Nipponzan Myohoji, Atlanta Dojo
The Runners Visit the Smoky Mtn.Temple and the Peace Pagoda Site Aug.14th, 2004
After a good nights rest last night, all the runners (except John who wanted to spend some time with his old friend Eric Johnson) decided to take some R & R today and drive up to the Smoky Mtn. Peace Pagoda. This was the place being built by Denise and Utsumi and their group of Buddists. Jim, Jon, and Terry had been to the site before and wanted to see what had been done recently, and Mark and I just wanted to see the place. My ulterior motive was also that I wanted to spend a little quiet time up in the Smoky mountains. We actually slept in to almost 8:00am this morning and by the time we were up and around everyone else had already left for their respective activities. After some coffee and a bite to eat we proceeded towards the Smoky mountains somewhere near Newport, Tenn. Our destination was situated upon a foothills knob not far from I - 40. After passing the turnoff for the secondary road that went to the property, and doubling back with much discussion of the local landmarks, we finally arrived at the parking area for the Temple at the base of the knob. Thus far we had only completed the easy part of the journey. A rough gravel road led away from the parking lot up a steep grade into the distance. I now understood why we had parked at the base of the hill, as this was definitely only a 4 wheel drive road, and then passage was tricky even with an experienced driver unless I miss my guess! Before long even this group of intrepid run/walkers was noticably huffing and puffing, as we took several breaks getting to the top of the knob. Our effort was rewarded with the view of a small rustic cabin structure clearly under construction. This was the ceremonial Temple and retreat center core that was far enough along in construction to be used already, while a bath - house and guest lodging was still as yet incomplete. The new building had a covered front porch with a panoramic view of the valley below, surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains. Standing there in the quiet with that breathtaking view made the effort to get to the top of the knob well worth the climb. Once we had inspected the place everyone kinda went their own way to enjoy the serenity in their own personal style.
There were vegetable and flower gardens in the front and rear of the temple structure and these got my attention for the moment. Someone had obviously put in a lot of work to create these gardens here and they were bearing fruit that just begged to be tasted, and so I did. Fresh warm veggies from the garden taste different from any other way of preparation, and being a garden veteran I took full advantage of that bit of knowledge to produce a produce JOY. I grazed myself into a delicious blissful state until I heard Jim say he was going up to the Peace Pagoda site, at which point I reluctantly left the garden to accompany him and the others. The Peace Pagoda is a 10 year building project. It wil be situated right at the apex of this foothill knob of the larger mountains which surround it. Standing there on the proposed site it is hard to get a handle on the magnitude of the structure, and I have spent nearly 30 years in the construction industry. It will be around 60 feet wide at its base and rise nearly 10 stories to the point at its topmost spire. I had seen pictures of another one in upstate New York so I had a pretty good idea of the general design. Jim was saying that when it is complete it will be visible from I - 40 as you drive by. hopefully it will become a beacon of peace for all people who pass through this part of the country. It had been a while since I had been up in the Smoky's and you tend to forget over time the peace, quiet, and majesty of these oldest of Mother Earth's mountains, it is a fitting place indeed to build a monument to Peace and Justice. We traversed the trail back down to the Temple and all gathered on the front porch to just simply share the moment in time and place!
It has been learned that place can be a powerful catalyst in human interaction, and today was to prove no exception. Sitting there basking in the atmosphere of solitude and serenity, the group finally began a discussion of peace and the concept of non-violence. Several pondered the limits of our discipline of non-violence and peaceful protest. It seemed we had to explore our own hearts as well as the hearts of those giants of activism and peace teaching who came before us. In theory and teaching everyone pretty much agreed that the ideal expressed by Jesus and Ghandi and others of not only complete non-violence towards, but love for our enemy's was the highest form we could aspire to. The contradiction to this surfaced in the admission that under duress of our loved ones, we probably would come to their aid and defend them to the death. The Hindu yogi form of this question - the sanscrit term, Ahimsa or translated as "the practice of harmlessness" was taken to such extremes that followers of elder masters actually went before them and swept the walk ways to keep them from accidentally stepping on any bugs and harming or killing them. The form I studied said basically that there were very few instances where breaking "Ahimsa" was justified, but there were a few - like the duty to defend children from harm or abuse, or the killing of a wild animal to save another persons life. We discussed the political applications as with Martin Luther King, Ghandi, and Mandela. We also marveled at the Buddist monks who self immolated during the Viet Nam war, and sat there burning and never moved nor uttered so much as a cry! I suppose that I must admit that I haven't reached the exalted state where I can turn the other cheek, and give not only my jacket but my shirt also. We pretty much reached a consensus that each person had to plumb the depths of their own heart to see where the limits of peace and non-violence fall, and what is really expected of us is that we do the best we can under the circumstances that we face. If we continue to practice the discipline of peace and non-violence, we can perhaps keep the faith that the limits of our strength, courage, and tolerance will continue to expand!!!!!!!And we will live ever closer to the examples (as Sir Isaac Newton put it) of those giants on whose broad shoulders we stand.
We found it to be somewhat ironic that the discussion that occurred at the Smoky Mountain Peace Pagoda and Temple site was a close parallel to the classes going on in preparation for the events of Sunday. At last we reluctantly gathered our stuff and made our way back down to the vehicles for our journey back to Ralph and Lissa's house. Believe you me that walk down was way easier than the one going up. All in all it had been a meaningful day of learning and fellowship for the Footprints for Peace running team at the close of the Nuclear Free Future Run 2004!