The Dalai Lama was one of many who took part in a purification ritual on April 7 to honor the victims of a horrifying tsunami in November 2011 that was unleashed by an unprecedented 9.0-magnitude earthquake. The disaster changed the lives of many who still call the mighty city of Sendai, Japan, their home.
Sendai is the capital of the Miyagi Prefecture in North Japan (population: 1 million), and Buddhist traditions mix with a Shinto faith here in a seamless quest for universal understanding. Marriages are marked by elaborate Shinto ceremonies, but Buddhist practitioners are called to officiate the dying into reincarnated deaths.
Today, many thousands remain who are struggling to rebuild, many of whom still mourn the death of nearly 16,000 friends and relatives, according to CNN. While many have taken their families to rebuild elsewhere, many others remain to face the devastation as a mark of pain but also persistence.
In this setting, the Dalai Lama participated in an elaborate Shinto ceremony, then addressed those who gathered to meet him with words of optimism. According to his website, he said:
“Today, it’s a little more than three years since the most powerful earthquake to hit Japan and the consequent tsunami that caused extensive devastation followed by radiation problems. Many people died; there’s been widespread grief and sadness. The purification rituals the Shinto priests have performed today are intended to help. I have great respect for all religions because of their intention to help, because they bring people solace….
“The Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna says that if you allow yourself to remain depressed you won’t be able to overcome the problems that confront you. Therefore it’s important to keep up your spirits and remain confident that you can do what you set out to do.”
What faces the survivors is still a steep struggle. See aerial video below of the tsunami’s after-effects that caused waves about 30 feet high to pound the city’s coastal neighborhoods into fields of rubble and fire. Among the buildings destroyed were nuclear power plants:
Hands went up all over the Shinto temple when the Dalai Lama asked how many had been affected by the disaster. Then he reminded those gathered about how Japanese and German citizens alike joined forces to remake their devastated cities after World War II. He said:
“If tragedy strikes, don’t lose hope. Transform it into an opportunity to make things better.”
Wherever the Dalai Lama goes, he presents Tibetan Buddhism not as a restrictive religion but more like a study of solitude, of inner peace. He ties these efforts to those being undertaken by scientists and faithful religious orders alike, just in different languages and stories. In a statement released by the Dalai Lama after the ceremony, he relates his mission to those of many others:
“I think our emotions today are much the same as they were a couple of thousand years ago. Buddhist science has much to teach about how to control them and prevent their disturbing our peace of mind. When I speak of Buddhist science what I really mean is ‘science of the mind’. This is something modern scientists are showing increasing interest in.”
Following his visit to Sendai, the Dalai Lama is traveling to Osaka and the capital city of Kyoto, where he will continue his mission of building a coalition devoted to peace and understanding. Of course, his itinerary won’t include anywhere near China, the country which overtook Tibet some 50 years ago and sent the Dalai Lama and his followers into exile in India. According to the Dalai Lama, China not only has kidnapped the child originally picked to be his successor but also has been planning his assassination and spreading propaganda throughout China to darken and misconstrue his peaceable aims.
[Image courtesy of Jeremy Russell on the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page]