His Holiness the Dalai Lama Visits Sendai, Focus of the Tohoku Earthquake

April 7th 2014

Sendai, Japan, 7 April 2014 - Following his arrival in Japan from India yesterday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama today flew from Narita to Sendai. The flight brought him in over coastal areas which three years ago were devastated by the tsunami that followed the great Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011. He was able to land at the Sendai airport that the tsunami flooded and closed.

Warm applause filled the hall when His Holiness appeared on the stage of the Miyagi Kenmin Kaikan hall, which had been recreated as a Shinto shrine. Ms Kawakami Hiroko, Chairperson of the Sendai Welcome Committee and herself a Shinto priest opened the event and introduced His Holiness. She extolled his tireless work for peace and dialogue in the world and expressed the hope that his presence would strengthen hope and confidence among the people of the Tohoku region in the face of great adversity.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama participating in a Shinto ceremony before his talk in Sendai, Japan on April 7, 2014. Photo/Office of Tibet, Japan
There followed an extensive Shinto ceremony conducted by priests of the Yamagata Prefecture Dewasanzan shrine and Miyagi Prefecture Takekoma shrine. Loud blasts on conch shells heralded the arrival of the priests in their elaborate white robes and black head gear. A long invocation prayer was made seeking the help of the Gods of Heaven to clear away misdeeds and impurities. Offerings were made to the haunting strains of the double reed hichiriki and flute and purification rituals conducted involving a priest making energetic sweeps in the air with leafy wands from the flowering evergreen sakaki tree. At the appropriate point His Holiness was also invited to participate. The ceremony was concluded with a short musical recital in which Ms Ishigaki Kiyomi played koto (Japanese harp) while Ishigaki Seiza played shakuhachi (bamboo flute).

“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,” His Holiness began. “Many people died, many lost their homes; 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.”

He spoke of visiting Shinto shrines before and taking part in prayers, but said this was the most elaborate ceremony he had witnessed. He remarked that the prayers were similar to those he has seen elsewhere, which involve invoking the gods and making offerings and requests to them. He explained that from a Buddhist point of view there are transcendental gods who are enlightened who can be of help and worldly gods who can be more mischievous.

“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.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking in Sendai, Japan on April 7, 2014. Photo/Office of Tibet, Japan
He asked those who had been directly affected by the quake and tsunami to raise their hands and offered his condolences and sympathy to all who had suffered. He recalled visiting Fukushima in late 2011 to comfort victims and share their pain. When they wept he felt like weeping with them, but even then he advised them that it would not help to remain downcast. Being depressed in the face of trouble only adds to it. He said that he often cites the remarkable way that the German and Japanese peoples rebuilt their nations out of the ashes of the Second World War as inspiring examples for others to follow. The key is to have self-confidence, determination and a firm resolve.

“If tragedy strikes, don’t lose hope. Transform it into an opportunity to make things better.”

He suggested that it is very sad to lose family and friends, but if we imagine that they can see us from heaven, or wherever they are, to see their loved ones dismayed and downhearted will only fill them with sadness too. To see us optimistic and full of hope will make them happy. Calling on his own experience he said:

“At the age of 16 I lost my freedom and at the age of 24 I lost my country. I’ve lived as a refugee for 55 years and yet I’ve never lost hope or given in to pessimism. As human beings we all have brothers and sisters who come to our aid. You Japanese are part of the 7 billion alive today who have feelings and experiences similar to yours.”

He mentioned that when Tibetan refugees were given land in different parts of India on which to settle, much of it was untamed jungle. In one place in particular it was also very hot. To begin with the people there pleaded to be moved elsewhere saying it was so hot they would surely die. His Holiness advised them to take things easily, to stay in the shade when the heat blazed and when he visited a year later teased them that they weren’t dead yet. In due course this became a successful settlement that he has visited again quite recently. He repeated that a great deal depends on determination and resolve.

Chuckling, His Holiness mentioned his appreciation of the care Japanese take over so much that they do. He added that since his first visit in 1967 he has noticed that while making good use of modern science and technology Japan still has strong spiritual traditions in Shintoism and Buddhism. There is an ability to combine material development with spiritual or inner values. Traditions such as respect for elders and children’s respect for their parents are worth preserving. However, he remarked that too much solemnity and an artificial smile risks a drift to hypocrisy. Then, laughing again, he said he had only one grumble and that was that Japanese food is often beautiful to look at and made of excellent ingredients, but there isn’t enough to fill you up.


A member of the audience asking His Holiness the Dalai Lama a question during his talk in Sendai, Japan on April 7, 2014. Photo/Office of Tibet, Japan
Answering questions from the audience he advised that it is always helpful to remain honest and truthful in the face of difficulty.

“You should examine whether what you want to do is really feasible. Research your goal and adopt a realistic approach. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Be honest, truthful and concerned for the well-being of others. To be self-centred instead leads to fear and suspicion, which more often than not ends in loneliness.”

About prayer he said it makes sense in traditions that believe in a creator to pray to god. From the Buddhist point of view, however, the Heart Sutra, for example, is not so much a prayer as a description of reality. And understanding reality is how we counter ignorance. Wisdom is the primary factor on the basis of which Buddhists develop faith and compassion.

To a woman who described the difficulty of dealing with three years of hardship His Holiness quoted Shantideva as saying that if there is a solution to something there’s no need to worry about it and if there isn’t, worrying won’t help. To a request to explain reincarnation he said it could take a week and that it would be better to find out more about it by reading books. Asked what has made him happy, His Holiness replied:

“To be a bhikshu, a Buddhist monk, and to be a follower of the Nalanda tradition. When I reach a new understanding of something I’m reading it brings me great satisfaction. Thinking about the awakening mind of bodhichitta and emptiness brings me a real sense of joy.”

He concluded by reciting his favourite verse from Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’:

‘For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.'
 

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