Nipponzan Myohoji was established by the Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii (Guruji) to walk throughout the world, beating a drum and chanting "Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo."
Whether in villages or cities,
Whenever there are those who seek the Dharma,
We will go to them and
Expound the Dharma bequeathed by the Buddha.
This verse from the Lotus Sūtra is what Nipponzan Myohoji is founded on, Guruji said. The practice of walking from town to town evolved into Peace Pilgrimages that disciples of Guruji continue to engage in all over the world. Every year monks of the order are leading more than a dozen Peace Pilgrimages, including our annual walks from Selma to Montgomery, AL in March and to Oak Ridge, TN in the summer.
Every year we walk the 54-mile historic route from Selma to Montgomery, retracing the steps of the original marchers in 1965 whose courage, perseverance and righteousness led to the Voting Rights Act.
The walk starts with the locally-organized Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma which is usually the first weekend in March. It is the largest annual Civil Rights gathering in the country and commemorates "Bloody Sunday", an event that shocked the nation. https://www.history.com/news/selma-bloody-sunday-attack-civil-rights-movement
We conclude the Pilgrimage in Montgomery by visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, i.e., the Lynching Memorial. This memorial is the work of the Equal Justice Initiative [https://eji.org/], a nonprofit legal organization that seeks to educate by showing the direct connection between slavery and today's mass incarceration, and between lynching and today's death penalty. To see photos from the most recent pilgrimage, March 4-9, 2023, please click on: https://photos.app.goo.gl/yW7BhRrciVJtDQox7
The Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant in Oak Ridge, TN was part of the original Manhattan Project, specifically enriching the uranium for the Hiroshima bomb, and it continues today to play a central role in the US nuclear weapons arsenal. The manufacture of these weapons of mass destruction has been normalized at Y-12, just another day on the job. We walk to awaken ourselves and everyone to this madness.
The Pilgrimage is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, August 6. The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, an abolitionist organization monitoring activities at Y-12 [https://orepa.org/] organizes vigils and peace rallies, in which the Peace Pilgrimage always participates.
It was due to this Pilgrimage that the Great Smoky Mountains Peace Pagoda appeared. We understand the Peace Pagoda to be our collective "NO" to the existence of nuclear weapons.
The building that was to become Atlanta Dojo of Nipponzan Myohoji was purchased at the end of 1993 for $12,000. That is the correct number of zeros, and no, the price was not reduced by way of a gift. The place was a wreck. It had been owned for decades by a woman who at one time had run it as a brothel and later as a boarding house. When she became ill, it devolved into a space for squatters and drug dealers. When we purchased it, there was no plumbing nor electricity, and every window was broken. With great energy and innocence, we believed we would have it fixed within a year. It took more than four.
During the renovation time, Utsumi-shonin and Denise-anjusan lived around the corner from the temple at First Iconium Baptist Church, a Black Baptist Church whose pastor, the Rev. Timothy McDonald, showed great compassion and courage in offering two Buddhist monks a place to stay. The church’s incredible support along with the help of friends and volunteers made it possible to transform 1127 Glenwood into a temple using mostly salvaged material and Utsumi-shonin’s incredible gift for creating beauty from other’s discarded things.
Since the dedication of this temple in April 1998, it has offered hospitality to peace walkers and activists of all kinds. Many have gathered here throughout the years for ceremonies and peace-oriented events. Primarily it is a temple, and visitors have frequently commented on the deep quiet that pervades this space. We have no explanation for that quiet, given the location next to very busy streets. But we are grateful for the respite it offers everyone from the noise and chaos of daily life.
Since we spend so much time now building the Peace Pagoda in East Tennessee, it is natural that people ask if we intend to sell the Atlanta Dojo. No, the loss would be too great. We’d lose memories, the multitude of offerings that built this temple, the enjoyment of its beauty, neighbors, the confidence it gave us in subsequent work. Any money from its sale would soon be gone, leaving us so much poorer if not materially then spiritually.
Our teacher, Guruji, said dōjōs are built to emulate the Pure Land. In the sutra we recite during the ceremony, Buddha says, “This Pure Land of mine is never destroyed.” Nor is it bought or sold.
The New England Peace Pagoda, located in Leverett, MA, was the first Peace Pagoda built in the US and was inaugurated in 1985. It was constructed entirely by volunteers as was it magnificent temple, which was dedicated in 2011.
The Grafton Peace Pagoda is located in upstate New York, about an hour's drive east of Albany. It was dedicated in 1993, to coincide with the International Year of the World's Indigenous People.
The Groundbreaking Ceremony for the Pacific Northwest Peace Pagoda was held in 2019. It is the second Peace Pagoda under construction in the US, along with the Great Smoky Mountains Peace Pagoda. It is located directly next to the Trident Nuclear Submarine Base in Bangor, WA.