Buddhist leader sought unity among isle faithful

By Mary Adamski, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Dec 19, 2007

Richard Paw U: 1922-2007

Honolulu, Hawaii (USA) -- When Richard Paw U retired to Hawaii after a career at the United Nations, he worked to bring local Buddhists from different countries together for ecumenical religious observances and cultural festivals.

"He was known as the founding president of the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists," said the Rev. Yoshiaki Fujitani, retired bishop of Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin Hawaii.

The organization reflected a change in the makeup of the local Buddhist community, which for the past 100 years was predominantly Japanese-American.

Language differences were a barrier to developing a collegial relationship with new immigrants from China, Korea, Tibet and Southeast Asian countries, and new Japanese groups, Fujitani said.

Paw U was the moving force behind a book produced by Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, "Unity in Diversity: Hawaii's Buddhist Communities."

Paw U, 85, died Dec. 9 at his Kaneohe home.

He was born in Akyab, Burma, where he worked for the U.S. government during World War II. He received a scholarship to Columbia University, where he majored in sociology and studied anthropology with famous cultural anthropologists Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. In earning a master's degree, he chose "Buddhist priesthood in Burmese society" as his thesis topic, demonstrating his lifelong interest in Buddhism, said his wife, Diana Paw U.

She said the United Nations recruited him and he began his 34-year career as an "international civil servant" in 1949. He worked at the U.N. headquarters in New York and in Thailand. He retired in 1983 as chief of the liaison office coordinating five regional commissions worldwide.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Diana; sons Mya Sein and Kyaw Tha; and three granddaughters.

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

Memorial donations can be made to the Hawaii Association of International Buddhists, P.O. Box 25054, Honolulu, HI 96825-0054, or the donor's favorite charity.