In Pursuit of Peace in the Time of COVID
Peace is more than simply the absence of conflict and disturbance. It is the presence of tranquility, the feeling of calm that washes over you when everything feels just as it should be.
Being in a pandemic, Jim and I thought it might be the right time to go in search of our own little peace in the world. And while the backyard does create some peace for us, we hopped in the car to drive to Grafton’s Peace Pagoda to see what it was all about.
The Grafton Peace Pagoda is a Japanese Buddhist temple of the Nipponzan Myohoji order, built on Mohican scared land. And while the indoor portions of the pagoda are closed to protect people from sharing COVID with one another, the grounds are open for wandering, meditating, and even some light nature walking.
If you are unfamiliar with the Peace Pagoda, it is a gorgeous site nestled nearby Grafton Park. Since the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji order is not permitted to solicit money for any reason, the Pagoda was built entirely with donated labor, funds and materials. Many volunteers contributed tens of thousands of hours of labor to complete the Pagoda. Recycled materials and tools also found new life during construction of the project.
As you approach the property, there is a small parking lot on the right, with little signs showing you the wandering nature path to the Pagoda. If walking in the woods is challenging for you, or you have physical obstacles, you can drive up a main driveway.
The sign announces a prayer for peace: Na-Mu-Myo-Ho-Ren-Ge-Kyo.
No dogs are allowed on the property, as it is a sanctuary for birds. So Jim decided I needed to go the path alone, as I was the one most seeking some tranquility. He would wait in the car with our two golden retrievers.
As I wandered up the nature path, I took note of the many stone monuments built along the way and listened to the singing birds overhead. A gentle breeze cooled my skin, and I found it impossible not to be grounded in my senses. The fresh mossy smell of the forest surrounded me, and while I knew I wasn’t far from my car and civilization, for a brief moment my mind was completely centered in the here and now of the cool wooded grove. I struggled to remember the chant for peace I had just read, and was instead immersed in my surroundings. Even wearing my face mask out of courtesy should I meet other peace seekers along the way, I could taste the pollen on the air and earthy smell to the woods.
At the crest of the stone and rooted path, I saw the dome shaped pagoda, much larger than I expected, shadowing over me. I had to pause, not just due to the steep last climb, but a bit in awe.
Peace Pagodas are a symbol of non-violence dating as far back as 2000 years ago. During that time, the Emperor Ashoka of India, a notoriously bloody warlord, was approached after a particularly wretched battle by a Buddhist Monk who admonished him for his wrong doings. From that time on, Ashoka became a became a fervent believer in Buddhism. After his conversion, he gave up his warlike ways and began erecting Peace Pagodas.
This pagoda was built over the course of 8 years, completed in 1993. Its white walls and blue steps seemed to float into the sky, as the day was gray and I struggled to distinguish the lines of the building.
I wandered the property for a while, discovering quiet corners to rest, ponds to ponder, and statues erected to remind us of the Japanese Buddhist nun, Jun Yasuda, who walked to raise awareness of the need for peace for our Native Americans.
Pagodas are empty inside, which is something to consider when looking at the domed top. I found my breath deeper considering the space the peace pagoda had carved out in the woods for us to hold for tranquility. Although it is closed, I walked the circles around it, following the story of the pagoda.
When I came back down the hill, stopping to photograph some daffodils for my mother only briefly, I found Jim in the car with the dogs waiting patiently for me. He quickly asked with a smile, “Did you find the pagoda? Did you find what you were looking for?”
I showed him the pictures, and we both sighed in delight to bring this back to you. And the peace back to ourselves as we traveled back to Nippertown, carrying the loving and kind vibe of the Grafton Peace Pagoda with us.
There is only one other Peace Pagoda at present in the United States. It is near Leverett, MA (close to Amherst). A third is being built in the mountains of Tennessee. The Grafton Peace Pagoda is a wonder being so close to home, and such a gift and gentle reminder to us all to treat others with gentle kindness.