Buddhist priest trying to help quake victims, drawing from 9/11

Mainichi Shimbun, April 12, 2011

Tokyo, Japan -- After the March 11 quake jolted northeastern Japan and a deadly tsunami swept away coastal towns, New York-based Buddhist priest T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki shifted into gear, drawing from work with locals after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a decade ago to initiate memorials and other events around the city.

<< A Japanese Buddhist monk prays at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan, Sunday, April 10, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

"If there is something important that I feel like I should do, then I just do it," Nakagaki told Kyodo News recently, explaining how he applied post-9/11 lessons to the Japanese disaster.

Now vice president of the Interfaith Center of New York, Nakagaki was about to leave for California to attend seminars that day -- his 50th birthday -- when he caught glimpses of the tsunami horrors unfolding in the Tohoku area on TV news programs.

Helplessly watching, while feeling the need to do something, he put his desire to serve temporarily on the back-burner to first lead the West Coast seminars.

Two days later at a Fresno temple in California, he participated in a memorial service there, further cementing his determination to organize a Manhattan event as soon as possible.

Targeting March 18 to mark the one-week anniversary, he then made numerous calls, quickly pulling together a basic program for a service before flying out on the night of March 14.

It included Christian, Buddhist and Shinto priests, Japanese and Japanese-American leaders, as well as a classical pianist, at a Christian church near the United Nations. The event later evolved to include a last-minute candlelight vigil as well.

"I think in spite of the time factor, it looked like a well-planned ceremony," the dynamic priest added.

With one success under his belt, Nakagaki then coordinated with the Riverside Church to assemble an even more diverse crowd on March 27.

There he joined Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Christian leaders to organize an "Interfaith Time of Reflection for Japan."

Despite incorporating various religious elements into the program, the priest said he purposely maintained an "Eastern" tone.

In addition to a haiku poetry reading and a "shakuhachi" bamboo flute performance, three Japanese from the most heavily damaged areas also spoke out.

Among them was Yoji Shikama, who was visiting his hometown in Fukushima Prefecture when he nearly lost his life on a highway that opened up during the magnitude 9.0 quake.

As the lead organizer of the events, Nakagaki emphasized the importance of conveying to the Japanese just how much New Yorkers stood by them during their darkest hours.

"I would like to carry the message through the media that New Yorkers are thinking about Japan," he said.

Such quick actions were what he learned in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks.

Although thousands of kilometers away from Japan's ground zero, the March disaster reminded him of the unforgettable day the World Trade Center's twin towers fell.

As resident minister of the New York Buddhist Church and president of the Buddhist Council of New York at the time, he learned to serve in ways he never imagined -- even participating in a Columbia University campus service that afternoon in the fall of 2001 -- for overflowing crowds.

Attending countless memorial services in the days and weeks afterward, the compassionate priest witnessed the important role religious leaders played in offering solace during the chaos.

The Osaka native contemplated closing the temple on the first Sunday after the attacks because of the unprecedented severity of the event. The doors, however, remained open.

"This was something different in New York," Nakagaki said, noting how many people sought spiritual guidance during the distressing time.

"Instead of waiting for someone else to do something, you did it," he added, remembering occasions when he and other clerics stepped in when needed.

Adopting a "New York attitude," he took on new initiatives -- even volunteering as a Ground Zero chaplain while fires still burned there.

Rather than being discouraged when a city-wide memorial service, held at Yankee stadium, did not include the Buddhist community, Nakagaki later organized one to honor the victims, including 24 Japanese nationals.

It is as a result of his firsthand experiences with 9/11 survivors and emergency workers that Nakagaki is now deeply concerned about the well-being of Japanese survivors who are struggling to rebuild their lives.

He is also worried about their relatives who may be living in New York or elsewhere, as well as for concerned New Yorkers.

"A lot of people talk about fundraising, but what about a cure for the hearts and minds?" asked Nakagaki.

Although no longer with the New York Buddhist Church, having retired from the post, Nakagaki continues with various activities, including teaching and lecturing, as a Buddhist priest.

The prominent interfaith leader is now looking to mark the 49th and 100th days after the catastrophe, which has so far claimed over 13,000 lives. Nearly 14,000 are still missing.

This reflects a similar approach he took back in 2001 to remember the 9/11 victims, marking those occasions as well.

According to Buddhist traditions, the first seven, 49 and 100 days, as well as the first year after death, are considered special times.

This fall, Nakagaki also aims to visit the Tohoku region in hopes of meeting survivors at shelters in the area to help them and listen to their stories of survival.

As the man who initiated the "toro nagashi" floating of paper lanterns, decorated with the names of the deceased, that became part of the annual 9/11 commemorations, Nakagaki hopes to include the latest victims in this year's 10th anniversary program.

"Somewhere in my mind this tragedy is not just a tragedy but helps bring people together," he explained. "I think that is part of the community consciousness and I think probably without 9/11 we would not do these things."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv