Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda occupies a pleasant hilly corner of Willen Park. The Pagoda itself is perhaps 500 metres over a hill from a Temple where a small number of resident monastics of Nipponzan Myohoji live, practice and work.
The main practice of the monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji revolves around walking and chanting "Namu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo" while beating their drum as a call for world peace.
The Nipponzan Myohoji is widely known for their construction of Peace Pagodas throughout the world. The pagodas are offerings for world peace, and considered as "a prayer of the spirit made manifest in material form . . . offered to the world as a symbol of global peace”.
I dropped in on a mild spring morning to find some helpers making decorations for the shrine room, which proved to be a calm and inspiring space dominated by an elaborate arrangement of images of golden Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and more recent teachers of the Nichiren Hokke-shu school. I had a helpful discussion with a young lay-follower who was intent on training to become a monk within the tradition.
The Abbot spoke with me about the dedication of the Sangha to world peace, their involvement in many interfaith activities and their difficulty in meeting the many demands upon their time. Like many Buddhist organisations they have many more requests than they can meet. The Abbot was concerned that involvement in the NBO may be an additional burden and I discussed with him the way that the NBO was involved with consultation activities from a number of non-Buddhist organisations. These ranged from government departments wanting a 'Buddhist view' of pending consultation through to the BBC website wanting an ‘authoritative’ Buddhist view on specific social or ethical issues.
Such consultation can be difficult for Buddhists who quite rightly see their faith as primarily a practice and not about promoting or establishing some sort of party-line or 'dogma'. However, it is surely wholesome and non-controversial to simply provide a sincere and accurate description of Buddhist teachings and principles without in any way forcing these on to others.
In theory, if the NBO act as a common conduit for these consultation and information requests, the workload on individual Buddhist groups such as Nipponzan Myohoji may be reduced. However, this depends upon the level of consultation and consensus that NBO member organisations feel is necessary amongst themselves before the NBO issue any statement or information to third parties.
I left the Temple pondering the question of gaining consensus within the NBO; at the root of this are complex issues. How can the NBO clearly represent the views of its member organisations without this becoming a hugely complex process of drafting and redrafting any statements? Perhaps some questions are less important than others and do not require such an extensive canvassing of members?
There will be 26th Anniversary Celebrations, open to all, at the Pagoda on Sunday 18th June starting at 10.30.
The Peace Pagoda can be contacted at: Nipponzan Myohoji Peace Pagoda, Willen, Milton Keynes, MK15 0BA. Tel: 01908 663652.