24 May 2022
The Peace Pagoda at
Willen Lake is a symbol
of peace and disarmament
The Peace Pagoda on the shores of Willen Lake strikes many people as an unusual building in an unlikely location in English parkland on the fringes of Milton Keynes.
There are more than 80 peace pagodas across Europe, Asia, and the US today. But the first peace pagoda in any Western country was built in Milton Keynes.
Recently, two of us vsited the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda, which is striking and sits at the western edge of Willen Lake. It was built in 1980 as a symbol of world peace and harmony by the monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji Sangha, a small Japanese Buddhist order in the Nichiren tradition.
The peace pagoda at Willen Lake was completed in September 1980, with an inauguration ceremony attended by religious leaders and world peace activists from across the globe. The ceremony was led by the Most Ven Nichidatsu Fujii, founder and teacher of the Order of Nipponzan Myohoji.
I first met monks from the order when they visited Ireland in 1980 to protest against proposals for uranium mining in Co Donegal and to visit the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. Two monks were my guests in Dublin, and they met many members of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Members of the order are dedicated to building peace pagodas worldwide and to chanting and drumming the Daimoku (Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ) from the Lotus Sutra to pray for world peace and social justice, especially for nuclear disarmament.
A year after the pagoda opened in Milton Keynes, I was a guest of the order in Tokyo when I was a panellist and speaker at the three-day World Assembly of Religious Workers for General and Nuclear Disarmament, which they sponsored in Tokyo in 1981. I was representing Irish CND, Christian CND and peace activists in the churches, and had been nominated by the Irish Nobel Peace laureate Sean MacBride (1904-1988), who was president of Irish CND and of the International Peace Bureau.
Sean MacBride was a personal friend of the Ven Gyotsu Sato (1918-2018), a Buddhist monk of Nipponzan Myohoji, the kwy organiser of the conference, a lifelong peace activist and vice-president of the International Peace Bureau.
A former air force pilot and army major during World War II, he became a monk and dedicated his life for the development of the Japanese peace movement. Among others, he played an essential role in linking the Japanese movement with those in Europe and the US and with the United Nations. He was later forced to leave the honour, and died of pneumonia at the age of 99 on 1 March 2018.
The order’s peace pagodas around the world have been built as symbols of world peace and to promote unity among all the peoples, regardless of race, creed or border.
Peace pagodas have been built in places that seem to be most in need of healing, such as the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki where US atomic bombs killed more than 150,000 people on 6 and 9 August at the end of World War II.
Four white lions guard the entrances of the Peace Pagoda. Inside, the Peace Pagoda enshrines sacred relics of the Buddha presented from Nepal, Sri Lanka and Berlin.
The pagoda also has a frieze, between the architrave and the cornice, with a traditional design. It tells the story of the Buddha from his birth 2,500 years ago at the foot of the Himalayas to his death at Kusinagara after 50 years of teaching.
The Peace Pagoda on the shores of Willen Lake sits next to the Buddhist Temple that regularly hosts services and visitors. Members of the public are welcome inside or to visit the grounds and their gardens.
Surrounding the temple and the peace pagoda, 1,000 cedar and cherry trees have been planted in remembrance of all victims of all wars. They were donated by the ancient Japanese city of Yoshino, famous for the beauty of its cherry blossoms.
The cherry tree was the first tree to blossom in Hiroshima after the atomic bombing in 1945. At the top of the hill between the pagoda and the temple stands the One World Tree, with prayers, messages of hope and small ornaments attached to it.
A highlight at the pagoda each year is the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing on 6 August, which we are looking forward to attending this summer.