Impressions from the Ceremony
Following the SOPP ceremony, some of the prayer leaders and guests were kind enough to give their thoughts and impressions. We are pleased to offer some of their remarks here.
Imam Muhammed Rasit Alas, Imam at Tokyo Camii (Mosque) and Turkish Cultural Center
At this year’s SOPP in particular, I keenly felt that the world is one community. I was deeply moved to see people of different faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds embracing one another. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all came from Allah, or God. At the SOPP, these three religions were able to convey Allah’s message together.
Allah tells us:As your parent, I have created you and divided you into various countries and regions. The purpose of this is for you to get to know one another—to become acquainted and to get along well.We are all human beings, and we are all equal.
This year’s SOPP took place in the middle of Ramadan, but because I feel the SOPP is such an important event, I got on the train early this morning to come here. It pains my heart thinking of the people living in the Gaza Strip in Palestine, who are embroiled in the ongoing conflict where hundreds of people have died. I thought about them while offering my prayers today, and at that moment, an image of the people who had died in the Gaza Strip appeared before me.
War does not discriminate based on religion. When bombs fall, many people become victims, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or nationality. Therefore, I would like to see all the people of the world rise above these differences and live in peace. When I saw all the participants praying the prayers of different religions together, I was deeply impressed, and it gave me goose bumps.
For me, the sacred mind is not something special. All of my daily life is living in worship, abiding by the Quran and Ramadan. The word Islam itself means ‘peace.’ The acts of terrorism and other incidents taking place all over the world are often seen as a problem of Islam as a whole. The media, too, puts the blame on the Islamic world, which is very sad. The SOPP, I think, has the purpose of accurately portraying various religions to the world, and I am grateful for that.
Let us believe that as the SOPP spreads from Japan out to the whole world, the world will be at peace! With this thought in mind, I am sure that good things will come about.
Rev. Genzo Makino, Hindu spiritual leader
I participated in the SOPP in 2013, when I was a guest of the Hindu prayer leader. This year, I was moved by the whole ceremony, from start to finish. There were several scenes that touched me deep in my heart, and I am truly happy to have been part of it.
This year, I was invited to be a prayer leader, and the first prayer that I offered was the Gayatri Mantra, which says that the source of human life is light. In today’s world, this light has been substantially weakened. The prayer I offered is considered to be the most fundamental and most important prayer in Hinduism—a prayer for the light to be strengthened within all people.
The prayer that I prayed with all participants is similar to Byakko’s prayer, May peace prevail on Earth. We tend to think only of the world that we live in, but in Hinduism, it is said that there are 14 worlds, and the world we live in is one of them. So the prayer we offered was a prayer for peace in all the worlds and for all their inhabitants. When this prayer is prayed from the heart, it manifests a marvelous power. I chose this prayer with the intention that we who were praying would also feel the depth of peace and oneness.
There was an article, written by an Indian Spiritual Master, which summarized 12 essential pathways to God on just two pages. When I read those words, I was so touched, feeling that everything that was said was so true, and kept on sobbing uncontrollably, until I felt a bright Golden Light hovering above my head. It came down two levels, and from there it entered into me. It was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. But because the most fundamental thing is to see the divine in all people within our everyday lives, it is important to prepare ourselves to manifest our inner light and sacred mind at all times.
Just as people all over the world are able to connect with the SOPP through the live internet broadcast, I believe that all humanity is essentially one, and that the most important thing is to pray and serve for the peace and happiness of all people. You and I are one with all the living beings.
Mr. Takayuki Shionoya, Chief Priest of Chichibu Imamiya Shrine
I was deeply moved to see everyone praying together for peace, transcending religious differences and boundaries. When I was invited to lead the Shinto prayer this year, I thought very hard about what kind of prayer I should offer—a prayer that would match the significance of the SOPP. Although I had to use yamato kotoba(classic Japanese words and pronunciations) in accordance with Shinto custom, I tried to make the expressions as simple as possible, so that the prayer would resonate in people’s hearts.
In Shintoism, we typically pray toward the deities enshrined in the Honden(the shrine’s main building). But at Fuji Sanctuary, there is no such object of worship or enshrined deities. So, at the SOPP, I envisioned all the deities from all over the world assembled in the sky above the heads of the thousands of participants, and together with the participants I offered my prayers to those deities.
From ancient times, we Japanese have believed in kotodama, the spirit of words. There is a spirit, or soul, that resides within the words we speak. In Shintoism, the Shinto priest prays to the deities, and the spirit within each of the words of this prayer resonates with the spirits of the attendees who are praying along. Then, the wind blows, the leaves rustle, and we feel that our prayer has reached the deities and resonated with their spirits, too. I believe all the participants at the SOPP experienced the same feeling.
The belief in God, or in deities, is today divided into many different religions and sects, each with different customs and prayers. But the essence of prayer is the same everywhere. In praying together for world peace, which is the shared wish of all humanity, I am sure that our prayers resonated with the deities of all faiths, and I believe that the power of our prayers will help to manifest peace in the world.
Mr. Emmyo Shishio, Chief Priest of Tendaishu Jyuryoin Temple
Every year, a religious summit is held at Mt. Hiei, Kyoto, and we always offer prayers for peace. But at that event, each religious leader offers their own prayer. The feeling of the SOPP ceremony, where everyone prays together, is quite different.
I attended the SOPP last year, and based on the atmosphere of that event, I thought about what kind of prayer I should offer this year. Rather than reading from one of the sutras, I decided to use a wakapoem written by Dengyô Daishi Saichô, founder of the Tendai sect. This poem conveys Saichô’s wish for the Buddhist path to be passed down until the time when Buddha again manifests in this world. It is a song that is accompanied by music.
We have been holding the Mt. Hiei religious summit for thirty years, and over that time, I feel that it has become somewhat routine. However, prayer methods are eternal, so I believe it is important for the SOPP’s distinctive format of praying with the religions of the world and praying for peace in each country with the national flags to continue each year.
I sometimes hear people ask whether peace can come about through prayer, but as Hiroo Saionji said, a small critical mass leads to a larger critical mass. So, I believe that as the number of people praying for peace increases, peace will eventually come.
Prayer is not about having our wishes granted. If you think that buying a certain charm will make your wishes come true, that is not religion. What matters most are prayer and gratitude. I’m fond of what Nimo Patel said, that we don’t seek anything in return.
In modern day society, we prefer to live individually rather than communally, and it is not so common to see people cooperating and helping each other. I think it’s nice if people with skills can help those who are less skilled.
At the SOPP, we go beyond giving thanks for the favors we receive, and offer our gratitude to nature and the earth. In this way, I believe it is important to consider how we are living, and to realize and be grateful that our life is sustained by the earth.
Fr. Alexander Varickamackal, Director of the Jesuit Spirituality Center at Nagatsuka, Hiroshima
I have participated in the SOPP ceremony a number of times. I am always deeply moved to see the flags of the world and the enthusiasm shown by people of all different backgrounds. This year again, I had wonderful encounters with people who have a deep desire for peace.
The date of this year’s SOPP, May 20th, was also the day of the Christian Pentecost. The significance of Pentecost is that, after Jesus departed from this world, as he had promised, the Holy Spirit appeared, and its light poured down on Jesus’ followers, filling their fearful, anxious and closed hearts with strength, and arousing in them a sense of mission to obey the will of God. This experience of the Holy Spirit filled them with wisdom and power to go anywhere in the world to spread the good news.
Among the fruits of the Holy Spirit, there is love, joy, kindness, sincerity, goodness, meekness, gentleness, and self-control. And peace is also included. These inner qualities are essential for a good life, and they give us an abundance of inner strength. So today, on the feast day of Pentecost, I offered a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that wherever you have occasion to speak, you never need to worry, as the words you need will be given to you by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I do not usually prepare written speeches, but rather, I let myself be guided by God and I speak from the light that I receive. Every day, I find that this bears fruit in ways that I had never imagined. If we do not keep our ‘antennas’ ready to receive the light, then we may not be able to sense its activity, so it is my wish to stay connected with the Holy Spirit at all times.
We may have different nationalities and faiths and speak different languages, but when we face one another with genuine concern, we realize that no matter what country we are from or what faith we believe in, all of us—children and adults alike—possess marvelous treasures. Jesus also taught that the more love, peace, and joy that comes out from within us, and the more we give those to others, they continue to overflow, like a spring. Human beings can become like angels or like demons. If each of us brings out our inner treasures and takes them in a positive direction, we will have the power to make others happy and can become channels of peace and harmony in this world. This is what I would like to convey to people throughout the world.
Jaimit Vaidya, ServiceSpace
When I was invited to attend the 2018 SOPP, I felt very fortunate. It was like a dream come true. It was a privilege to be praying for the whole world together. I could see a sense of brotherhood in everyone’s eyes—each and every one was like my brother.
I am part of a prayer circle in India, and when I heard about the idea of the divine spark, it made me think of when I first joined in that prayer circle. It was held at my friend’s home, and when I first joined the prayer circle, I found that I just sat in silence instead of offering any prayers. But then I saw my friend’s grandmother, who was maybe in her late 80s, opening up her prayer book and offering a prayer right from her heart. She didn’t think about what other people would think of her, or how her voice sounded. She just gave it one hundred percent and prayed from her heart. When I heard about the divine spark, I thought, it’s just like that—praying from the heart. It doesn’t matter how we pray, as long as we are praying from the heart. From that day on, I started praying again. And whenever I want any answer or solution in my life, I just pray. I know that it happened for a reason, and that it will manifest in a certain way in my life.
We all have a purpose in our life, and we are all in the field of service. When I see you, I can see the world in you, and when you see me, you can see the same in me. Any action we take affects the whole world. Masami Saionji said to us that whatever you do, if you do it from your heart, it will have an impact in the near future. It might not have an impact today or tomorrow, but that day after tomorrow is waiting for us, and it will manifest, for sure.
It was a privilege to be part of the SOPP. I learned a lot, and I will be taking back so many memories that will be with me forever. Thank you.
Mark N. Zion, Associate Professor at Tama University
It’s always an inspirational experience for me to be here and participate with people from all over the world, praying for peace. I think, automatically, our spirit is raised, giving us a higher vision. And we can take this back with us into our everyday life and promote peace among people in the world.
The first psalm that I performed is called Mizmor LeDavid, and it could be as much as 3,000 years old. It’s always a pleasure to perform it because people have been doing it for so many years—every generation repeating the words, gaining meaning from them. I find that the words contain a great deal of human experience, and that the words are healing—we have nothing to fear, and God is with us, even in the deepest, darkest valley. I hope that people today, hearing the words, will take on the experience, and will understand that it is theirprayer—that it can be part of their everyday life. It’s part of the language of the spirit—when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, those words can be in the background, and can lead us into a bigger place.
The prayer that we all prayed together is also ancient. It’s maybe 2,500 years old, and it’s a prayer of peace—He who makes peace in the heavens also makes peace with us. It’s part of an understanding that the divine, also, is involved in acts of peace. Ohse shalommeans ‘to make peace.’ If we can cultivate our relationship with God, which everybody can, then we find that we can bring the divine spark into every situation and every challenge.
I found that my divine spark comes out when I’m praying and meditating, of course. But I also do a lot of volunteer work, building houses and digging wells for the poor. And I find that the connection with everyday people of the earth is a big inspiration for me. All of us have divine sparks, within us and around us, and we need to raise them, through prayer and through good words. Throughout our everyday life, we can think, What can I do in this situation to bring the divine and raise divine sparks?
We’re all part of a spiritual community. All of us are one. We all face the same challenges, and we’re all encouraged by each other. So, we need to keep our goal in front of us—how to heal the world.