Saturday, April 6, 2013

Peace Pagoda

“It is imperative that we replace materialism and the economy-centered way of thinking, which have served as the fundamental principles of social organizations and replace them by community based on human solidarity and mutual aid and develop the life of Tangyo-Rai Hai, the offering of respect to everyone.” -The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii, 1953 (It’s amazing how relevant this still is over 60 years later.)

  I’ve wanted to go to Peace Pagoda in Leverett since the moment I first heard about it (almost 2 years ago now). But I haven’t had time to drive out there and this winter has been particularly brutal. There haven’t really been any good days for picture taking until now. I knew I would have a day off on Friday, so if the weather was cooperating (and sunny), I was determined to go.

  Whenever I would talk about going to the Pagoda with other people, I usually got the question, “What’s so special about a temple in the woods?” The answer was, I didn’t really know! But I wanted to find out. I felt drawn to going there, I just had to see it. However, for some reason, I was really nervous about going out there alone. I’m not at all familiar with that area (Sunderland & Leverett) and, while doing research about the Pagoda, had discovered that there was some kind of speed trap nearby, which made it even more nerve-wracking (not that I speed, but sometimes speed limits are not clearly posted here in MA). Anyway, Friday came and I tried calling just about everyone I knew to see if someone would go with me but I couldn’t get ahold of anyone. I wasn’t going to let that stop me though. I printed out the directions, packed up some snacks and my camera and hit the road.

  The drive there was fairly easy. The route was very scenic and pretty, despite it being April. I imagine the best time to make the trip would be in the fall, when all of the beautiful colors are on the trees, but I couldn’t wait that long. My Googlemaps directions told me it would be on the right side of Cave Hill Road (when coming from MA-47 North) but it was actually on the left side of the road.


I saw the signs on the left at the last minute and drove past it and had to turn around.

  Once I was there, I drove down the road to a little clearing. There was a road to the left and what appeared to be a parking lot to the right. There was another car parked in the parking lot, so I chose to park and read the sign to see what I was supposed to do next. It turned out that unless you are disabled or older, you are supposed to park and walk, so I made a good call by stopping.

I grabbed my stuff and headed up the dirt road. On my left, I passed some kind of building that appeared to be under construction. I was glad that I wore my comfortable shoes because the path started to go uphill, which made it a little bit of a hike. I started to get a little nervous (I don’t think it’s ever relaxing to walk alone in the woods, there are bears here!). I started to wonder if I was even going the right way. Eventually I came to this:

on my right
on my left
I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to go past the barricade or head towards the house (which I’m assuming was where some of the monks lived?). I assumed the barricade was only there to prevent cars from driving any further, so I climbed over it. As I walked along the path, I noticed beautifully stacked rocks everywhere.

I found this information about the stacking of the rocks: “It is a form of worshiping. Some people use it as a gesture or asking or wishing for good fortune to be bestowed on the stacker and his or her family. Each stone within the stack represents a particular wish and possibly, family member.” (
  Finally, I could see the top of the Pagoda. At that particular moment, the sun happened to be shining down on it and it looked beautiful!

There were two women sitting on the bench in front of it.

I walked up and asked if they had been there before. They said yes. I told them that it was my first time and asked if there was anything I should know about it (e.g. was anyone going to get mad at me for taking a million pictures). They said that the only thing you weren’t supposed do was walk on the gravel in the rock garden. I thanked them and went off happily on my way to take my pictures.

I really can’t describe the feelings I felt at the Peace Pagoda. I was just so excited to be there! I had read on the website that part of the beauty of the Pagoda wasn’t just the temple that had been built or “the end result”, but the process of building it. It stated:

“It is the process of engagement that changes hearts, providing the tests of challenge and commitment that bring forth transformation.”

This idea was beautiful to me because that’s just how life is! It’s not about what happens in the end, we all face the same fate, but it’s about the journey and the process.

At one point, the women I had spoken too left and I was completely alone. I sat down on the bench in front of the Pagoda and tried to clear my mind. The silence was so peaceful. The warm sun was shining directly on me and it felt amazing. It was a relief from the bitter cold I’ve felt for the past 6 months. I was so happy that I had made the trip!

I could go on and on describing the things that I saw, but I’d rather you just enjoy the photographs I snapped for now until you can go and experience it for yourself.

  As I was walking back down the dirt path to leave, I heard faint drumming coming from the house I had passed on my way up. I tried to take some video of it, but after reviewing the footage later, I realized that you couldn’t really hear the drums. While I was standing there enjoying the drumming, a beautiful little butterfly flew by. I followed it until it landed and was able to take one final picture before my camera battery died.

What perfect timing! Had my battery died earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to catch that moment.

  Just as I got back to my car to leave, a family from Quebec pulled up. I could see all of the same nervousness and excitement from them that I felt when I first arrived. But upon leaving, all I felt was serenity. I guess being in the presence of a great act of peace will do that to you.

  I really believe you have to be actively seeking peace or working towards it in order to achieve it. It doesn’t just come to you, you have to look for it. Luckily, through my experiences in the past several years, I’ve learned a lot about finding inner peace and how to be grateful for what I have. Every single day for me really is a gift. I am thankful for my health, my family, and my friends, as well as several other material things (the list could go on and on). But I understand that I am not guaranteed any of those things and all of them could be gone in a second. I try enjoy every moment that I am given. I have also learned that the most important things in life aren’t things. It is the investment we make in other people. I’m constantly trying to invest in other people, even if it doesn’t always feel natural for me. So many people waste so much time and energy being hateful or spiteful towards other people. It’s really easy to go down that route. But most of the time, it stems from their own insecurities, jealousy or lack of understanding. I just don’t have it in me to hate like that. I have learned that I can enjoy and learn from my interactions with people that I know don’t like me or don’t understand me. I can choose to find my own peacefulness and happiness in this life. OK, I’ve gone off on a tangent now, let me get back to the Pagoda...

  I really hope you’ll be able to visit the Peace Pagoda for yourself. I definitely plan on going back with my family. I can’t wait to see it in the fall, I just know it will be absolutely beautiful at that time of the year! To learn more about the Peace Pagoda, visit

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