Recap: Shinnyo-en Lantern Floating Ceremony

Written by Kristina Alvarado
June 10, 2015

In April, we announced that select faculty and students were about to participate in the world renowned Shinnyo-en Lantern Floating Ceremony in Hawaii as guests of the Shinnyo-en Foundation (read the post here). The trip was an opportunity for experiential learning in a unique context?exploring ritual, interreligious dialogue and community, radical hospitality, and intercultural expression. This month, we sat down with a few student participants to learn more about the experience.

Arriving in Honolulu, Hawaii on May 23 with great anticipation, Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Cobb and students Nindyo Sasongko (MA in Transforming Spirituality), Cathy Nilon (Master of Divinity-Chaplaincy), Larry Walls (Doctor of Ministry), and Kristina (Tina) Alvarado (MA in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy, a couples and family therapy program) met students and faculty from Hartford Seminary and their gracious hosts, the Shinnyo-en Foundation.?

The group itself was a practice in interfaith dialogue, including Islamic students and faculty, as well as participants who identified as Catholic, Mennonite, Baptist, Humanist and other expressions of spirituality. In preparation for the ceremony, the group spent time learning about Shinnyo-en Buddhism from the president and vice president of the foundation and building community with one another over meals, conversations, hikes, and excursions. Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry was recognized and invited by the Shinnyo-en Foundation as a school that is committed to interreligious dialogue and has worked hard to build a tradition of hospitality to people of all faiths and traditions. Delegates from Hartford Seminary were also invited as it houses one of the only Islamic chaplaincy programs worldwide. Both schools were selected as those who have a shared mission with the foundation and ceremony, of peacebuilding, and creating harmony amid diversity.?

On the evening of May 25, the ceremony began?gathering over 50,000 people from all over the world to participate. The ritual honors those we have lost, while paying tribute to the beauty of life in the midst of darkness. Over the course of the ceremony, 6,000 water-born lanterns were released at Ala Moana Beach by individuals, family members and groups to the sounds of Buddhist chanting and Hawaiian melodies.

Participating student, Tina Alvarado, shares further:

??The ceremony was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Based on the number of people there, it ?is clearly something that transcends any one faith tradition?it connects with something deeper. The ceremony melded Buddhist ritual with Hawaiian tradition in a way that was rich and deep. The Taiko drums reverberated in your chest and the chanting swayed you like the gentle waves in the cove where tens of thousands of people gathered. It was a whirl of sights and sounds as I watched what had once been my lantern disappear into the thousands that dotted the shallow bobbing water. Then I stood in awe, unable to look away as thousands of other people around me did the same. ?It was a moment that touches the deepest part of you in a way that is wholly sacred and beyond words. I felt rooted and transcendent at the same time, with a sense of stillness that only comes with experiences of the Divine. Although I stood alone, I felt deeply connected to the strangers around me, as if by honoring their own loved ones they were also honoring mine and vice versa.?

The following day, the group participated in a panel discussion highlighting their own reactions to the ceremony as well as thoughts regarding their field of study, faith tradition, and future work. Dr. Becky Cobb closed the panel by saying that if Shinnyo-en is trying to create peace, they succeeded at the ceremony?it was an experience that inspired a sense of peace is each person?s heart and as they remember that sacred time, the peace will spread beyond them.

Participating student, Cathy Nilon, additionally remarks:

?We were given a first hand opportunity to experience other religions in the safe container offered by the hospitality of the Shinnyo-en. I relished the acceptance of the Buddhists in Hawaii toward our group. To stand together on the beach, in the face of prejudice and adversity, encourages harmony, peace and understanding. Through challenging dialogue and attentive listening, we heard each other?s pain and shame. I came away knowing that the grace of God transcends all human constructs. Christ is indeed present wherever goodness is found. Revelation speaks loud when we are in quiet communion with others.?

Read more about the Lantern Floating Ceremony from the Huffington post here.

Experience it for yourself! Watch the full ceremony online here: