12 Hour Chanting Marathon

When you read the scriptures, there is no use just passing your eyes over and over them. Rennnyo Shonin advised, "Make a point of reading the scriptures over and over." Also, there is a saying, "If you read a passage a hundred times, its meaning becomes clear by itself."

Sensei Miyakawa chanting at the Kamloops Buddhist Temple

In August, we had our second 12-Hour Marathon Chanting Event in memory of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last year we had a similar event in Kelowna on August 9th marking the anniversary of the tragedy of Nagasaki. This year, in the Kamloops community, we honored the memory of the victims of Hiroshima. This event was supported by many of our dharma friends within the BC Interior. We had planned this for the previous three months, and had asked people to fold a paper crane as a symbol of peace and hope.

We all remember the story of Sadako, a child who died of leukemia as a result of the radiation effects of the bomb, who began the tradition of folding paper cranes in her hopes to regain her health. As we prepared the temple hondo for the event, we were all deeply touched by the sheer numbers of paper cranes that we received. These were carefully placed throughout the hondo, shrine areas, windows and floor. We estimated that there were more than 15,000 paper cranes that had been folded by members of our community throughout the province. This outpouring of effort was indescribable, casting an aura of reverence among all of us.

Throughout the chanting, visitors were invited to offer incense, strike the bell, fold a paper crane, or join with us in chanting the Pure Land Sutras. We began at 6.00am and continued non-stop until 6.00pm.

Towards the back of the Hondo, a film documentary on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was also shown. The film included interviews with a number of the survivors, who described their experiences. The degree of devastation caused by the bombing of Hiroshima will remain vividly in our memories. Those who have visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan know the degree of destruction. Most find their visit to the Memorial an unforgettable and emotionally moving experience. Participants came and went throughout the day, some to watch, others to participate in the chanting. A small group of anti-nuclear activists participated in the chanting for a period of time. Although non-Buddhist, and unfamiliar with chanting, some described their experience as "deeply spiritual" and that it ìallowed a sense of connection with the victims of Hiroshima and the survivors. Someone said after about half an hour, "I began to feel very comfortable with the flow of the chant and the spirituality that was built into it." This gave me a sense of humility and privilege in sharing a spiritual connectedness with all of them.

Over the 12-hours, we chanted in English almost three complete cycles of our three Principal Sutras the Larger Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra, the Amida Sutra, as well as Shinran’s Shoshinge. For some participants, this represented the first real opportunity to directly encounter, in English, the words of Shakymuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin. For others, each repetition seemed to bring increased understanding and insight, and a sense of appreciation to the participants.

As we mark the anniversary of the tragedy of Hiroshima, we remember those who lost their lives, and those whose lives became forever changed. Let us not forget Hiroshima and the horrors of nuclear war. As we read the scriptures over and over, we are also reminded of Shinran Shonin’s wish for humankind as he wrote, "May there be peace in the world and may the Buddha’s teaching spread."

In Gassho, Rev. Yasuhiro Miyakawa

(Sensei Miyakawa is the Minister at the Kelowna Buddhist Temple serving the interior of the province of B.C. He is also the former Minister at the Manitoba Buddhist Temple.)