Ceremony to Pray for World Peace and Reconciliation

This year’s Ceremony to Pray for World Peace and Reconciliation, held on the occasion of the 140th London Eza, was yet again a profoundly moving and thought-provoking event in which we received vivid reminders of the horrors of human conflict together with the inspiration and life-affirming energy to do whatever we can to promote peace and reconciliation, both in our lifetimes and for future generations. It was a humbling experience to be able to join the assembled dignitaries and guests of Three Wheels who had gathered for the memorial service to commemorate those who had died in the Second World War and also the ex-servicemen, now sadly departed, who had given so much to the peace and reconciliation movement.

This year Three Wheels paid special tribute to the late Mr Bill Smyly, former serviceman and member of The Burma Star Association who passed away this year at the age of 95, who contributed greatly to previous meetings at Three Wheels. Three Wheels was very happy to be joined by Mr Smyly’s wife, Mrs Diana Smyly and daughter Ms Eleanor Smyly who made the long journey from Bedford to join the Eza.

Mr Tomohiro Mikanagi, Political Minister of the Embassy of Japan in London prefaced the memorial service with an address in which he paid tribute to the great efforts that had been made to reconcile British and Japanese war veterans and which led to the long series of peace and reconciliation meetings that have been held at Three Wheels since 1997.

Following the memorial service led by Rev. Sato, we heard the chanting of Sutras by monks from the Myanmar Buddhist Sangha and the Nipponzan Myohoji Temple and a lay representative of the Shobo-an Zen centre and Fairlight Zen Buddhist Temple. Rev. Dr. Thomas Plant of Lichfield Cathedral then gave an insightful address in which he touched on a paradox at the heart of interfaith-dialogue, namely how to respect and value other religious traditions whilst at the same time engaging in religious activities which stress the uniqueness and importance of your own.

Rev. Kemmyo Sato gave a poignant talk of thanks in memory of the late Mr Bill Smyly which he began by quoting from the words of Shakyamuni Buddha that were especially apt in the atmosphere of friendship and peacefulness pervading today’s meeting, “Having good friends, being together with them and surrounded by them, is not half of the pure practice but the whole of the pure practice.”

Rev. Sato specially gave thanks to the representatives of the Embassy of the Republic of Myanmar, for their attendance at the London Eza in response to the fervent wish expressed by Rev. Sato for reconciliation with the people of Myanmar who had suffered so greatly during the Second World War.

Later in his talk Rev. Sato recalled how Mr Masao Hirakubo, father of the Reconciliation Movement, used to remark that he was living a life given to him by others. Rev. Sato felt Mr Bill Smyly expressed exactly the same awareness, namely that, “His life was a gift and that he tried to pass on this peaceful awareness both of his own finite existence and of the unconditional love he received from others”. Rev. Sato continued, “It was this profound awareness he possessed that gave rise to his remarkable pronouncement that he would like to be reconciled with the Japanese people before he died”. Rev. Sato then expressed his deepest gratitude to the late Mr Smyly for his spirit of forgiveness.

After opening the meeting to comments from the guests attending the Eza we first heard from Mrs Akiko MacDonald, Chair of the Burma Campaign Society. Mrs MacDonald also paid tribute to Mr Smyly and recalled an email correspondence she had received from him in which he described some of the most harrowing wartime experiences he had undergone on the battlefield in Burma. It really brought home the suffering and terrible circumstances which were forced upon both the combatants and civilian population of Burma in the war.

Mrs Phillida Purvis, Secretary of the International Friendship and Reconciliation Trust emphasised how much more work needed to be done to prevent even more conflicts occurring in an increasingly unstable world. Prof. John White commented that war is very stupidly and all too easily glorified by society today in ignorance of the suffering that results from it. We were also very grateful to hear from Mr Richard Pe Win, a senior representative of the Myanmar Buddhist Society who had done so much to bring together people from the Myanmar community in the U.K. with the Reconciliation Movement.

Rev. Kenshin Ishii, recalled the words given by Ven. Takehara at this year’s Summer Training Assembly at Shogyoji Temple in which he taught how Amida Buddha, through his Original Vow of great compassion which saves us even though we have committed grave transgressions in the past, strongly deters us from committing them again in the future. In the same way, the forgiveness shown by the war veterans to their past enemies also teaches us that we should strive not to fight one another in the future.

The conversations continued long into the late afternoon and it was wonderful to witness the joyful working of the spirit of peace and reconciliation among the participants of this very special London Eza, a meeting which is a great gift to us from the sadly departed founders of the Reconciliation Movement.

Andrew Webb