised at how easily the tools from the pumpkin carving kit sliced through the pumpkin – much easier than the knives I used to use growing up. It makes me want to create an even more intricate design for next year.
How did I get inspiration for an Amida Buddha pumpkin? It just popped into my head. Hardly traditional Halloween decor. But just as Jack-o-lanterns light pathways, the Buddha also illuminates a path. On this night celebrating the connection between this world and the next, it is a reminder that not everything on the other side is scary.
From high on Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island, there is a spectacular view of the city below. The nearby skyscrapers seem surprisingly striking for this cloudy April day. On the other side of the harbor, shapes on the Kowloon peninsula fade in and out of the midday mists. The faint outline of the mountains looms in the distance.
Hong Kong Harbor can feel bustling, yet peaceful, depending on where you are. Generally I’m not a big fan of huge cities, but I like Hong Kong. It really is a place that has something for everyone. The city itself has everything you can imagine, and when you want to get away, town and rural areas are only a short metro, ferry, or bus ride away. It is also ridiculously easy to navigate. Hong Kong gets points for having one of the best airports and metro systems I’ve ever seen. My first time ever traveling alone was in Hong Kong, and it didn’t take me long to get comfortable exploring the city.
Special companions are those who stay with us, even when we can’t be physically together. The bond that connects us is something that can transcend distance, and even the cycle of life and death.
At the Lantern Floating Festival in Honolulu on Memorial Day 2013, this little girl carries a lantern down to the water to release into the ocean. The lantern is in loving memory of someone close to her who has passed on, but it is also in honor of the special connection that the two of them have.
Why “lucky” chameleon, you might ask? Because she is very lucky to be alive! While visiting the Big Island, my sister and I found her trapped in a spider’s web. She had clearly struggled to try to free herself, but had only managed to become extremely tangled in the web, and had broken her tail in multiple places. By the time we found her, she was nearly dead and seemed to have given up on life.
My sister and I used a pair of tweezers to carefully remove strands of web off of the little chameleon. It was very painstaking work. At first, the chameleon winced at our touch, like she was expecting us to hurt her, but she was too weak to struggle more. Over time, she figured out that we were helping her, and started to trust us. Once we had removed enough of the spider web that she could open and close her mouth again, the life seemed to start to come back in to her. Before long, her once nearly lifeless form was happily roaming so much that it was hard to get her to stay still long enough to finish taking off the last few pieces of web! Her color started coming back, and with it, a new zest for life. Her hope had been restored. She seemed so happy to be free , and wanted to move about and explore. She climbed up and down our arms, and all over the area. We tried offering her some water, but she wasn’t interested. When she seemed ready, we released her back into the wild, feeling a lot more confident about her chances than we had when we found her. This lucky little chameleon had her second chance at life, and she seemed ready to take it head on.
The town of Nara, Japan is unique in how the local historical sites blend in to the beautiful winding trails through a forest full of deer. These deer are extremely friendly and used to people, and don’t shy away from walking right up to you (and eating the special deer crackers sold in the shops). Unlike in some other cities where there are tame deer like Miyajima, in which the deer come right into town, in Nara it feels like it is the people who are visiting the deer in their forest home.
What a peaceful forest it is! You wouldn’t expect a popular tourist destination to have such an atmosphere, but it is thanks to the natural surroundings. There are enough small walking trails that it is possible to leave the crowds and the modern world behind, and enter the serene world of small tea houses, ancient temples like Tōdai-ji, and deer who embody their spiritual surroundings.
Eight is a special number in Buddhism, most notably used to refer to the Eightfold Path. This lotus flower has eight petals on both the inside and outside, and 64 petals (eight x eight) in the middle. Different colors of lotus blossoms have their own meanings, and a purple lotus is symbolic of spirituality and mysticism. Purple lotus flowers are not as commonly depicted as other colors like pink and white, and are traditionally associated with esoteric Buddhism. This association of purple and spirituality is also common in color theory, because it is a combination of both soothing (blue) and stimulating (red), and promotes inner reflection. It also happens to be my favorite color.
Would you like to see other lotus colors & designs?
Meditation by a waterfall is not only a peaceful and picturesque way to meditate, but the sound of the water itself is one traditional way to enter Samādhi. It is a powerful way to still the mind. The most renown figure to enter Samādhi through this method, and therein gain the ability to “hear the cries of the world,” is Guanyin (观音). The Śūraṅgama Sūtra describes how she disassociates herself from the sense of hearing, and thus gains mastery over it.
“I began with a practice based on the enlightenment nature of hearing. First I redirected my hearing inward in order to enter the current of the sages. Then external sounds disappeared. With the direction of my hearing reversed and with sounds stilled, both sounds and silence cease to arise . . . . Coming into being and ceasing to be themselves ceased to be. Then the ultimate stillness was revealed . . . . All of a sudden I transcended the worlds of ordinary beings, and I also transcended the worlds of beings who have transcended the ordinary worlds. Everything in the ten directions was fully illuminated, and . . . . I was then able to go to all lands and appear in thirty-two forms that respond to what beings require.”
Many other Buddhists have followed this example throughout the centuries, particularly within Chan Buddhism / Zen Buddhism (禅). This video clip shows one example at Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山), a monastery in Taiwan, and their connection to the nearby streams. Look for a mention of Guanyin / Avalokiteśvara around 13 minutes in:
Taking photos while riding an elephant through the jungles of Thailand can be an interesting challenge – and just the type of situation that can create unique photographs with good timing. Motion blur can be a beautiful element in photography. Since the elephant trainers keep the pace of the elephants, they are relatively in-focus compared to the foliage in the background. The key comes down to getting a feel for the rhythm of the elephant’s stride. Each part of the stride will have varying speeds, moving quite fast at some points, and slowing to nearly a stop at others. By experimenting with different timings and/or shutter speeds, can create unique effects . For more variation, or if your subject is moving at a different pace than you are, try leaning your body while snapping the picture. Similar techniques can create motion blur in other situations with rhythmic motion, such as while on a boat, or while riding horses and other animals.