Today, I went to the Grafton Peace Pagoda. It’s only three miles away as the crow flies and I’ve known about it for twenty-five years, but I never made the effort to visit it before (by car it's 26 miles round-trip). The pagoda is a “Monument for Peace” inspired by a Japanese Buddhist Nun, built over the course of eight years and completed in 1993. Peace Pagodas have been used as symbols for non-violence for 2000 years. There are eighty peace pagodas in the world, including one in Hiroshima and one in Nagasaki, Japan. The pagoda in Grafton is one of only two in the U.S.
In the temple, a short distance from the pagoda, the nun was there, beating her drum and chanting a prayer for peace: “Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo.” Twice a day, every day without fail, someone chants in the morning and again in the evening; over and over again, prayers for peace.
I didn’t go into the temple during prayer. Instead, I walked around the pagoda - twice - then sat on a bench. I learned there is nothing inside the pagoda. This seemed like an important detail. The interior area is an empty space, purposely left unused. Perhaps this makes room for all the different beliefs, opinions and biases people bring.
Two years ago, I told myself it was okay to be ambivalent. (See the post “On the Fence” from July 16, 2014). I wrote, “...thoughtful, faithful Christians, especially those who are visionary and engaged in life — can and should be open to the idea that the world is not very black and white and that only a handful of absolutes really exist.”
I've been telling myself it’s okay to stay in the background when discussions of import are taking place. To a large extent, I still believe it. My opinions are of no consequence in healing societal maladies, righting universal injustices, and undoing cultural biases. Sure, I could rant and rave on this blog, but it wouldn’t matter a lick in the grand scheme of things. A middle-aged, middle-class white woman doesn't need to weigh-in on every single issue. Sharing my opinion on the undercurrents of racism or pontificating on the moral malaise and the current state of affairs in our country would change nothing.
But it’s a very different thing to admit that I don’t have a lot to say about the current state of affairs. Every thoughtful, free-thinking person should arrive at his or her own core set of beliefs. And while it’s perfectly acceptable to allow others to influence our opinions and shape our ideas, at the end of the day we have to name our convictions and own our own platform. It’s hard work. It requires intentional deliberation, focused contemplation, and provocative mental exercise. Harder issues require more work to stretch and strain atrophied belief systems.
I’m not going to weigh in on what happened in Dallas or Baton Rouge or the systemic flaws in our system that contribute to violence. The disease has been festering for centuries; Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the symptoms; Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement diagnosed the illness a hundred years later; and fifty years after that we thought the cure might be the election of Barack Obama as president. It’s not that simple and it’s not that easy.
Do the Peace Pagoda and the prayers offered there daily make a difference? I don’t know. I want to believe they do. As I sat surrounded by untamed forest and ancient symbols of peace, the rhythm of the drum spoke eternal truths. My own heart kept pace. I named some convictions and owned a bit more of my own platform, and I arrived at some core beliefs.
I am not ambivalent.