Let’s Pray Together for World Peace and Reconciliation – Report on the 165th London Eza –

On Sunday 3rd September 2023 Three Wheels held the annual ceremony to pray for world peace and reconciliation which was joined by a large number of participants on a very bright and warm day in London. The ceremony, was opened by Mr Akihiro Tsuji, the Political Minister of the Japanese Embassy, who paid tribute to Three Wheels and the efforts made by so many people over the years to build and continue this annual ceremony, which is even more crucial during these troubled times the world finds itself in. In the midst of this, Japan and the U.K. have been able to find peace and reconciliation and build ever closer ties which is extremely important for the world.

This years’ service incorporated the 13th memorial for Mr Maurice Frances, one of the illustrious founders of the Burma Campaign Group which did so much for reconciliation between the Japanese and British soldiers who fought one another in that extremely brutal conflict and was one of the first participants in this annual meeting at Three Wheels.  The service was joined by monks, nuns, priests and lay people from different Buddhist traditions in the UK, including Amaravati, the London Buddhist Vihara, Mogok Monastery, Nipponzan Myohoji and Rissho Koseikai. The sound of their chanting radiated the love and compassion of the Buddha towards all sentient beings, filling the Buddha-room with a deep feeling of peace.

Next was read a letter from the Right Reverend Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, who is a longstanding friend and supporter of this ceremony and was sadly unable to attend due to the serious illness of a close family member.  Father Michael wrote that he felt the Nenbutsu of gratitude which manifests, in Rev. Sato’s words the “unconditional love of the Holy One” beyond any form of discrimination, is also a description of the “self-giving love which I see being taught by the Lord Jesus in the Gospel”.

After the traditional shaking of hands together in reconciliation, Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato gave a talk of thanks entitled Let’s Come Together and Pray for World Peace and Reconciliation, in which he movingly discussed the inseparable relationship between the attainment of inner peace by each individual and the establishment of world peace. Without out the former the latter will be forever impossible. In order for us to build such a peaceful harmony between our own minds and the outside world it is essential for us to just “do for the doing, step by step, what seems good at the moment, however trivial it may seem”.

This put Rev. Sato in mind of the war veterans who, having once been mortal enemies, each came to Three Wheels despite their great ages and infirmities, to pray together at for world peace and reconciliation at this annual meeting. An especially moving example of this was that of Mr Satoru Yanagi and Mr Maurice Frances who, at the very first Three Wheels reconciliation meeting in 1997, “Succeeded in transcending the confines of love and hate, friend and foe and became good friends”.

Mr Yanagi later described the moment of embracing Mr Frances at Three Wheels as the melting of a hard insoluble lump in his heart in which all his ill feelings completely disappeared. Mr Yanagi was then awakened to the words of Ven. Chimyo Takehara who said that, “To encounter another person truly is to encounter Truth itself”.

Rev. Sato concluded his talk with a quotation from his new translation of the Letters of Shinran in which Shinran Shonin teaches his followers that, as part of the working of Amida Buddha’s unconditional love, once they are confident of their own salvation, they should earnestly pray for others to be awakened also. Only then can it said that they are responding with gratitude to Amida Buddha for all that he has done for us.

Mrs Phillida Purvis, director of the International Friendship and Reconciliation Trust, gave a fascinating and illuminating talk about her recent visit to Nagaland, a state now in Northeast India which borders Myanmar. The capital of Nagaland is Kohima which suffered bitter fighting in the Second World War leading to the deaths of thousands of combatants and inhabitants. Reflecting on this unimaginable loss of life Mrs Purvis said that “Death is the leveller of all distinctions and differences”. The large Christian cathedral there was hand built by its faithful followers as a living symbol of reconciliation and is surrounded by beautiful cherry trees that were donated from Japan. After describing the special initiatives for peace and reconciliation that are being held in Nagaland, a state that is still suffering greatly from the effects of the conflict, Mrs Purves encouraged us to support the people there in whatever way we can to join this journey of reconciliation and contribute to world peace.

Commenting on Rev. Sato’s talk in the light of the Theravadin Buddhist teachings he has received, Mr Richard Pe Win, representing the Myanmar Buddhist Society, said that mind is the most important thing, if our minds are free from hatred, anger and delusion, the world around us will become peaceful. Dr Desmond Biddulph, President of the Buddhist Society, reflected on the fact that war seems to the default position for human beings and the only way this can be overcome, is if we have a profound change in the depths of our beings. Reconciliation and forgiveness are a large part of this change and without this, we are left with an intractable warlike attitude towards others. This change, Dr Biddulph emphasised, begins at home, within the human heart.  The Buddha-Dharma is one of the greatest ways to find true peace and inner reconciliation.

We were delighted to welcome to the Eza, Miss Komichi Takehara, the granddaughter of Ven Chimyo Takehara, the head priest of Shogyoji Temple, who is staying for a month at Three Wheels. Komichi-san expressed her gratitude for the very warm welcome she received from everyone since staying at Three Wheels. Although she has been studying Architecture at University and has been able to visit some important buildings in the UK, her real reason for coming was to encounter the Three Wheels Sangha supported by the deep wishes of her grandparents, parents, and Dharma-friends at Shogyoji.

Although I have been attending this annual meeting for peace and reconciliation for over twenty years, I felt at this meeting I could start to understand the deep prayers of its founding members for the very first time. For me, the part of the ceremony when we shake hands to together in reconciliation seemed like a polite formality. However, for war veterans like Mr Yanagi and Mr Frances it was a life changing event that completely changed their hearts. They each attained inner peace through this profound act of reconciliation and forgiveness. And, in the words of Rev. Sato, they sincerely prayed that we too could attain the same awakening to this working of unconditional love through going beyond the distinctions of friend and foe, love and hate. I felt that this meeting cannot be taken for granted. This strong foundation needs to be continually maintained and strengthened by sincere participation and remembrance of what has been done for us by its founders.

Andrew Webb