On a warm day in early March, several hundred people gathered at the Laikipia Nature Conservancy in central Kenya to attend the fire and water ceremony held by the Japanese lay Buddhist order Shinnyo-en, and led by the head of Shinnyo-en, Her Holiness Shinso Ito (pictured above). Every year, Shinnyo-en conducts several fire and water ceremonies around the world. Each ceremony, based on the ancient Buddhist fire ritual homa, is dedicated to awakening people to their innate compassionate nature toward all life forms and expresses Shinnyo-en’s desire to strive for the welfare of all people. 

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At Laikipia Nature Conservancy, the ceremony was held in front of a large statue of Paranirvana Buddha, constructed from the red ochre found on the conservancy. The clay sculpture—especially built for the fire and water ceremony—served as the centerpiece for the dance of animals and celestial beings performed by members of a local tribe. The dance, rehearsed for many weeks before the event, was inspired by the last moments of the Buddha’s life, when people, animals, and celestial beings gathered around the Buddha to hear his last words before he entered nirvana. This last teaching, recounted in the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, is central to Shinnyo-en Buddhism.

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