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. Shantisree Goswami, Cultural educator and consultant; Founder, Shanti Tea Co.
I have participated in the SOPP ceremony several times now, and I really love Fuji Sanctuary. It is a place of prayer for peace, and a place where I feel very happy. This year, however, I felt more nervous than in other years, because I was asked to be a prayer leader. While I was on stage waiting for my turn to speak, I was planning on telling everyone how I was feeling, but once I was standing at the podium, I was overwhelmed by everyone’s sincere intention to pray, and it took all my attention just to give the speech that I had prepared.
Even if we do not understand the prayer words, it is wonderful to pray and think of peace together. Although our hands were not physically joined, the feeling arose in me that we were forming one great circle. It was a very moving experience.
In my home country of India, there are people of many different faiths—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and many others. Though we may belong to different religions, we share the same goal of peace, and for this reason, India is generally a tolerant country, where people accept and respect other faiths.
Peace cannot be achieved in one day. I would like to tell my friends about the experience of today’s event, in the hope of contributing to peace. If my friends tell their friends, and so on, then I believe the reach of the SOPP will grow exponentially.
Mr. Masahito Ishikawa, Chief Priest, Kumano Shrine
The day of the SOPP was a warm, sunny day, which felt good. I had undertaken the important role of prayer leader, but the participants, who warmly joined in the prayers with loud voices, made it easy and enjoyable for me to carry out this role.
I do not think there is any other event that allows for an exchange among so many different faiths and traditions, without drawing any boundaries.
Japanese people possess a spirituality that enables them to interact with forgiveness, acceptance, and mutual respect. Perhaps this is why the SOPP began here in Japan.
There are a number of organizations in Japan, such as the Japanese branch of Religions for Peace, in which religious leaders and people in various fields are working together to promote peace. I am involved in this movement as well. What is essential in interreligious exchange, I feel, is to recognize religious differences without arguing about them, and also to recognize what we have in common. When we make this the cornerstone of our interaction, I am sure that something will be born that will lead us in the direction of peace. In today’s world, I believe that this kind of thinking is needed among nations as well.
It could be said that the polytheistic aspect of Shintoism allows for an exceptionally high level of tolerance and acceptance. With this in mind, I feel a greater sense of a responsibility, and I wish to become even more active in my work for peace.
S.S. Sada Anand Singh Khalsa, Director, Kundalini Yoga and Meditation Center in Nara, Japan
This was my second year in a row taking part in the SOPP, and it was simply wonderful. The participants gathered here at Fuji Sanctuary to pray for world peace created a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere.
When we look at the world today, we see that many, many people are living with stress and feelings of isolation. Although we were all born to be happy, many people feel restricted, and they clash with each other, which leads to conflicts and wars. How can we change this world where people are so closed off from one another? The change begins within us. It is for this purpose, I think, that we have meditation and prayer.
Working for peace means working in the outside world and in the inner sphere. Both aspects are very important. This year, I led a meditation with the theme of feeling love, peace, and light in your own life. When we awaken to our own divinity and become bright and pure, our heart opens in abundance, and our aura grows more radiant. That radiance is projected in the outside world, and has a positive influence on the people around us. In other words, when our heart is filled with love, peace, and light, that atmosphere of contentment becomes a gift to every person we encounter, and peace ripples outward from inside us.
The Saionji family are truly pure-hearted and overflowing with beautiful intuition. I believe their work is bringing about genuine peace. I would very much like to take part in the SOPP and pray for peace with everyone again next year.
Rabbi David A. Kunin, Rabbi, Jewish Community of Japan
This was my first time taking part in the SOPP, and it was a wonderful event, bringing people together, and praying for many different languages and traditions across the globe. It really represents all of humanity. That aspect—leaders from different religions praying together—is not new to me, but it’s always important. The next part of the ceremony, with the flags, and prayers for peace in all the countries in their own languages—it was very, very impressive. I really enjoyed that. It was really a wonderful and powerful ceremony, really lovely, and I am privileged to have taken part in it.
One of the things I do in my own work is to offer a very strong message of peace, and to encourage people to try to build peace in small ways in their own lives, which can build peace in a bigger way for the world. I encourage them to do whatever they can—helping other people, having positive family values in their homes, being considerate of others and treating each other with respect, thinking about how they treat their friends and people in school and at work and so on.
Mr. Humayun A. Mughal, Islamic Sufi spiritual leader
Although this was my seventh time participating in the Symphony of Peace Prayers, I felt a particularly high-level energy today. The energy level at Fuji Sanctuary is quickly rising thanks to everyone’s prayers. For this reason, my own prayer today was also at a higher level than in past years. We prayed at the universal level, for the peace and happiness of all humanity.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, there is still antagonism and conflict among different religious groups, nations, and peoples. Why is this? From a spiritual point of view, people who have passed away get into disputes and conflicts in the next world, and it leads people on earth to do the same, which makes the divinities very sad. This is why I added to the end of my prayer a wish for the happiness of the divinities in the heavenly world.
The main point of my message today was to listen—not in the conventional sense, but in the true sense. In Japanese, there are two different characters used to mean ‘listen.’ The first (聞) is more commonly used. The second (聴) has a deeper meaning—it has the character for ‘ear’ (耳) next to the character for ‘mind’ or ‘heart’ (心). In prayer, our heart and our consciousness play important roles. Prayer is like medicine. Therefore, in order for our prayers for peace to work throughout the world, we need to pray from our heart.
The ‘divinity’ or ‘divine nature’ that Masami Saionji spoke about is most easily expressed in Islam as ‘conscience.’ It is important to elevate the level of our conscience through prayer. Those who don’t recognize this and are unaware of their conscience become self-centered and end up heading down a mistaken path. I believe that it is the mission of religious and spiritual leaders to draw such people onto a virtuous path as soon as possible.
In 2015, I would very much like to bring people who have influence in Pakistan and introduce them to the SOPP. Once they have come in contact with the energy of this sanctuary, I think they will start to realize the importance of this kind of activity. As each individual’s consciousness changes, peace will come to the world.
Mr. Katsuyuki Shimamoto, Chief Priest, Ryûkôzan Seisuiji Temple
When I arrived at Fuji Sanctuary the day before the SOPP, Masami Saionji brought me to the lower level of the main building, where I was introduced to the 7-21 prayer writing activity, and I was given the opportunity to write prayers for peace in Hebrew and Japanese. On the day of the ceremony, I was warmly welcomed at the guest reception by friends I had made through my aikido practice in Osaka, and they made me feel at ease.
I was invited as a Buddhist prayer leader, and I wondered if I was really the right person for the job. But I also knew that I had accepted the offer, and a sense of responsibility and duty welled up within me. As I was performing this important role, I recalled what my Zen teacher and life mentor, Kakuzen Suzuki, once said: “It is where the framework of Zen is completely removed that Zen exists.” True prayer, I believe, is Kuu (emptiness, void)—it is Mother Nature herself. In the SOPP, all the world’s religions are removed from their framework, and I felt that the significance of the event lies in the marvelous way that the different faiths blend together.
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, proclaimed that we are the universe. I was deeply moved to see how everyone participating in the SOPP joined in the prayers of each religion as if it were completely natural, offering each prayer with equal sincerity. I would also like to express my respect for all the staff and volunteers working behind the scenes.
Fr. Franco Sottocornola, Founder, Shinmeizan Center for Interreligious Dialogue
As the founder of the Shinmeizan Center for Interreligious Dialogue, I took part in the World Conference of Religions for Peace and other similar events. But I found the SOPP, in which everyone prays together, to be especially wonderful, and I was deeply moved by it.
Once every two years at our center, we have an event where representatives from various faiths and organizations offer prayers. Two years ago, some members of Byakko Shinko Kai took part in this event and planted a peace pole in front of our main building. That is how I came to participate in the SOPP.
The process of interreligious dialogue is a long one, and there are still many challenges ahead. What matters most of all is to get along with one another. Everyone at Byakko Shinko Kai and everyone who takes part in the SOPP exhibits this beautifully, but the world as a whole does not see nearly enough of it.
The next important thing is to respect and accept other faiths, which is the concept of the SOPP, and to spread this way of thinking within our own religious community. As we can see from examples such as the recent trouble in Nigeria, placing too much importance on our own religion can be very dangerous.
I also found the flag ceremony to be quite wonderful, although what really stands out in my mind is the opportunity to meet with several other religious and spiritual leaders. Masami Saionji is a person of deep spirituality, and meeting her left a strong impression on me—it was an important event, I feel. I believe we have a good connection, and we will be able to work together going forward. I am very grateful to have been able to participate in the Symphony of Peace Prayers.
Ms. Tamara Alon, Daughter of Dr. Shlomo Alon, Vice President of IARF (Israel)
I had heard about the SOPP from my father and seen a booklet with information about it, but coming to this place for the first time, with so many people gathered for the sole purpose of praying for peace, and feeling the energy and power that fill the sanctuary, it was deeply moving. In addition, the organization and the program of the whole event were really fantastic. The prayers offered by the prayer leaders and the flag ceremony were both wonderful—I don’t think there is any event like this anywhere else. Fuji Sanctuary is an extremely sacred place, and I could feel everyone’s prayers being steadily drawn up to the divine world.
Then, there was the wordless prayer with deep breathing and hand movements—it was so noble and divine! To think that human beings could emit such a beautiful vibration! I felt that I would like to learn this prayer and perform it myself, as soon as I can. I really hope someone will teach it to me!
I also met several of the staff members, and they all treated me not with prescribed formality, but in a very heartfelt way. I actually first met Masami, Maki, and Rika Saionji ten years ago at an international conference in Switzerland. We have been in touch over the internet, but it’s been ten years since we have seen each other. When Masami Saionji’s speech was finished, I had a sense of spiritual growth, and I really wanted to know more about how to elevate myself as a human being. I pray that the SOPP movement will continue to grow and progress!
I would like to thank you for this amazing and spiritual opportunity to take part in a life-changing event. I will forever remember the uniting strength of the community I met that day, and it continues to be an inspiration to me.
Dr. Jiseok Jung, Director of Border Peace School (Korea)
I am so happy to remember the extraordinary experience of the SOPP at Fuji Sanctuary. It was such a special spiritual experience for me. I was so amazed by the thousands of people who gathered and prayed for world peace, with one mind and one will towards peace.
In general, people think peace is not possible in this world, but is only possible in the heavenly world. It is not true. I believe peace has already been realized through our prayers for peace. I saw this at the SOPP. It was like a spiritual volcano erupting. I envisioned the peace and spirituality of the SOPP flowing out around the world.
In the three years since I moved to Cheorwon, a town near the border of North and South Korea, I have been making peace prayer pilgrimages to Mount Soi. As one who prays for peace, I felt a spiritual friendship with the SOPP. I pray that our spiritual friendship grows together. I will continue to pray here for the healing and peace of the world, as well as the Korean peninsula. In spiritual partnership, let us continue this holy path of prayer for peace. Peace starts with our minds seeking peace. I appreciate the good friends, spiritual colleagues that I made through the SOPP.
Kaiser Mahboob, Representative of Club Pakistan (Japan)
This was my third time to take part in the Symphony of Peace Prayers. Every time, I feel the wonderful energy of nature around here.
I think that praying for peace with people of other religions, countries, and backgrounds is the most wonderful thing of all. There are various religions on earth, and they were founded by us human beings. But in fact, we live on one earth and belong to one big family. So I believe that sharing the awareness of being one big family on the earth with people of other religions, backgrounds, and countries is the best way to realize a peaceful world on this earth.
What impress me most every time I attend this ceremony are the prayers for peace in each country in each national language. I think this is the only place in the world that has such a ceremony. I invite my friends and as many people around me as possible to join the SOPP program. I think that changing the awareness of each one of us is essential to making a peaceful world.
I am going to start to act little by little within my capability to make such a peaceful world a reality. One such opportunity is joining this program. Thank you very much.
Rev. Dr. Johnston McMaster, Adjunct Assistant Professor with the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
It was extremely impressive to see people of different faiths praying each other’s prayers for peace. The contents of each prayer were different, but at the core of all of them was a message of peace, harmony, and respect for others.
Another moment that was very moving was when the flag bearers carried the national flags into the Prayer Field. In my country, national flags are used in a rather different way. In Northern Ireland, one area flies the British Union Jack as their flag, and another area flies the flag of the Irish Republic. To some, the flags are seen as symbols of opposition. But at Fuji Sanctuary, the national flags are used as symbols of peace and harmony. Both the flag of the United Kingdom and the flag of Ireland were flown in a spirit of peace and harmony. I cannot express in words how that made me feel.
I was also deeply impressed by Masami Saionji’s spirituality and her profound desire for peace. She has a firm belief in the incomparable importance of the work she is doing. I feel that she will make steady progress in this work, and I have the feeling that I must do the same.
Mrs. Jonene McMaster, (Ireland)
At first, I was surprised to see such a great number of people gathered in the large Prayer Field, with a view of Mount Fuji. I wondered where they all came from, and how they came to this place. As I thought about their stories, I felt an intense piety flowing out from these people.
When I was being shown around Fuji Sanctuary, I exchanged greetings with many people, and found them all very pleasant. I saw the prayer leaders and others wearing traditional dress, and I had a keen feeling that the world is one, and that this sanctuary is a place of peaceful people.
I listened with great interest to the speeches given by the prayer leaders, and I joined in their prayers. As I said the prayer words with everyone, I was flooded with a feeling of happiness that I have never had before. I felt that prayer is not the domain of religious leaders—it is the prayers of ordinary people that make a prayer what it is. I come from the small country of Ireland, but we hear a great deal of news about sad and painful events throughout the world, and it makes me wonder where peace exists. But after taking part in the SOPP, I firmly believe that there is progress for good in this world.