“We are surrounded by strangers but there is a commonality among us, and this is how we pay tribute,” says Kawika Sakai about the 15th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii Memorial event held on Monday, May 27 at Magic Island in Honolulu.
What began in 1999 at O`ahu’s Ke`ehi Lagoon as an extension to Japan’s traditional end-of-summer ceremony of paying respect for ancestors, this memorial event has grown worldwide, drawing in more than 40,000 residents and visitors. Though a Buddhist-inspired memorial, the event celebrates people of all beliefs, religions, and philosophies, serving as a vehicle for cross-cultural cooperation and understanding, allowing the community to come together toward a common goal of peace and happiness.
“You don’t need four walls and a religion to do good unto others,” says Sakai. “This event brings people together of all denominations and all ages.”
This year, more than 5,000 candle-lit lanterns were set afloat to help bring a peaceful and harmonious future, and to remember and honor those who have passed.
For the Minh family, Marcia, Ohraline, and children Caleb and Isabelle, the day of the event brings an even more heartfelt meaning in remembrance of fallen soldiers.
“Our first time coming to the event was in 2011, and we didn’t know what to expect,” says Marcia, whose husband, Ohraline, has served in the U.S. Marines for 16 years and has lost many friends. “It’s pretty emotional to watch. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
While volunteers were preparing for the lantern release, visitors were welcomed by KGMB hosts.
Pearl Harbor survivor Allen Bodenlos shared his story of serving in the U.S. Army as an aspiring music teacher who lost all of his 26 fellow band members, and many of his fellow soldiers in his battalion, including his best friend Clyde Williams, on December 7, 1941.
“I am here today to pay respects to them and to Clyde, and I hope that he is playing a biblical melody up there in heaven, and I’m hoping that it’s ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’,” says Bodenlos in a friendly and sincere manner while wearing a U.S. Army hat covered with military pins.
Other stories of loss and remembrance were shared through song and/or dance by artists Kuana Torres Kahele, Hālau Hula Kamamalikolehua, and the Shinnyo-en Shomyo Ensemble.
The traditional pū (conch shell) and oli (Hawaiian chant) marked the beginning of the ceremony, followed by the powerful sounds of the Shinnyo Taiko, which is offered as a prayer for peace, with hope for bringing people together in harmony.
Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head of Shinnyo-en, welcomed the audience and thanked everyone for being part of this “magical day”.
Six large Parent Lanterns were presented on behalf of all people, offering prayers for victims of war, natural and man-made disasters, water-related accidents, famine and disease, and endemic, endangered and extinct plant and animal life.
Carrying the theme “Many Rivers, One Ocean”, Shinso-Ito reminded listeners that “the lanterns symbolize our wish to remember our ancestors and share with them our appreciation, inspiring us with the courage to make a difference and improve the world around us”, and that “we see a diversity of cultures, beliefs, and perspectives, yet we are united in one heart toward a common goal of compassion and peace”.
Everyone was invited to participate in the free ceremony by submitting remembrance requests on collective lanterns that were later released by volunteers, or to make and float their own lantern.
“Each light is a reminder that one has gone before,” says Sakai, who was peacefully taking in the serene moment. “Many lights, one spirit.”
As the sun set, the lanterns made their journey away from shore, accompanied by thousands, if not, millions of prayers from people of all races, religions, lifestyles, cultures, and beliefs.
“It’s one of those serendipitous moments where if you’re troubled, you’ll find solace, but if you’re angry, you won’t find the peace you’re searching for,” says Sakai. “This I believe, so let it be.”
In addition to the estimated 40,000 in attendance, there were millions of viewers watching the live stream via TV (Hawaii News Now KGMB) and Internet (www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com).
With approximately one million practitioners of Shinnyo-en who aim to create a deeper understanding, cooperation, and harmony in society, this denomination of Buddhism offers places and methods that are available to all people, without exception.
To learn more about Lantern Floating Hawaii, Shinnyo-en, and/or Her Holiness Shinso-Ito, visit www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com, call Nā Lei Aloha Foundation at (808) 942-1848, or Shinnyo-en Hawaii at (808) 947-2814.