Sapporo Peace Pagoda Pilgrimage
A cold November day, waiting for the snow, with a couple of hours to burn. The world burns as well - in Paris, Beirut, Damascus, Sinai, Kenya, Congo - burning in a fire of revenge and retributions. We took this as an opportunity to think and be peace, and went on a short pilgrimage to the Sapporo Peace Pagoda.
Halfway up Mount Moiwa, the bulbous white stupa can be seen from almost any place in the city. It was built in 1959 to commemorate peace after World War II, and supposedly contains some of the ashes of the Buddha that were presented to the Emperor of Japan by Prime Minister Nehru in 1954. With this in mind, it is a holy place, worthy of a short walk from the bottom of Mt. Moiwa.
This Pagoda is not the only one of its kind: By 2000, eighty Peace Pagodas had been built around the world in Europe, Asia, and the United States. The original idea belonged to a Japanese buddhist monk, Nichidatsu Fujii (1885–1985), who was greatly inspired by his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 and decided to devote his life to promoting non-violence. In 1947, he began constructing Peace Pagodas as shrines to world peace.
The first Peace Pagoda that Fujii-san built sits in Hiroshima. Our first peace pagoda that we visited was in Pokhara, Nepal. That visit turned out to be a beautiful full-day hike through winding mountain roads, villages and trails. The atmosphere of rural living, women bathing at the river, lazy boats at the bucolic lake, cobbled stones leading up the hill, Buddhist flags draping the trees, and the blooming Christmas Stars.
Our next Peace Pagoda was in Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama the Buddha, in the lowlands of Nepal near the Indian border. The same white dome structure, the same peaceful atmosphere in a wonderful setting. Lumbini is a collection of temples and monasteries from every Buddhist country in the world, each representing a different culture and teaching, often from different schools of Buddhism. On a cool and mistly morning, we went temple hopping on old and rusty bikes. The Vietnamese monastery, looking like an abandoned amusement park, amused us. The caretaker was a big white crane living in the garden. The Burmese Golden Pagoda with daedal metal work looked like a puzzle to be solved. The gates of the Vippasana meditation center were locked with a note saying that there was a course in-progress. Eventually, we reached the Peace Pagoda. There we met a barefoot pilgrim repeating his mantra, "Bhagavan!", which means God in Hindi.
Lastly, visiting the Peace Pagoda in Ladakh, in the northern region of India, on the border with Tibet, was another unforgettable experience. All those traveling days become bright and lively and surge back to life every time I look at the Peace Pagoda in Sapporo. The stupas in Pokhara, Lumbini and Ladakh look very much like Sapporo's, creating an invisible bond between our past and present moments, making this place here, in Sapporo, even more special to our eyes and our hearts.
Perhaps the peace activist Fujii-san meant that just as we have to carry ourselves to visit his Peace Pagodas around the world, so we must carry ourselves to reach peace within. Here's to our journey, all of our journeys - may they be ever peaceful.
Love and Peace from Sapporo, Japan
Anastasia and the HNT family
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