04 August 2022

Thoughts of peace at Willen
Lake and reminders of
visitors from Hiroshima

The Japanese Peace Pagoda overlooks Willen Lake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us visited the Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Peace Pagoda at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes this week to record my annual address as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) at the annual CND commemoration in Dublin on Saturday (6 August) marking the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

A ceremony of hope and healing takes place in front of the Peace Pagoda from 7:30 pm on Saturday, followed by floating candle-lit lanterns on Willen Lake. A notice at the temple says ‘the ceremony seeks to reflect on the horrors of war in an atomic age, to remember those who have died, and to pray for peace and harmony between all people and nations.’ All are welcome to join and to float a candle.

Another notice reminds us: ‘Denial of violence through violence is like adding darkness to existing darkness – it leads to further darkness.’

Other signs dotted around the temple grounds call for prayers for the people of Ukraine and Russia, saying: ‘Life is the greatest treasure.’

The Buddhist Temple on the shores Willen Lake … recording an address for Hiroshima Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The community at the Temple at Willen Lake has long been supportive of nuclear disarmament and the activities of CND. Monks from Milton Keynes visited Ireland in October 1980, when I accompanied them on a visit the Department of Foreign Affairs in their calls for nuclear disarmament, and in their protests against proposals in Ireland for uranium mining.

One of those visiting monks, the Revd Gyosei Handa, was the Abbot of Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda and Temple from 1980 until his tragic death in an accident in 2017 just weeks after joining an anti-nuclear walk and leading the annual Hiroshima Day lantern floating on Willen Lake.

The fifth anniversary of his death is being commemorated with a special service in the Temple later this month (10 am, Sunday 21 August 2022).

The Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel on the shores of Willen Lake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Buddhist Temple and the Peace Pagoda are often linked with activities nearby at the Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel on the shores of Willen, which we visited later in the afternoon.

The Medicine Wheel is set in ‘sacred’ Green Space in Willen North Park and looks like a mini-Stonehenge close to the lakeshore. It was designed in 200 by Roy Littlesun, who was inspired by the legends of the Hopi Nation in North America. Their prophesies foretell an age of peace when all nations from the four corners of the earth join a common effort to live in peace and harmony.

The Wheel consists of two concentric circles of stone, with longer stones at the north, south, east and west points. Two extra pairs of stone at the north-east and south-west of the circle are aligned with the needle stone alongside the lake. These join the ‘Midsummer Line’ that follows the Midsummer sunrise that runs through the Tree Cathedral to the Belvedere in Campbell Park, along Midsummer Boulevard in Central Milton Keynes.

The Wheel is made up of 108 limestones from the village of Weston Underwood. Native Chiefs from the Onodage tribe came to Milton Keynes and spent their time praying and smoking their pipes of peace over the stones. The Wheel’s design also pays homage to British traditions of building circles alongside meeting places and important sites.

Four large gateways in the wheel represent the four compass points, the seasons, the races and the four elements. The two lesser gateways on the outer circle are aligned along the earth’s natural energy line. The outer and inner circles symbolise our outer and inner worlds, the universe and humanity within.

‘The Africa Stone,’ a single flat stone south-east of the East Gate, is linked to the Kalahari Bush people who have also built a ‘Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel’ in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia.

The Sacred Fire at the centre is lit at some ceremonies. This fire represents the Sacred Spirit in all things, places, people, and for all time. The Guardians of the Wheel believe that its essence is unconditional love, wisdom, peace and illumination.

Roy Littlesun, who designed and initiated the Wheel, is the adopted son of a Native American elder Titus Quomayumptewa. A group of volunteers co-ordinated and assisted in building the Wheel, and the Trustees or Guardians of the Wheel were formed from those first volunteers.

A prayer for peace in times of war at the Temple by Willen Lake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The aims of the Medicine Wheel are:

• To provide a Sacred Space in Willen North Park;
• To advance education;
• To widen public participation for balance of use of a green space for quiet reflection, thought, meditation, prayer, gatherings, ceremonies and celebrations;
• To promote the peaceful message and meaning of the Medicine Wheel;
• To promote cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue.

The Common Ground is available to individuals and groups for meditation, celebration and prayer. The use of the Wheel is inclusive, non-denominational and open to all faiths. Those uses range from the Blessing of Rivers to International Women’s Day, and all are welcome at any ceremonies.

Groups wishing to use the Medicine Wheel for events or ceremonies can contact the trustees through the Temple.

• Patrick Comerford’s address on Hiroshima Day is available HERE.

With a group of visiting Buddhist monks from Milton Keynes and Japan at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin in 1980 (Photograph: Tom Lawlor/The Irish Times)

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