Posted by: Piyadassi | March 20, 2011

Ode to Japan

Yesterday I prayed for Japan. Actually I’ve been praying for that island from my island for over a week now. What made yesterday special was that I was with about a half dozen other people praying and meditating in the same purpose. It was late afternoon, well into the 24 hour prayer vigil organized in less than three days here in Victoria. As some people gently came in, others drifted out.

I prayed for the people, the animals, the land and the water. My intention went out to all the sentient beings there. It was the first time I had practiced metta with the thought of sending prayers not only to those alive, but those who had died as well. I saw the faces of Japan and the suffering they were sustaining. And it wretched me to my soul.

Bidding them to be well and happy, peaceful and at ease felt like another affront to all they had endured to that point. How could anyone there feel anything but the horror of loss, the pain of grief, the scouring of their hearts. But I prayed on, looking at my emotions. My anger at the events which overtook that spot of land on the other side of the world was permeating my biased outlook for a people and culture I knew little about.

Dan Gilgoff, on CNN’s Belief blog, writes where other religions “are often preoccupied with causes of disaster – the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example – Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.”

As I was leaving the prayer room I met a young Japanese woman in the hallway. She smiled with such warmth, such brightness, and thanked me for coming. I thanked her for putting the event together and felt the sudden surprise of tears welling in my eyes. I murmured something about how horrible is all was, about praying, about thanks and she stepped forward and hugged me. She comforted me. A bright, beautiful being who knew some of those people I was imagining. She ignited the prays I had been sending and I felt in that moment that suffering truly could end.

Walking home I turned down a street I hadn’t taken before.  The cherry trees were in full bloom, their delicate blossoms shivering in the wind on that last day of winter. A giddy patchwork of pink petals carpeted the sidewalk and my heart smiled.

The monk Myōe, who lived on the cusp of the 12th and 13th century, wrote this letter to the Island of Japan:

“Why do we need to seek anything other than your physical form as an island since it is the body of the radiant Buddha? Even as I speak to you in this way, tears fill my eyes…I am filled with a great longing for you in my heart, and take no delight in passing time without having the time to see you. And then there is the large cherry tree that I remember so fondly. There are times when I so want to send a letter to the tree to ask how it is doing, but I am afraid that people will say that I am crazy to send a letter to a tree that cannot speak. Though I think of doing it, I refrain in deference to the custom of this irrational world. ” (Tricycle Magazine)

Craziness may be just what we all need.


  1. “I refrain in deference to the custom of this irrational world.”

    What a great quote. How much do we refrain from, in that deference? Thank you for sharing that.

    I’m very moved by the idea of the prayer meeting, and how you felt that the young woman, “ignited” your prayers. Beautiful, Tess.

  2. Thank you for this quote. I think I have a few long-overdue letters I need to send: some trees, some stones, some teddy bears, a creek, and a mountain top. It will be good to connect again.
    Let us vow to no longer refrain in deference.

  3. Love your writing Tess. You are an inspiration. Thanks so much.

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