Reminiscent of the Hawaii custom of throwing lei onto the waves while scattering the ashes of a loved one, the Buddhist ritual of sending out to sea a candle-lit lantern carrying a prayer or message has struck a chord in people in search of solace.
The ethereal parade of thousands of islands of light adrift in the twilight encourages a spiritual healing and comfort that cannot be explained, said the Rev. Given Tokunaga of Shinnyo-en Hawaii, the Buddhist temple in Moiliili that is holding the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony Monday at Magic Island.
Some 40,000 residents and visitors of various faiths are expected to participate in the 6:30 p.m. event. Though many will write messages to deceased loved ones, others will send prayers for victims of suffering everywhere or wishes for world peace.
"One man said when he floated the lantern, he had a feeling of closure over the loss of his son," Tokunaga said. "That something cannot be explained, but it comes about because everyone is uniting in prayer — we are bringing just our hearts together. One of the beautiful parts of this event is we bring together our commonalities, not our differences. We put our prayers together to promote peace and harmony."
Some 3,000 lanterns will be available this year, about 1,000 more than last year. Her Holiness Shinso Ito, head of the Shinnyo-en sect in Japan, "could feel the anxiousness of the public to want to participate," as every year the demand for lanterns exceeds the supply, Tokunaga said.
Ito will address the crowd following a moment of reflection dedicated to victims and survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami tragedy in Japan. Prayers for the thousands of lives lost will be installed on one of six larger "parent lanterns" to be released from a canoe paddled from shore. Messages from people throughout the world that have been received online at lanternfloatinghawaii.com, as well as those that arrive up until Monday, will be attached to community lanterns, he said.
The event was first held at Keehi Lagoon in 1999 and moved to Ala Moana in 2002 as a combined observance of the upcoming Obon season and Memorial Day. In July or August, Buddhists welcome the spirits of deceased loved ones and ancestors with bon dances and other Obon traditions. The spirits are sent back on their journey to the land of pure happiness with prayers and "merit," which Tokunaga explained is good karma that relatives still on earth have developed through good deeds.
Setting a lantern adrift from shore to sea symbolizes the transfer from one location to another of a person’s feelings and merit to loved ones who have died, he said.
Buddhists believe that after people die, "It’s very important that we are still in touch with them," Tokunaga said. "We send our love and concern to them, and vice versa — they send us love and concern. Sometimes people have talked about sensing our loved ones in the room."
13TH ANNUAL LANTERN FLOATING HAWAII
>> Ceremony begins 6:30 p.m. Monday at Magic Island.
>> Lanterns will be available on a first-come, first-served basis in a large tent in the Magic Island parking lot beginning at 1 p.m. Lanterns are free; donations will be given to the City and County of Honolulu.
>> People may also float their own lantern or submit a message that will be placed on a lantern. Go to www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com.
>> No parking Monday at Magic Island or on the makai side of Ala Moana Boulevard from Piikoi Street to Atkinson Drive.
>> Free parking will be available at the Hawai‘i Convention Center from 9 a.m. to midnight. A free shuttle from the convention center to Magic Island will run from 4 to 6:15 p.m., and from 8 to 9 p.m. back to the center.
>> After the ceremony, lanterns will be collected and stored for future use.