Impressions from the Ceremony
Following the ceremony, the prayer leaders, youth participants, and many of the guests were kind enough to give their thoughts and impressions. We are pleased to offer their remarks here.
Ms. Neshama Carlebach, Jewish American singer and songwriter
I knew that being a part of the SOPP would be a life changing experience for me. I’ve been on a search for openness, and have been praying for inspiration and change for quite awhile. It’s clear to me that I was led down this path, brought to this moment for many real reasons. This is my first time in this part of the world, and it’s been such a blessing to connect with all of you, my new brothers and sisters, in such a beautiful, spiritual setting. I knew I would feel transformed, renewed and rejuvenated, and I absolutely did.
Being on stage was very powerful, in the midst of the Holy energy of the religious leaders—an incredible group of people. There was such love, such deep intention in all their prayers. I wasn’t surprised that each of us, in our own languages and in our own words and ways, were basically saying the same thing. Still, in the moment it was precious and exhilarating. Seeing all the people in the Prayer Field, praying near the mountain, was also unbelievable. The flag ceremony was my favorite part—it was tremendous and very meaningful. I know this was one of the first times that music was brought in as part of the event, and I pray that our music brought an extra layer of connection and depth to everyone who was there. Josh and I are hoping to write a song for the SOPP and to continue to be a part of this work in the future.
My father used to say we can pray for divine help, for healing, for wealth, or for personal success. But praying for peace is different because peace is something that can only happen when every human being is joined together. During the ceremony it became clear that everyone there was somehow creating a space for each other, with love, and really praying for this kind of peace in all corners of the world. It wasn’t selfish, it was universal. We were all asking for a new beginning, an ending to pain, suffering, and senseless war. I felt so aware of our oneness and our unity, so aware of how everyone there was present, in the moment, hearing and feeling everything together.
On a personal level, this was one of the first times (in years) that I’ve felt this kind of stillness and quiet. I live in New York, in a space of constant activity and hustle. I have two little children, and too often rest eludes me. I’m grateful for this glimpse of silence, seeing that maybe it is where peace begins. I would like to bring it back with me, into my life. I feel like I have a lot to learn. I’m waiting and hoping to return to Fuji Sanctuary sometime soon.
Ambassador Mussie Hailu, Regional Director for Africa, United Religions Initiative
The SOPP ceremony was a moving experience. Its mission resonates with the United Religions Initiative and it helps to bring into reality the purpose and aim of the United Nations. At the SOPP, I saw people from different cultures, religions, and traditions coming together as citizens of the world to pray for Mother Earth, the end of nuclear weapons, a culture of peace and healing, and for the teaching of the Golden Rule to prevail on earth and interfaith harmony, respect among all nations, unity and solidarity to be the order of the day. It was indeed a moving experience.
The whole event was very inspiring, especially seeing the flags of the world at the very end, and Mrs. Saionji’s remarks were very moving, too. I was also so moved to see each of the participants sitting on the ground the whole time, patiently. Many of them probably have never been outside of Japan, but they have been praying for the peace and harmony of the world. To me, they are a living example of unconditional love and the teaching of the Golden Rule, which says, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated.” So, I was very moved to be in their company. It gave me hope and courage.
My vision is to see a world of peace and justice, without any form of war, human rights abuses, conflicts, violence, hunger, or discrimination, and where people from different religions, spiritual expressions, cultures, and indigenous traditions live together side by side in harmony as citizens of the world and work together to create a better world for this generation and generations yet to come. There should be harmony in what we think, what we say, and what we do. For this to happen, we all need to live and act according to the teaching of the Golden Rule and spread the universal peace prayer of May Peace Prevail on Earth.
With this in mind, I am currently working on promoting the teaching of the Golden Rule throughout the world by establishing chapters of the Golden Rule in each member state of the United Nations, as it is a guiding principle of ethics which helps us to move from war to peace, from killing each other to peaceful coexistence, from fear of the unknown to trust, from unnecessary competition to cooperation, from taking revenge to forgiveness. It is also high time to introduce education for peace as part of school curriculums throughout the world. I am very happy to be a founding member of the URI, and we have members throughout the world who are working to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the earth and all living beings. May Peace Prevail on Earth.
Dato J. Jegathesan, Founding member and advisor, Sathya Sai Baba Central Council of Malaysia
The ceremony was amazing—awesome! I think it is unfair to talk about specific parts, because it was a holistic experience. The first thing that struck me was the participants. I never expected to see thousands of people coming and sitting there in the Prayer Field. I did something similar to the flag ceremony in India, at an event with Sai Baba (the first World Youth Conference of Sai Organizations in 1977). We had the flags of all the countries of the world, and many of the people holding the flags were from that country—a French man holding the French flag, and so on. Here, Japanese people were holding all the flags, but it doesn’t matter, the idea is the same. And I like the SOPP Universal Flag symbol, too.
Another thing that amazed me was the meticulous care that was taken. There were people working backstage, and they were really working hard. There was coffee, tea, and water available—every little detail was looked after. I have organized big events myself, so I know that it is not the big issues, but small things, that often create problems. But here, both the big picture and the small details were looked after. Very impressive!
In my life now, I’ve got three major things going on. In my professional life, my work is helping less affluent nations. I am a development economist. We need to create jobs for people, because without food, without clothing, without shelter, they can’t think about God. So, first we make sure that people have food. For a hungry person, food is God. For someone without a house, shelter is God. For the person whose child is dying, medicine is God. That comes first for them.
The second thing I’m involved with is what we are doing here—interfaith unity. In Malaysia, a very peaceful multi-religious nation with a Muslim majority, we launched something called the Friendship Group for Inter-religious Service (FGIS). We have been operating for close to 11 years. What we are doing now is to bring all religions together in service to humanity, through service activities targeted at youth and Young adults on an interfaith basis. These activities include medical camps, a Fun Day for disabled children, and helping during natural disasters, as well as programs to promote human values and filial piety (drama, songs, etc.).
The second world crisis that I see is that of filial piety. In no other time in human history have parents been brought to the sidelines in the way they are now. A hundred years ago, parents were virtually worshipped and held in great respect and cared for by their children. However, now, people are abandoning their parents. Children don’t care for them. Children don’t listen to them. Children don’t respect them. They buy a card for them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and that’s it.
And so, we have launched a program called the ‘HOPE’ Agenda. HOPE stands for ‘Honor Our Parents Everyday.’ In Malaysia, the Sathya Sai Baba Organization launched it in schools and with the interfaith group, and now the government is supporting this program. In Mauritius, too, the government and people were so excited about this. They have built statues called HOPE Monuments—a father and mother blessing two children, with the message: “Seek your parents’ blessing, whatever you do in life.” At the launch, the president of Mauritius called us aside and said, “I would like to see a smaller version of this HOPE Monument in front of every school in Mauritius.” If sons and daughters respect fathers and mothers, they will never go wrong. Families uniting in love and respect—this is the vision. Our challenge and hope is to have every son and daughter vow to themselves and to God: “I will never bring tears to my Father’s eyes, I will never bring tears to my Mother’s eyes. Whatever I do I will always strive to make them happy.” Families uniting in love and respect—this is the vision.
Rev. Fumihiko Katayama, Chief Priest, Hanazono Shrine
At the foot of Mount Fuji, which will soon be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, I came into contact with Masami Saionji’s pure character. This allowed me to escape from the impurity of the big city and to be embraced by nature, and in doing so, to restore my energy. The holy writings of Shintoism make many references to nature. When we become lost in a maze and are unable to see things clearly, if we commune with nature, it is certain that God will answer us. We human beings are intrinsically part of nature, and we are being allowed to live within nature. However, we have gotten out of touch with the ecological system, and have begun fighting with it and with each other. It is by having dragged nature, which is our parent, into confusion that we have driven ourselves to the great crisis of world war. Why is this?
Having attained a civilization based on agriculture and cattle breeding, the human race learned how to tame and manipulate nature. Then, we became greedier and began fighting. Initially, the conflicts were on a small scale. However, since the industrial revolution, when we began to manufacture things in a new way and a civilization based on science took hold, the human race has constantly been bringing harm to nature, from within and without.
In participating in this year’s SOPP ceremony, I was granted not only the opportunity to pray for world peace, but also to help restore nature. Thank you so much.
S.S. Sada Anand Singh Khalsa, Director, Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Center in Nara, Japan
In a word, the SOPP was amazing. It was like a quest for truth. It was simple, yet refined. So many beautiful people with good intentions came together, you could actually feel the brightness. It was really wonderful, and brought me great joy.
Speaking from a higher dimensional viewpoint, prayer has power. For instance, when a mother prays for her children, her prayers will reach them. They will be in her children’s hearts. My teacher used to say that there are many different practices—yoga, meditation, t’ai chi, and so on—but the most powerful one among them is prayer.
In the United States, we have a peace prayer event that combines Sikhism and yoga. We hold this event on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice in June, and it continues for about ten days. Some 2,000 people come together from all over the world—even from remote places like the mountains of Mexico. They all come in campervans. There are peace talks and peace dances. Many Native Americans also join in.
The SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary is, in a way, quite similar to our event. It has such a good feeling. This place is filled with the energy of nature, and the flag ceremony and music were wonderful. This event will certainly spread, not only in Japan but throughout the world. I think the SOPP is like a kind of seed. You plant various seeds, give them water, and flowers will bloom. I believe this is the role of the SOPP.
Mr. Humayun A. Mughal, Islamic Sufi Spiritual Leader
All of the people gathering here today are embodiments of prayer, and I have received much inspiration from them. I feel that every time I join in the SOPP, I am increasingly elevated through everyone’s prayers.
When I was eighteen years old, I had a dream that I was offering a prayer in front of many people whom I had never met. I was also praying the prayers of other religions, in languages that I did not speak. The first time I stood on the stage as a prayer leader at the SOPP, I thought, “This is what I saw in my dream. This was my mission in coming to Japan.”
Many people in the world have their own prayers that they pray on their own, but there is nothing else like the SOPP, where people pray the prayers of other religions together.
This year, I had an opportunity to talk with Mr. Jegathesan, the Hindu prayer leader, and he had many interesting stories to tell. Mr. Shaku, the Buddhist prayer leader, told me about the Nichiren Sect, and I found its teaching to be wonderful, too. I believe that it is by experiencing prayer through our own religions that we human beings are able to transcend religion and come together as one.
From here on, it is vital that we manifest peace even more concretely, and I am continually working for this purpose. I have been travelling to Israel, the U.S., and all over the world, establishing connections. My participation in the SOPP is also one of my activities for creating peace.
I hope all the people who came to take part in this ceremony will go out and visit different places. I can feel that they are very pure people who do not merely adhere to a faith, but have attained a high level of spiritual education. Without a doubt, our own mind is reflected in the minds of others, and therefore we can meet the people who reflect our mind. This is how world peace will be realized. Going forward, it is my wish to join with all of you in working even more diligently for peace.
Mr. Ichiyu Shaku, Chief priest of Mino Shichimenzan Houko-ji Temple
When I greeted Mrs. Saionji at Fuji Sanctuary, I had a vision of the Emperor praying for his people at the palace shrine. She has adopted a selfless prayer as her own prayer, and has devoted herself to it. The prayers of all the participants co-resonated on the foundation of this great prayer, as if they were superimposed on an ideal image of the nation-state.
The Lotus Sutra prayer that I led at the ceremony is a prayer that attunes us to the truth that our mind contains each and every phenomena of the universe—that our inner world contains the entirety of the outside world, and is also reflected in the outside world, so that there is an interchange between the inner world and the outside world. This prayer co-resonates with the theme of the SOPP. To me, even the words spoken by the other prayer leaders sounded like the voice of Buddha, who taught the Lotus Sutra, and this gave me peace of mind. I realized that I used to harbor distorted preconceptions when listening to talks by people from other faiths. This time, given the opportunity to talk in person with the other prayer leaders, I felt a strong interest in all religions, and I was inspired to know more about them.
At Fuji Sanctuary, I could feel the powerful energy of the earth. I believe that Byakko established its sanctuary here in order to accomplish a great mission for the earth and the universe. While I was at Fuji Sanctuary, a certain feeling was constantly welling up inside me, for no particular reason. It was a feeling of accepting everyone and everything, while still retaining our own individuality—of embracing one another without losing our propriety. That is to say, I was enveloped by a utopian air of mutual affirmation. I couldn’t help but be conscious of an atmosphere just like that of the place where the Lotus Sutra was taught—where all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas resonated in sync with one another, and even the earth shook with delight.
Nichiren Shonin longed to have a home sanctuary near Mount Fuji. The Lotus Sutra is often called the ‘white lotus.’ I think this is the same as Byakko’s ‘white light,’ which shines eternally in the depths of the human heart. I am truly grateful to have been granted an important role in this ceremony.
Moshe, Activist for international relations in the European Union
I am overwhelmed with joy and eternal gratitude for this lifetime experience. There were so many parts of it that moved me—I can’t express all of them. When I heard earlier about the SOPP program, specifically about the flags, and how we were going to pray for each country—I must say that I wasn’t touched by it. I’ve never been very attached to flags, and I thought, okay, we’re going to have to go through a list—who knows how long it’s going to take to mention all the countries? Then, when I saw the respect and order with which all the flags were brought out—they came from all sides and joined in, and there was a beautiful dance of flags, in harmony—it surprised me how meaningful it became for me.
After seeing all the flags being brought out, I saw Mrs. Saionji sitting down on the grass with everyone else. It was so different from what I was expecting. We were sitting as the guests of honor, in a special tent, in special seats, and she just went and sat down like everyone else, on the grass. So, I chose to sit on the grass as well, and it was an important milestone in my life. I was able to hear her beautiful, feminine, loving, sweet voice praying for all these countries.
We started the alphabet, and after a few countries I realized that, although I recognized their names, I almost forgot that many of these countries existed. I always tried to be aware of humanity, and here I had forgotten that so many of these countries exist. So, in mentioning these countries, I became so emotional, and opened up my heart, and with unconditional love, I sent my love to all of these individuals whom I might never meet personally. It was an opportunity just to pray for them. That was a surprise for me—how deeply such an experience could have an effect on me.
Then, I had the surprise of my life. When we mentioned a country, I would imagine geographically where they are, and I would imagine all the people of that country right in front of me. And suddenly, I had this terrible surprise. Certain countries that were named—for a brief moment, I couldn’t pray for them, because I was looking at them, and I just saw how much they hated me. I knew that the majority of people in that country, if they saw me dressed as a Jew, they would unconditionally hate me, without getting to know me personally. They would never know who I really am, and they would already hate me. For a brief moment, I felt that. And it was such a relief to be able to look at them and to pray for them, unconditionally. It felt so good to know that I could take that step—that before getting to know them personally, I could pray for them, and I could love them unconditionally.
I am so grateful for this experience, because I know that, just like I was given this gift where I can pray for them and love them unconditionally, the day will come when they will also be able to unconditionally love anyone. It’s not a question of how much time it will take until we get there, because it’s happening, and that’s what counts.
So, I have this deep sense of gratitude towards the visionaries—to Masahisa Goi, Masami Saionji, each one of her beautiful daughters, and all the beautiful staff, starting with the president—each member of the staff, each one of the volunteers, and every single one of the people who made this possible—I am in such deep, infinite, eternal gratitude to all of you. Up to now, you have been adding one more country and one more flag, in order to represent all of humanity. I hope that very soon, you will start the process of realizing that countries want to ‘take off their flags’—their own borders—and slowly but surely, we’re going to have fewer and fewer flags, because we won’t see the difference between one country and another anymore. And the only flag that will be left is the Earth flag, the universal flag for all humanity. I pray that, just as you managed to fill this field with beautiful beings who came unconditionally to pray for the rest of the world, may you fill all the surrounding mountains with billions of living beings that will come here and recognize the beautiful energy that comes from this sanctuary, and from Mount Fuji.
I was watching this beautiful child—she must have been two years old or younger—just rolling on the grass. That was so meaningful, because for many of the adults, what’s happening here is so special, because we know that before, we weren’t capable of this unconditional love and this kind of prayer for others. We knew a different world. But when I watched that child rolling, for that child, this environment of praying all together, unconditionally, was normal. That gave me such a beautiful vision of what’s ahead, where children will very soon live normally, in a beautiful world, where only peace and the celebration of each individual’s uniqueness within our oneness will be known.
Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee, Chairperson, Won Buddhism America
It was so powerful and so beautiful to bring our spiritual energy and sense of higher divinity to pray for world peace together. I think that this is something we have to spread throughout the world, especially to troubled areas, to transform the energy of conflict. I was touched by the SOPP ceremony, and I really pray that it can spread throughout the world and that many more people will be able to participate in this peace movement—here at Fuji Sanctuary and throughout the world, and through new technology like the internet, videoconferencing, and so forth. I’m very grateful to be here with you at this sanctuary to pray together.
Two moments deeply touched my heart. One was when the Byakko members performed the wordless prayer with deep breathing. That was very powerful, as if it was connecting earth energy and universal energy, and brought all the beings in the ceremony into oneness. The second moment was Masami Saionji’s prayer. I didn’t understand the language, but her prayer energy touched my heart and generated special energy in my heart, and connected with the universal energy. Those two moments deeply struck my heart, and I was very grateful to have such spiritual moments within the ceremony.
Our world is very troubled at this time. There are lots of problems and disasters, all of which are happening in order to awaken humanity. It is very sad to see terrorism happening all over the world, but through those experiences of suffering and pain, we are asking the fundamental question of why we are here on earth—we ask the meaning and purpose of our life on earth.
In 2016, we will have a ‘world visionary actives congress’ at the UN. We began planning it last year, and this May we had a three-day visionary actives retreat at our retreat center in upstate New York. We study humanity and the trends in our world, and then we reflect together, we envision together, and we co-create together. We are doing that each year.
I heard that Masami Saionji is planning an event for 2015 here, and I want to work with her and have some cooperation between the two events. When we work together, it’s very powerful. Individually, we can do a lot of good things, but when we come together, there is a real energy and power to transform humanity. In our group, we have a politician, a scientist, media people, spiritual leaders, and UN officers. This group will continue to work together, and maybe in 2015 we can meet at Fuji Sanctuary. Also, Masami Saionji talked about the new charter that will be created in 2015. After you produce a new declaration, it’s important to disseminate it. I think that the 2016 UN congress that I am organizing could be a good venue to share the charter with the UN community. So, I’m very happy to be working with Masami Saionji, Byakko Shinko Kai, and other organizations in the world peace prayer movement.
I organize dialogues across cultures, generations, faiths, and disciplines. That is the model I work with, and Masami Saionji’s idea of expanding the circle to include other influential leaders is a very powerful approach. So, I want to help her in bringing the message of Byakko and the SOPP to the world.
I love this open space (Fuji Sanctuary) to pray, with a view of Mount Fuji. I was struck by the globe and world map, and by the Prayer Field. I wish that each country could have this kind of place—a prayer site where there is sacred energy and people can come together to pray. That is a very powerful way to send peace energy out to the universe.
Ms. Margaret Anderson, Global Meditations Network (United States)
I loved the ceremony of speaking peace prayers together, singing together, carrying the flags and honoring the nations together. The event was fantastic. We were all family. It was amazing. I felt the different worlds (physical and spiritual) joining together in this great celebration.
It was a joy to experience the beauty of each prayer. Everyone’s heart was touched by the gentle feeling of love and hope. It was wonderful to be able to speak the prayers.
It was also an honor to be at such a sacred place as Fuji Sanctuary.
Mr. Yaffa Rothstein, Secondary School Teacher of Arabic (Israel)
Although this was my first visit to Japan, when I stepped onto the grounds of Fuji Sanctuary, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia, as though I had come back to one of my past lifetimes. I instinctively knew that this was a wonderful place where our minds will be cleansed, and where our minds are urged to develop, simply by being here.
I can’t say enough about how splendid the SOPP ceremony was! The people who sat patiently in the Prayer Field for such a long time, untiringly offering prayers, were so beautiful. Moreover, I was deeply touched and astonished when I learned that they came from all over Japan and the world only to attend this ceremony. From the field where people were praying, I could feel the enormous power of prayer and the energy of the earth.
The concept of ‘all religions are one,’ which is the theme of SOPP, is something with which I can empathize. I have experienced that, even if the names of the ‘Gods’ we believe in are different, our prayers are connected to each other in oneness.
Although I myself am a Jew, I have been teaching Arabic for thirty-three years now. I love the Arabic language, and I believe that teaching Arabic will serve as a tool which brings about understanding between different peoples. I have earnestly committed myself to this work.
In Israel, our relationship with Palestine is underlain with deeply rooted issues, and therefore it presents many difficult aspects. As for myself, I try to participate in various events and to carry out things within my capacity. Recently, I took Israeli and Arabic children to the United States through the program Seeds of Peace, where we stayed together for three weeks and discussed many things. During this time I came to understand the children much more deeply, in part because I can speak both English and Arabic. While there, we took part in many activities in cooperation with the Palestinian staff, and it was a wonderful experience.
We will encounter various incidents in our lives, and yet, however unfortunate we may feel, each incident contains an important lesson. In my own life as well, I feel that I have been rendered a lot of help by believing in the power of prayer. By participating in the SOPP this time, I have realized that, for those who practice prayer—even if they do it in a different form—as long as it is a truthful prayer, it will serve as one of the important wheels that will motivate the great force.
I study Arabic with Dr. Shlomo Alon, and it was the Byakko prayer colleagues who have visited Israel many times, and who took part in peace activities at our school, who connected me to this precious opportunity. I would like to offer my heartfelt gratitude for your love.
Ms. Barbara Wolf, Founder, Global Meditations Network (United States)
From beginning to end, the SOPP ceremony was beautiful. My heart was smiling. The people were so full of love and peace.
I think the concept of everyone joining together to say prayers of different religions is a good idea. It breaks down barriers so that people begin to love each other, no matter what religion they believe in.
I also like Fuji Sanctuary very much. There is a good feeling of peace and love here.
Mr. Mark Zion, Associate Professor, Tama University (United States, Japan)
(The following is adapted from Mr. Zion’s speech at the reception following the SOPP ceremony.)
I want to personally thank the Saionji family for their many kindnesses over the many years that I have known them.
I will speak about an important Jewish mystical tradition. Kabbalah, which means tradition in Hebrew, is a series of mystical teachings that stretch back over a thousand years. Most know of it today through recent new age movements that have borrowed from the Sefirot, the ten-point chart, represented as various qualities, that is shaped something like the human body. The Sefirot are the qualities a person can experience of Ha-shem (The Name in Hebrew). One of the goals of meditation is to balance these qualities.
The ten points of emanation are seen as angels. These ‘angels’ are not spiritual creatures with wings, but are forces for the development of a spiritual life. Two of the most important are ‘Gabriel’ (meaning YHWH is My Strength in Hebrew), who is imagined as gently touching a person’s left side and ‘Michael’ (meaning Who is Like YHWH?) gently on the right side. Gabriel represents ‘din’ and ‘gevorah,’ meaning judgment and justice in Hebrew, Michael with ‘chesed’ or loving-kindness. While Gabriel, with the force of justice, changes the direction of history toward righteousness, Michael is non-judgmental, open, and loving. The great challenge is to have a balance of both: justice and loving-kindness.
In Genesis 22 is the story of Abraham’s binding of his son Isaac. YHWH asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, whom he had waited for most his life (of course this was only a test and Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac). Hebrew tradition says that Abraham was 120 years old at the binding.
A teaching from the Zohar, the central work of kabbalah, says that Abraham did not become a ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ person until the binding. Abraham had too much ‘loving-kindness’ and needed the balance of ‘justice,’ ‘judgment,’ even ‘severity.’
This is a lesson for each of us. As people who cultivate spirituality, we tend to focus on ‘loving-kindness’ and this is very important. Yet some of us neglect ‘justice,’ taking a stand, speaking out, and challenging injustice. I hope we can all be people of G-d, with the balance of both justice and loving-kindness.
Ms. Anne-Marie Bauer
To participate in the SOPP was a great gift. I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and hope for the world, and was deeply touched by all who made the SOPP a reality. I was touched not just by the prayers on that particular day, but by those who are praying every day for the benefit of the entire world. It is this deep-seated intention that moves me. There is so much love and devotion to our collective well-being in that intention. It’s really beautiful.
Perhaps the most heartfelt moment was when Yuka Saionji was on stage giving her closing speech. I could feel the gratitude and love she was expressing to everyone for making the SOPP a reality. The collective effort it takes to come together to sincerely pray for peace on earth is really amazing. So when Yuka was thanking the audience and broke into tears, it moved me to tears as well. I felt just as much love and gratitude to her and to everyone for making it all possible.
The whole experience has inspired me to believe in myself on a greater scale and has reminded me just how interconnected we all are. It is a torch of light that I want to pass on to as many people as I can.
Mr. Kazu Haga
I was honored to be part of this year’s SOPP ceremony, as well as the post-ceremony discussion. Religious conflicts have caused some of history’s largest wars, so it is always an incredible opportunity to be reminded by leaders from various faith traditions that we are all the same—that we all desire peace. As a youth representative, it was an honor for me to spend a day with these leaders during the dialogue and to get to know them better personally.
The thing that left the biggest impression on me was actually a speech by a Buddhist monk at the reception following the SOPP ceremony. He was talking about the concept of en (spiritual connection), and the idea that everything happens for a reason. This became a running theme for me during my time in Japan, as I was constantly reminded that all of the things that I have been through in my life, good and bad, have helped to bring me to this moment. It helped me to appreciate everything that I have been through, even if it was difficult at the time. My experience in Japan gave me inspiration and confidence that I will take back home with me.
Mr. Fremma Emannuel Kibibi
The SOPP was amazing and full of positive energy. Seeing the flags of all countries was stunning for me. I didn’t know where some of the countries were located, but to see happy faces praying for peace in each country was an honor, and filled me with peace and love. The flags surrounding the Prayer Field and the timing of the flag ceremony were also amazing for me.
When I return home I will share with many people my experience of the SOPP and the activities of Byakko Shinko Kai. I am planning to incorporate some of these ideas in my work, and to start similar activities in schools, in refugee camps, and with my friends. Hopefully this will help me achieve my dream of bringing peace, love, and happiness to my own community.
I feel so blessed to have been part of these events, and it was indeed a turning point in my life. All of the youth participants learned from each other. We had different talents and backgrounds, but we shared the same heart and desire for peace.
Mr. Birju Pandya
The SOPP was an amazing experience of connection to heart-family on the other side of the earth! Imagine a massive field where thousands of people brave the weather of the day, whatever it may be, to pray for peace—not for themselves, but for others, mostly people they don’t know, spoken in the language of each country that is prayed for. This goes on for many hours. Amazing. It was stunning to see the pull that the SOPP movement has gotten—people whose actions are driven by the desire to pray for others and who set deeper intentions for their own capacity to serve.
It was also powerful to be in the presence of Masami Saionji. She looked at everyone enough to notice our individuality, then spoke to the group. The importance of cultivating our own transformation and going deeper could not be overemphasized.
Birju also shared his SOPP experience on the Service Space blog. His article can be read at http://www.servicespace.org/blog/view.php?id=12988.
Ms. Leah Pearlman
It was an incredible honor to be invited to the SOPP. I felt so cared for and supported by everyone at Fuji Sanctuary, and participating in the ceremony strengthened my own belief in my work. I loved the flag ceremony, especially the part at the end with the Earth flag, under which we’re all united. Having music as part of the ceremony was lovely, too.
I learned so much and grew personally from meeting and working with the other strong, inspired youth participants. I learned a lot from Yuka Saionji about joyful leadership—she had a way of being in charge but also being very open and inclusive. I hope this will help shape me as a leader. The SOPP made me feel validated in my work, and I think it will move me to push harder in my art and to share it across national boundaries.