John Godley, standing on his plinth – complete with a sea gull on his head – didn’t appear to bat an eyelid as he watched Buddha celebrating his 2546th birthday a couple of years ago. But what would this British founding father have said could they have seen such a Buddhist spectacle in front of their Anglican Cathedral over 150 years later?
One of the great things about travel, it is not just us who travel to places, but people from ‘other places’ who travel here too – and they stay, bringing new religions, different cultural traditions and food to us.
This is a real bonus to the armchair traveller who can’t get to visit exotic places while for people like me, it’s a reminder of places, sounds and tastes I have seen before, or places I want to get a visa for real soon.
And so it was in Christchurch’s (NZ) Cathedral Square one day in May. Buddhists from all over the city came to celebrate the birthday of Prince Siddhattha – the personal name of Buddha.
Monks and Nuns from different Asian countries led the celebration and we all, the Mayor included, took turns in offering gifts of incense, flowers and fruit to Buddha, then washed the statue – to wash away “the dust of defilement”.
Prayers of peace followed and the cathedral bells, ringing their usual peels, seemed to join in.
It seems so long ago since I took part in such a celebration and it was great to be able to see the colours, hear the sounds and taste the food of Asia all at the same time.
Our city is fortunate to have the wealth of such traditions being shared with us. I have no doubt that these events have been happening behind closed doors in New Zealand for sometime. However I’m happy that our fellow citizens feel secure enough in their new land to share their traditions and celebrations with us. Of course many other Kiwi also practise one of the many forms of Buddhism and religions that are not so well known or understood by many of us.
One of the advantages of being a slow-traveller is the time I can take in each place to absorb, and sometimes study, the culture and religion of various places.
I have been able to listen to Jewish lectures within the old city walls of Jerusalem, hear the Pope speak in Vatican City, be taught about Islam in America, Malaysia and Egypt, and as a freethinker, have taken what I liked and left the rest behind. It also means that with understanding I have become more tolerant of the differences between us all but am still bemused at the violence that people of religion become involved with.
Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Somalia, Afghanistan, – to name just a few- perhaps the world cannot live without an enemy. No cold war, so let’s have a religious war – not that the Middle East is arguing about regions but about land – however as the two sides have, mostly, different religions, many observers seem to be taking sides along those lines.
I hope those prayers to Buddha in the centre of Christchurch, for peace and understanding are heard and that all who practice regions, and all those who are agnostic or atheist will one day live in a world free of violence.
Have you heard the creed of the peaceful traveller.
Grateful for the opportunity to travel and experience the world and because peace begins with the individual, I affirm my personal responsibility and commitment to:
· Journey with an open mind and gentle heart
· Accept with grace and gratitude the diversity I encounter
· Revere and protect the natural environment which sustains life
· Appreciate all cultures I discover
· Respect and thank my hosts for their welcome
· Offer my hand in friendship to everyone I meet
· Support travel services that share these views and act upon them and,
· By my spirit, words and actions, encourage others to travel the world in peace