“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.
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.
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.
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:
Inside the Grand Palace of Bangkok, Thailand, the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country gleams in the mid-morning sunlight. On the left is the library Phra Mondop, and behind it is the Royal Pantheon Prasat Phra Thep Bidorn. One of the Twelve Small Open Pavilions is on the right.
When possible, I like taking photos with both interesting clouds foregrounds, ideally with a sense of connection between the two. During post-production, I remember how it felt to be at that place when I took the photo, and imbibe that energy into the final photo. The awe of discovery. The profoundness of the spiritual. The hot sun on my skin on a breeze-less day. The smell of the nearby river and market. The stunningly beautiful and grandiose palace grounds. The intense reverence of the Thai people (and many foreigners) for this special place. My increased respect for the generations of Thai royals, as I learned more about them in the museum exhibits. I felt very uplifted that day, in multiple ways.
These memories remain fresh, even for a photo taken 6 years ago. I guess you could say that my memory hasn’t gotten cloudy ;D
Do your photos also bring back such strong memories?
Here are a few of my other favorite cloud photos from previous entries – click to see a larger view and read more:
On a peaceful day in Wuhan, China, the still waters of a pond perfectly reflect the many arches of a bridge. In the shallow parts of the pond there are so many lotus plants growing that the lotus leaves completely cover the water. A few pink lotus blossoms rise up proud and strong, transcending the pond and the canopy of leaves, but not the scene itself. The same still waters that allow for such a nice reflection are also what allows the thin stem of the lotus to grow straight up, unhindered by currents.
Are the conditions for inner reflections the same as that which we need to fully bloom?
Here are a few of my other favorite reflection photos from previous entries – click to see a larger view and read more:
This watercolor painting illustrates the glow of a temple light up in Kyoto, Japan. Arrays of lights shine up onto the multi-colored leaves of the trees and upon the various buildings on the temple grounds. This view is from Kiyomizu-dera, looking up at the surrounding mountains towards a small part of the temple near the mountain peaks. The landscape feels otherworldly, and although logic knows that there are hidden lights shining on the trees, it seems as if the light is radiating out of the trees themselves – perhaps as if an inner light was illuminating the landscape and bringing it to life. Although the technique of the light show is modern, the scene before me felt quite ancient and as timeless and the changing seasons.
Japan celebrates the richness of each season in a way that is unique amongst the countries I’ve visited thus far. Even in this age of jet-imported fresh foods from half-way around the world, the Japanese still retain an emphasis on what is local, seasonal, and fresh – the uniqueness and beauty of what is right in front of them at the moment. The same is true for the arts – it is often apparent which season is depicted in each Japanese painting, as that momentary fleeting beauty is represented. It’s a celebration of impermanence, and of being present and living in the moment. Where else do people, as an entire society, go out together just to see the autumn leaves? Seeing Kyoto that November gave me the most appreciation for the potential benefits of having four seasons that I’ve ever had, being a woman of the tropics at heart.
Are there other parts of the world that have such autumn light ups? Let me know in the comments!
On a crisp autumn night in Kyoto, Japan, the full moon shines down on Kiyomizu Temple (清水寺). The name of the temple “pure water” comes from a nearby waterfall. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded in 798 during the early Heian Period, and reconstructed in 1633 without a single nail. The sense of history and majesty of the place come alive during the special night temple light-ups that occur during certain times of the year.