Just after midday today I decided to take a walk. I put my winter coat on for the first time this year, grabbed my camera, and headed out. The sky was clear, the sun shining and the air fresh and crisp.
I went to a nearby lake to get away from the sound of traffic. It was the perfect place to contemplate and collect my many thoughts. Thoughts about where I am and how I got here, thoughts about where I want to be and how I plan to get there, and thoughts about coming to terms with the reality of my low chance of success. These are the thoughts that preoccupy me.
Just on the edge of the lake is a Peace Pagoda, described as ‘a sanctuary and permanent refuge for all beings’. The pagoda was built by Japanese monks and nuns and enshrined within are sacred relics of the Lord Buddha. It is a beacon for world peace and is the first of its type in the western hemisphere. The pagoda is not designed to be entered in to, so I stood facing it and contemplated.
After a walk around the lake, I visited the nearby Buddhist temple and spent a little time at the beautiful Japanese gardens on the temple grounds. Together, the gardens and temple are described as ‘a setting which encourages peaceful feelings and contemplation.’
Even though it was the weekend, when I entered the grounds I was the only visitor there. A volunteer standing outside saw me and invited me in. We took our shoes off as we entered and made our way to the main meditation/prayer hall. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I was inside the main hall I experienced an inner peace and acceptance of self that I have not experienced in many years. The angst that had seeded itself so firmly in my mind disappeared completely.
The volunteer explained to me that the aim of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order at the temple is to spread and support peace around the world. He told me how the Buddhists were inclusive without restriction: the temple is visited not only by Buddhists but also by Hindus and members of a local Church, their accountant is a Muslim, and they even have a relationship with pagans who perform rituals at a nearby circle of large stones. He also explained how the temple serves as a monastery and provides residential accommodation to those who require it (one person had just come down from Scotland to spend a week here).
I felt an additional affinity with the building because of my admiration for traditional Japanese architecture; the temple is built mostly of wood, in the classical Japanese style, and almost all the carpentry is carried out by a single monk. Indeed, the temple and grounds are maintained by the goodwill of volunteers.
Today I found some clarity and peace. I will visit this refuge more often.