Richard Paw U, 85, helped unite Island Buddhists

By Mary Kaye Ritz, Honolulu Advertiser, Dec 15, 2007

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) -- Richard Paw U, a career diplomat with the United Nations and founding president of the Hawai'i Association of International Buddhists, died Sunday at his home in Kane'ohe. He was 85.

Born on Aug. 17, 1922, in Akyab, Burma, he saw many changes in his lifetime, including the takeover of the area by a militia. The area of his birthplace is now known as Sittwe, Myanmar.

He worked for the U.S. government during World War II, and in 1946, he earned a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. In March 1949, he joined the U.N.

He served at the headquarters in New York, at the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Far East in Bangkok, then was transferred back to U.N. headquarters to work as the head of regional commissions liaison office.

When Paw U retired in 1983, he and his wife made Hawai'i their new home, but retirement wasn't a quiet one. Soon after their arrival, the United Nations Association of America's Hawai'i branch and Paw U discovered each other, and he served on the board of directors, which included a stint as the president.

The Rev. Yoshi Fujitani, former bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji who was at the Buddhist Study Center about the time that Paw U came to Hawai'i, describes his friend as "very open, very large, you might say, very generous."

Buddhism infused his life: Besides taking pilgrimages with his wife to many Buddhist countries, he came to know the various Buddhists in Hawai'i, eventually realizing many sects didn't intersect.

Fujitani said Paw U's openness and experience with the U.N. "made him want to do something for Hawai'i."

In 1985, the Buddhist community had attempted to bring the Japanese and non-Japanese denominations together, but that lasted about a year. With Japanese Buddhism the prevalent sects, the Tibetans, Vietnamese and Koreans were not coordinated.

"We ran out of things to do (in 1985)," Fujitani recalled. "(The organization) was lying dormant in 1992, and Richard came along and reorganized that. He led to its resuscitation. ... He knew a lot of people, associated easily with others."

Paw U formed Hawai'i Association of International Buddhists in 1992 to bring together the different schools and traditions to foster friendships and understanding. It continues to this day.

Fujitani laughed at the memories of the times he'd visited Paw U at home, where there was plenty of good talk and "a stash of good wine in his wine cellar."

Paw U also was the driving force behind the book "Unity in Diversity: Hawai'i's Buddhist Communities," which was created during his HAIB presidency.

"That's his baby," Fujitani said. "The title was the keynote in Richard's life unity in diversity. We're all different, but we're all one. There are different kinds of Buddhists, but we're all one, spilled out into the entire community.

He is survived by his wife, Diana Min; sons, Mya Sein Paw U and Kyaw Tha Paw U; and three granddaughters.

A memorial gathering will be 6:30 p.m. Friday at Jodo Mission, 1429 Makiki St., co-sponsored by HAIB and the Vipassana Hawaii meditation group.