This coming weekend is Memorial Day in the United States. Along the shores at Ala Moana Beach Park on the island of Oahu; 1000 illuminated floating lanterns will be released simultaneously as “lantern offerings on the water” or Toro Nagashi.

The Japanese ‘Toro Nagashi’ is a time-honoured Buddhist ritual. It respects and pays tribute to our ancestors while comforting the spirits of the deceased and their survivors. During the ceremony, candle-lit lanterns are individually set afloat on the ocean. It is believed that these illuminated lanterns ferry spirits “from the shore of delusion to the shore of salvation.” As they float out to sea, these lanterns carry heartfelt prayers for victims of natural disasters, water-related accidents, war, famine, disease as well as for personal loved ones who have died. Many participants fill out individual slips of paper which they attach to the lantern frames.

This ceremony unites all who participate, without regard to nationality, culture, politics or religion. It is an act of becoming “one human family” and the desire for a future in which harmony exists among all people regardless of their differences. Given Tokunaga, Executive Director of Na Lei Aloha, one of the groups that sponsor the festival explains it this way, “This is not a Hawaiian event. It’s not a Japanese event. It’s not an American event. It’s a human event.”

One of last year’s participants, writer Sarah Brueggemann, describes her experience,

“Though surrounded by masses of people, I feel a sense of calm. Some watch in silence. Others snap photos of the visual feast. All linger on the beach to witness the glowing orange as they drift out to sea. Standing aside, one woman wipes tears from her eyes, which shine brighter than any luminary…

As I walk among the crowd, strangers share their stories. A traveler who lost her husband to cancer tells me how he loved surfing in Hawaii. She sprinkled his ashes here and hopes that by returning, she can reconnect with him. Despite such poignant accounts, the mood isn’t melancholy. The feeling is one of shared contentment…

Everyone waits with anticipation for the ceremony to begin. Buddhist monks in crimson and gold robes walk solemnly to a hibiscus-ringed stage. Powerful drumming and chanting resonates through the assembly. As the sun sets, outrigger canoes paddle into position. A double-hull craft transports six large “parent” lanterns which sit on delicately carved bases that resemble canoes. Some have masts with gossamer sails. People line the banks with lanterns, forming a radiant arc. Once released, the flames move toward the horizon, seeming to disappear over the earth’s edge.”

Last year I had hoped to be standing on the shores of Ala Moana Beach this weekend. It was not to be. I will look toward next year with a whispered wish and the words of Og Mandino on my mind…

“I will love the light for it shows me the way,
yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”



Leticia said...

A beautiful ritual. It will be especially poignant due to recent events.

Cheryl said...

What a lovely way to pay tribute!

I haven't stopped by your blogs in a while, and I'm so glad to see that you're back. Sure did miss you!

Sandra Evertson said...

Wonderful, and such a lovely tribute to your mother and grandmother below!
Sandra Evertson