Buddhist monks walk through Fairfield County to promote peace

By FRANK MacEACHERN, Wilton Villager, Jan 25, 2008

WILTON, CT (USA) -- Standing in a circle holding hands, about a dozen people silently prayed before chanting a Buddhist prayer at the Quaker Meeting House in Wilton on Wednesday night.

The group included Buddhist monks and two Japanese documentary makers, who are walking from Boston to Washington, D.C., to promote peace and to abolish nuclear weapons. They stopped in Wilton Wednesday to meet with supporters and to spread their message.

Their peace walk, called "Walk for a New Spring," began in Boston on Jan. 17, and will end in Washington on Friday, Feb. 15.

The walkers met at the Quaker Meeting House on New Canaan Road for a potluck meal, a discussion of the walk's goals and to watch the movie "Call of the Peace Pagoda," which is about the Japanese and American Buddhists who live at the first Peace Pagoda constructed in the United States in Leverett, Mass.

The monks walk about 15 miles each day, said Brother Towbee, who is one of the monks in the walk. Towbee, or Toby Keyes, was an auto mechanic in Western Massachusetts before he converted to Budhism in 1992 from Congregationalism.

He said a tragic day in American history prompted the monks to begin the annual walk seven years ago.

"It's our response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001," said Towbee. "Our government's response to that has been to wage more war and cause more suffering and create more fear among Americans."

There has to be more attention paid to developing a peaceful society, said Towbee, and the walk is one way to do that. It's up to citizens of all faiths, he said, to stand up and work for peace.

"We're the people who are the only ones who can make the change," said Towbee.

Madeleine Wilken, a Wilton Quaker, said the walk may not make an immediate change in thinking, but believed it can make a long-term change.

"Every individual's individual act makes a difference even though you may never see the result," said Wilken. "We can't ever foresee the exact consequence of what we do but what we can do is choose to act morally and responsibly"

The monks didn't walk through Wilton, but did walk in Westport on Tuesday.

Wednesday was a rest day for them before resuming their walk in Greenwich on Thursday. Friday they crossed over the state line into New York.

The monks are calling for an abolition of nuclear weapons and a renunciation of war, and they're asking that leaders put the well being of humans and the natural world before material concerns, said Towbee.

The walk began at the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Mass., which was built by Americans guided by Japanese monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Buddhism.

The pagoda was founded by Nichidatsu Fujii, who was deeply affected by the bombing of Hiroshima, one of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan to end the Second World War.

He spent the next 40 years building pagodas around the world and highlighting opposition to nuclear war, until he died in 1985 on his 100th birthday.

The monks highlighted that opposition by long peace walks, hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles long, said Towbee, to publicize the dangers of nuclear war.

Bridgeport resident Maggie Stevenson, a Quaker who helped organize the walk in Fairfield County, agreed with Towbee that the walk can change attitudes.

"It does make a difference. It makes a difference to the monks, it makes a difference to the hosts and at the end of the day you're committed to doing what is right."