Impressions from the Ceremony
Following the SOPP ceremony, several prayer leaders, performers, and guests were kind enough to give their thoughts and impressions. We are pleased to offer some of their remarks here.
Ms. Hafsat Abiola-Costello
I felt deeply moved in the ceremony when all the flags of the world came into the Prayer Field. And then, when we started to focus on each flag and send prayers for peace to each country and each people, to me the most important of all the flags that we saw was the flag of the whole world. Because I think that is where we will go in the end. Right now there are 190 and some countries, but one day we will not think of ourselves as being different countries. We will just see ourselves as one world.
I had been feeling for many months that I needed to come and pay my respects to Mount Fuji, and I didn’t know why. I was just feeling that it was important to come to Mount Fuji. I was at home, in my house, and I felt that Mount Fuji was calling to me. I felt, Mount Fuji is a friend who has been with humanity for so many thousands of years—and when we who are living on earth today are no longer here, it will still be with our descendants. It is bearing witness to so much. And it was saying, “Come, come.”
And when I came, I realized that Mount Fuji wanted me to see the energy that was being created here, and to be able to share that with the people in my country—to share with them that energy is coming out into the world from Japan, and is now being shared in other parts of the world. In Nigeria and other parts of Africa, we must embrace this energy and try to create it in our own countries, too. In other words, we must try to create an interconnected force field of peace. Then, it might be enough to generate peace in the world.
I always think: as it is within, so it is without. We want harmony, we want peace. And so we must have harmony and peace within ourselves. There are parts of ourselves that we try to hide, but we must learn to embrace all parts of ourselves. We must try to be understanding and have compassion for ourselves, and then it will be easier to have compassion for others.
Between our present and our future, the way we are living our lives today is destroying the foundation upon which those who will live in the future can build their lives. This has to change. First, we need to recognize the divine spark within ourselves. The way in which humanity is always eating up the world shows that we feel that we, ourselves, are not enough. We feel that we need to consume something in order to be great. But we are born great. Within us there is greatness. We have no need to consume so much of the world to become great when we are already great. We need to embrace ourselves and embrace each other, not try to dominate each other. We just need to be together as one. Then, it will be easy to bequeath to the world—to the future—that which they need to learn. But as it is now, we are so filled with insecurity that we try to hide our insecurity by taking up so much of the world.
Our first step toward being able to be responsible for the world is to love ourselves truly. Let us accept that this is who we are, and who we are is already perfect, and there is no need to embellish ourselves. We also need to know that within each woman there is both masculine and feminine energy. And within each man there is also both masculine and feminine energy. We need to embrace this because those two energies have different wisdom and different areas of strength. So, when we embrace the two, which are both within us, we can have balance within ourselves. And by bringing that forward into the world we can have balance in the world.
All of the different concepts that we discussed at the symposium have been helping to make clear in our own minds that we, ourselves, are the answers that the world has been searching for. We are already here. The future that the world needs is already here. We need to accept our role and take responsibility, and come together. When we come together, it will be enough to make the changes that we need.
When I was in this ceremony today, inside my being, I felt the divine spark. I felt it was very clear and very centered. And I felt the divine spark communicate to me that it was the same spark in every being, and that we are going to recognize that the divine spark is the same in each of us. It’s in all of us because it wants to experience life through each of us.
When we embrace life and embrace each other, the divine spark that is already connecting us can also connect the world. We can bring out the unity that is within us. The unity that is within us can begin to manifest outside of us.
Right now we are divided, but we are only divided because we do not come out from within our divine spark. But when we come out from within our divine spark, when I look at you, I see myself. And I hope for you all that I hope for myself. I pray for you as I would pray for myself. As you suffer, I suffer. As you are feeling joy, I feel joy. There is no division. And when there is no division, we manifest in the world that oneness. Then there is peace.
So, to all the people who are doing the SOPP here and around the world, the force field we are creating is going to be sending out that message and strengthening that message within each of us. And it is sending that signal to others so that they can join with us, and that one day we will all be together.
Imam Muhammed Rasit Alas
The SOPP was an enjoyable and deeply meaningful experience. At Tokyo Camii (Mosque), I perform the Adhan (Call to Prayer) every day, and I also recite from the Qur’an. But praying here, in this natural setting at the foot of Mount Fuji, with all of these people gathered, felt very different. It was wonderful to see so many people praying together for peace, regardless of differences in faith or nationality. The idea of ‘peace’ is contained within the word ‘Islam,’ and as a representative of Islam and of Turkey, it filled me with the greatest happiness to be able to offer a message of peace here today.
I participated in the SOPP as a guest last year, and this year I was honored to be invited as a prayer leader. I wanted to convey the message that Islam is a peaceful religion. At Tokyo Camii, too, I strive to let people know that Islam is a gentle, peaceful religion, and I also wanted to spread this message to the people gathered at Fuji Sanctuary from across Japan and different parts of the world.
In March of this year, the king of Saudi Arabia visited Japan, and I was invited to meet with him. Then, at the beginning of May, I made a pilgrimage to Mecca with a group from Japan. We were scheduled to return to Japan on May 15, but I returned a bit early in order to take part in the SOPP. That’s how important it was for me to represent Islam at the SOPP.
The Adhan is sung in Arabic all over the world. Even if you don’t understand the meaning of the words in the Adhan, when you hear it, its special rhythm and vibration touch your heart. After that, I read a verse from the Qu’ran. It says that Allah (God) created humankind, dividing us into male and female, and into various ethnicities and nations, so that we could get to know each other. We were created by Allah, and regardless of religious and ethnic differences, we are meant to treat one another with equal respect—to coexist, to transcend our differences, and to recognize that we are all equal. Seeing all the people gathered here at Fuji Sanctuary—people of different nationalities and faiths praying for peace in the same place, I felt that the words of my prayer had become a reality.
Islam places great importance on the rights and status of women. The Prophet Mohammed himself said, Heaven lies at the feet of your mother. In other words, if you want to go to heaven, first of all you must receive the blessing of your mother. For all human beings, our mothers come first. There is a story where one of the prophet’s companions asked the prophet, “Who in this world is most deserving of my good company?” The prophet replied, “Your mother.” The companion asked, “Then who?” The prophet again answered, “Your mother.” He asked a third time, “Then who?” and again the answer was “Your mother.” When he asked a fourth time, “Then who?” the prophet answered, “Then your father.” This story is said to show that in Islam, women are three times more important than men.
In the sixth and seventh centuries, women held a very low status on the Arabian Peninsula and were treated as slaves. The prophet lamented this and began spreading the message that women are extremely important, and society began to change dramatically. After that, the status of women in the Muslim world became three times that of men, or more.
I believe the Soul of WoMen campaign, which seeks to give recognition to the divine feminine, can help to build a more peaceful and harmonious world for both women and men. I myself always hold my mother in very high regard. And at Tokyo Camii, when we provide iftar (the meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan), we give priority to women.
I think what is needed most in the world right now is peace. In that sense, the SOPP is a truly wonderful event. I’d like to thank everyone involved in planning today’s program. I am certain that the SOPP will make a great contribution to world peace. I think, with the current state of world affairs, people are seeking an event like this.
Dr. Shlomo Alon
This year, I felt a special spirituality, more than any SOPP in the past. I felt a deep sense of friendship and togetherness. Also this year, we are celebrating 50 years since the unification of Jerusalem, where I live with my family. I think that Jerusalem and Fuji Sanctuary are connected in their holiness, and I felt that during this SOPP ceremony.
The prayer I selected was from Psalms, and it’s called “A song for going up to the Temple.” This is my feeling when I make my way to Fuji Sanctuary. The last verse, prayed by all participants together, is: The Lord will protect you from every danger. He will protect your soul. The Lord will protect you as you come and go, both now and forever. This is the essence of my thinking about prayer. I believe very much in harmony between the feminine and masculine. I seek this harmony in my family, and I find so true the messages of the Fuji Declaration and the Soul of WoMen movement.
My message to all participants at Fuji Sanctuary and around the globe is: Prayer helps; Prayer cures; Prayer is bringing people together to find each other in love and peace.
Ms. Preeta Bansal
Everything about the event impressed me! The spirit of this community is so deeply rooted in peace within one’s own heart, and prayer from within the heart. That internal rootedness comes through in every aspect of this ceremony. I’m impressed not only by the simple yet bold vision expressed in the prayer May Peace Prevail on Earth, but by how the simplicity and boldness flow from the depths of the heart. It is not a thin reed based on hope; it is a strong story rooted in the depths of interbeing.
I’ve worked in the spheres of government and politics, where there are frequent plans for peace on a big, systemic scale, but so often such broad initiatives lack the deep internal roots that allow them to remain in place across time, much less to succeed. Here, in this environment, I feel that deep internal rootedness, so I’m very optimistic about what boldness can come from this. It’s a slower but more steady and sure unfolding.
I was very impressed when I met Rika Saionji—by her spirit and her intention. And I had heard from friends and colleagues of mine who have attended this event in the past what a beautiful spirit is here. So, I was excited to see people coming together in such a beautiful, natural environment, where there are vibrations of so many gatherings of people praying from so deep in their hearts and for so long. It was really inspiring.
I think the theme of harmony between the divine feminine and divine masculine is very much alive in my life and work. As we talked about in the symposium, we’re operating in a world not only with a ‘wounded masculine,’ but also with a deeply buried feminine energy. I associate the feminine with the soft light of wisdom and intuition, and that can become hidden in the glare of the external world. In my own life, I’ve been part of hierarchical systems and structures—so often associated with the masculine world—and so I’m also trying to go inside and unearth the wisdom and divine spark within me and to help bring my own work as well as our collective systems into alignment. So, personally, professionally, and spiritually, I feel that the theme is very closely aligned with what I’m doing, which is to uncover the divine feminine and help bring the feminine and masculine into balance.
One of the things I’m doing is I’m leading a nonprofit that works with women around the world, empowering women to use the tools of technology—modern as well as ancient—to allow them to find their own inner voices and their own inner wisdom. We’re working with some leading technologists at MIT to do that, and also with some wise and old souls who can merge such technology with more ancient tools for uncovering and illumination. I’m also a constitutional lawyer—my background is in law and government—and I’m working to shift the notion of lawyering from conflict resolution to conflict transformation. I’m looking at how conflict can be a tool for transformation and the kind of deep healing that leads to more lasting peace.
I feel such deep gratitude, and I feel very humble to be in the presence of such great souls who have cultivated themselves so deeply. So, I feel gratitude, humility and excitement to be part of this gathering and movement!
Mr. Sam Beard
The whole ceremony was heartwarming and beautiful, generating peace. I could feel the energy sweeping across the hills. I loved the flags, I loved the waving of the signs, and of course, I love the Saionji family.
I was honored to be asked to participate in this year’s SOPP. The message of the SOPP is that we need to go beyond the world of the five senses and go to a spiritual world and elevate human behavior, to try to save the world and save the universe. It was an honor to be included.
The themes of the SOPP and the Fuji Declaration tie in with my own work in every way. The Fuji Declaration is a masterpiece of words and vision, and an inspiration for everybody. The SOPP gives each of us an opportunity to be in awe of the vision of that document, and to try, on a day-to-day basis, to live up to its exalted purposes.
It’s always discouraging to me that around the world, and in most religions, the divine feminine is not balanced with the divine masculine. Too many organizations are overpowered by men. The vision of elevating the divine feminine, in all organizations and all human behavior, to balance it with the divine masculine is extremely important. In addition, elevating our consciousness to evolve toward a spiritual consciousness that is connected to nature and to the universe and higher powers—that is our chance to usher in a new era of peace.
The message I would like to give is to the people who aren’t here. Somehow, all of us here today need to leave Mount Fuji and spread out around the world to try and multiply the ripples from this event. I had the privilege of working with former U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, and one of my favorite quotes of his is that when each of us throws a pebble into a pond it creates ripples, and then the ripples become a tidal wave for change. Each of us should leave Mount Fuji, leave the beauty of Japan, and go around the world and reach out to people, to join hands in order to elevate human behavior.
Mr. Sesto Castagnoli
I was here two years ago, and I was very much impressed by the kindness of the people—the many people who attended—and the harmony among all the people on stage and the people listening. All around the world, it is very rare to see this kind of atmosphere.
We were very grateful for the invitation here this year. We are on a pilgrimage, and so this was a way for us to go to Japan—to meet our friends here at the SOPP, and also to see what kinds of exchanges we would have with Japanese people on our pilgrimage. But the main reason to be here is to meet our friends from the Goi Peace Foundation, from Byakko and from the World Peace Prayer Society, and all the people who attended this Symphony of Peace Prayers.
My wife and I were invited to speak at the conference for the European launch of Soul of WoMen, in Scotland, last year. They invited us because Gabriele and I are representing the feminine and masculine on our pilgrimage, and we talk about this theme with the people we meet in all the countries we travel to. Gender and sex is a big topic at the moment, and we are seeing that masculine and feminine can come together and exist in everybody. So, I think Soul of WoMen is one of the best campaigns that could ever have been.
My message is very clear: Join with us and stay with us into the future—with all the people and organizations here, which represent maybe a few million people in all. In my opinion, we have already reached a tipping point where we can change the world, create a better life for all, overcome poverty and hunger and all the problems facing the world. We have all the ingredients, and I think that this event here and the people here are all marvelously helping to take the right steps.
Ms. Tomoko Maekawa
Although terrorism, refugee issues, and confrontation continue to spread in many regions of the world, I felt strongly today that when people unite their hearts in prayer, it is not at all futile—those prayers are communicated to others, and they have tremendous power. In that sense, it was really a wonderful ceremony.
I was here in 2015, when I was invited to sing “We Are All Shining Divine Sparks” for the first time, and the memory of being in this beautiful natural setting and clean air has stayed with me. So, I was very much looking forward to coming back this year.
I began my work as a soprano vocalist with the idea that it was something only women could do. And indeed, there are specific roles for women and for men. But when those roles are brought together, it manifests a power at least twice as great. I think that music—whether sung in parts as in opera, or in a chorus—can create a totally new world. Today’s theme of balance between the divine feminine and divine masculine could perhaps also be interpreted as blending the feminine and masculine aspects within ourselves. The notion that women should be a certain way and men should be a certain way is gradually fading, and I think we are entering an era where the blending of femininity and masculinity will become actual practice.
My message to SOPP participants is that it is so precious to have people all over the world praying simultaneously for peace. Both prayer and music transcend national boundaries. I am deeply moved by your participation in this meaningful event, and I think the SOPP will surely continue to expand because of our deep longing for world peace.
Dr. Raymond Moody
The whole ceremony was wonderful, but I think the most impressive thing was the warmth and the sweetness of all people coming together in unity. When I met the wonderful hosts of this event and they invited me here, I very much wanted to come. And my daughter Carol Ann has been interested in Japan since she was young, so I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to bring her as well.
My work is mostly with patients who are terminally ill or dying and have had near-death experiences. And when people have these experiences, they say exactly what the Fuji Declaration says—that we should all love each other, all over the world, and that’s the only way we will have peace.
I suppose I have never understood the concept of national boundaries. Even when I was a child, I always thought that the idea that we are divided into countries is really ridiculous in the large sense. I feel that the idea of a borderless world came into being here today, with the unity of people all over the world, and that is so inspiring to me.
Mr. Fumio Onuki
This was my first experience taking part in the SOPP, and I was very much looking forward to it. As I was singing today, I could really feel the warm energy of everyone in the Prayer Field.
In the field of opera, as in all other fields, there are both men and women, and it’s important to bring the masculine and feminine into balance. In opera, when two voices are combined, we can express things in ways that we could not do with one voice alone—sometimes in ways we did not even intend. That is the basis of our music.
My message to everyone is that I wish them all happiness!
Ms. Sally Ranney
I am so honored and humbled to visit Japan and be part of the 2017 SOPP ceremony. People have been gathering at Mount Fuji to pray for peace for so long, and the energy here is strong and genuine, and can be felt by all of us guests. Mrs. Saionji, her family, their dedication to spreading Peace around the world and the Fuji Declaration have truly impressed me. When we look at the planet as a whole, and humanity as a whole, we find that we are more similar than we are different, and this really shone through when we said the word ‘peace’ in every language, for every country.
My divine spark was lit when I was seven years old, so I’ve been so lucky to start at a young age of being in service to Mother Nature. This service is in turn deep service for humanity, because Mother Nature is our life—she sustains our life, and she is sacred. The idea of ‘no harm’ is something I’ve tried to bring into all of my work. This is why we need prayer and gratitude and acknowledgement for taking animals and plants and water to nourish our bodies. So, I’ve been working on protecting the biodiversity of the planet, but then as I discovered that climate change was advancing, I started getting involved in the bigger picture, the global picture. And with climate change, for the first time in human history, humanity is invited to collaborate.
The divine feminine and divine masculine are very present in nature when undisturbed. You have masculine plants and you have feminine plants. If you cut down the feminine plants, there’s no pollination. Nature has diversity, and diversity is the stability. Everything in nature has a purpose. Nature does not have preferences. But it does have processes. All the designs we need and how to conduct ourselves are there in nature. But you have to be still, and you have to go into nature and meditate to pick up the vibration and understand that, actually, we are not separate from nature—we are nature, we are the creation. It’s not ‘us and nature.’ One of my life’s missions is to bridge the gap between ourselves and nature, because the creator is God. It’s all God’s expression—I am an expression, you are an expression, this bush is an expression, we’re all expressions. So if we are respecting ourselves, we respect nature. If we love ourselves, we love nature.
There is great harmony in nature, and when you spend a lot of time in nature, that seeps into your soul. And you hold that respect when you go out into the world—you hold that resonance. Today, we have so much violence against planet Earth. We are literally at war with planet Earth. And that means we are at war with ourselves. Because she, Mother Earth, sustains our life.
The violence against planet Earth comes from the same place as the violence against women and the divine feminine. Now, people are starting to recognize that each of us has divine masculine and divine feminine energies. When that comes into balance, then some of the things we see in the world now will no longer be that way. In many indigenous cultures, everybody has a purpose, everybody has a job, so everyone feels meaningful. But in our society, a lot of people don’t feel that sense of purpose—they don’t feel their divine spark. It’s there, but it’s not recognized. So, finding that is absolutely essential.
I think that what has started here at the SOPP and is emanating from here can take place in many places around the world, and I think people who have come here are taking it home with them. I know I am taking it home—I am going to plant a peace pole in my community. As I see the exchanges that are taking place here, I feel that Fuji Sanctuary is a ‘mega-point’ of peace.
Mr. Parag Shah
The whole spirit of the ceremony impressed me—the spirit of the way it is done, with people praying for others. It was deeply touching. It’s not something they are doing for themselves. They are doing this for the world, for humanity and all life on this earth. This spirit behind what they are doing is deeply touching.
Whatever conflicts we see outside on this earth are the outcomes of conflicts within us, because things are not in balance. Because we are imbalanced, the world is imbalanced. And for me, life is an attempt to get that balance right within myself. I don’t know what will happen in the outside world, but my understanding is that if I am able to find that balance within me, I will be doing my bit for this world.
Rika Saionji was at one of our retreats in India, and she very graciously invited me to come here. At the same time, we have a friend in common—Nipun Mehta, from Service Space. He has been here before, and he’s a very dear friend of the Saionji family. He felt that it would be good for me to go to Japan, and so I am now in Japan! I’ve been all around the world, but not in Japan, so it’s been quite exciting the last three or four days, to be in this country with such loving people.
My message to people is that I think changing the world is about changing our own being. So, what we can do for this world is to change ourselves.
Mr. Zengi Tanaka
What impressed me the most was how the participants offered prayers together, with no differences in position or standpoint. I held up my national flag card along with everyone, but what I felt inside me was tenderness and spiritual devotion.
We truly did transcend religious differences in our prayers for peace. The smaller prayers of individuals accumulate and form a great prayer, and today such a great prayer was indeed created. I would very much like to join this ceremony again if I have the opportunity.
Four years ago, I participated in a peace prayer ceremony in Hiroshima, and that led to my coming here today. But today’s event was international in scope, and it moved more slowly, so that I was able to savor each word of prayer and feel a sense of peace. What I felt most thankful for was my own self. From here on, I hope to draw ever closer to Buddha and become a source of peace.
The prayer that I offered today is a prayer to Amida Buddha, who is infinite light. It asks that our individual prayers will be fulfilled. Actually, today is a special annual event at my temple as well. We pray that the light of Amida Buddha will reach all parts of the world and bring peace to the world.
Shingon Buddhism teaches that all of creation is comprised of six elements—earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness. The universe could not exist without each one of these elements, and they must all be kept in balance. We are generally unaware of this miracle. Therefore, I believe that we need to recognize this balance and be thankful for it.
We also heard Masami Saionji’s poem, “Creation of the Universe.” Although we cannot physically enter the world of Buddhist mandalas that depict the universe, we can connect to them with our consciousness. In this sense, I keenly felt that everyone here today became united as one.
My message to everyone is that I think the most important thing is to smile. We don’t really need to think about difficult things—first and foremost, we should smile. Beyond that, I’d like to ask people to cherish peace in their hearts. We do not need to try and make others understand these teachings—we ourselves are gaining the most just by conveying this message. We can start very small, and step by step, fill our hearts with peace. It is my hope that people all over the world will put this into practice, and that from today’s event, the circle of peace will spread out and grow bigger and bigger.