Copyright 2002 – by Steven McFadden
The fire that was ignited 57 years ago on August 6, 1945 when the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, was ceremonially extinguished by a band of pilgrims May 27, 2002 at Big Mountain on Black Mesa in Arizona, in a high desert range sweet with the smell of sagebrush.
In 1945 when the “Little Boy” bomb detonated 2,000 feet above Hiroshima, the city was instantly shrouded in an awful cloud. Witnesses beneath the cloud remember that they “saw another sun in the sky…” When the wave of light, heat and wind from the flaring atomic sun reached the ground it roasted to fine ash all that came before it. The wave raced outward until it reached the mountains on the edge of Hiroshima, where it was reflected to roar again through the city center. Over 140,000 human beings died during or shortly after the blast. Many more lingered — dying later, or developing genetic mutations.
A man named Tatsuo Yamamoto recovered embers from the Little Boy blast 57 years ago. His family, with the help of a nearby monastery, has tended the flame continuously ever since, feeding it with prayers of forgiveness, understanding, and peace. This is the source of the flame the pilgrims carried across America, the flame they recently extinguished on Big Mountain.
The Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage brought the flame to America in January, 2002 and then carried it cross-country, walking West to East. They began in Washington State at the grave of Chief Seattle, and took their final steps toward the East in May in New York City at UN Headquarters and the site of the World Trade Center disaster.
(To read about the background of the walk, and the walk’s earlier pilgrimage to the emergence point of Los Alamos, New Mexico, click here).
While led by Japanese Buddhist Nuns and Monks, the prayer walk included people of all colors and faiths. They walked not in protest, but rather with prayers of hope to end war and destruction. The walkers concluded their epic pilgrimage with multicultural ceremony, including traditional elders of the Hopi and Dineh (Navajo) Nations at Big Mountain, one of the high sacred places of North America.
Four Corners: Spiritual Center of the Continent
While the Hiroshima Flame borne by the walkers has notable significance as a living representation of a redeemed spirit, the place where it was extinguished also carries immense importance.
Four Corners is a sacred region in the Southwest, recognized by traditional Hopi and Dineh, and other native peoples, as the spiritual center of our continent (Turtle Island, aka North America). Although the relationship between the larger Dineh and Hopi nations, and between those nations and the US government and corporations, has been a morass of conflict and confusion, the sacred teachings about the Four Corners handed down from antiquity echo — at some level — in the soul of every person involved.
Dineh tradition holds that at the start of the present epoch of world history (Glittering World), Holy People put four sacred mountains in four different directions: Mt. Blanca (Colorado) in the East. Mt. Taylor (New Mexico) in the South, San Francisco Peaks (Arizona) in the West, and Mt. Hesperus (Utah) in the North. In this manner, they established the boundaries known as the Four Corners.
The mountains and the land they bound constitute an exceedingly powerful vortex of energy, a reality recognized widely by mystics and scientists alike. Deep within the boundaries of the Four Corners lies Black Mesa and the ridge that runs along part of it, called Oyama in the Dineh language, also known as Great Mountain or more widely as Big Mountain.
To the casual observer, Black Mesa seems a barren and inhospitable place, devoid of value. But to traditional wisdom keepers of the Red Nations, this is high holy ground, a feminine (yin) energy center of central importance to the overall balance of life around the world – seen by some as the direct balance to the yang center of Tibet. For others, Black Mesa is a storehouse of natural capital, just waiting to be converted to bankable wealth; evidence of this lies in the gangling high–tension power poles and lines which picket the mesa, the exceedingly wide and deep roadways, and the industrial installations of every description, including a private airport for mining executives.
Ceremony at Big Mountain
When the Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage arrived at Big Mountain about Noon on May 27, the pilgrims walked a half mile out onto the range, scanning the sagebrush and the blue sky, and chanting their familiar Namu Myo Ho Renge Kyo. Their combined voices sent the chant ringing widely across the mesa.
The pilgrims spiraled sunwise around a center point on the range, forming a multiracial hoop of about 50 human beings. In the center of the hoop, the native elders and walkers kindled a small wood fire from the Hiroshima Peace Flame. It roared to life.
When the fire was burning and buckets of water had been blessed, the pilgrims spiraled single file into the fire and to the bucket of water. One at a time, they anointed themselves with the water, and then with prayer each flicked a few droplets on the slowly dwindling flame.
The hour when the Hiroshima Peace Flame was extinguished, 57 years after it was sparked to life in an unprecedented nuclear conflagration, was a quiet, sweet, solemn moment in the high desert. It was marked in the distance by birdsong and children’s laughter. The Sun was high overhead. The people in the circle were relaxed and at peace in friendship. They walked off the range quietly, and down a dirt road.
Then came whirlwinds. The breeze had blown freshly all day, sweetened by the newly sprouted sage, and it made standing in the open sun comfortable. But after the ceremony things changed. Powerful whirlwinds arose in succession and presented themselves directly before the pilgrims with a harsh, dusty moan. Just as the Wind Nation had spoken dramatically before the walkers carried the flame into Los Alamos, NM, so it spoke again through mini–tornadoes that swirled right up to the walkers, then changed direction. The whirlwinds did no damage, but demanded attention.
Until Human Beings Live in Harmony
After the ceremony the walkers and several residents of Big Mountain gathered to share a simple feast, and to talk among themselves in the shade of a shed. Several traditional elders addressed the walkers at this time, to thank them for coming and to speak of how they see things in the world.
Hopi Grandfather Martin Gashweseoma, 78, spoke briefly. He reminded people of the crucial importance of the Four Corners Region, and of Black Mesa and Big Mountain in particular. As he had explained at UN headquarters in 1993, and on many other occasions, Grandfather Martin told of how, at the beginning of the present–day 4th World, by Hopi tradition, the people who had survived the great flood that cleansed the Third World assembled at Four Corners. From there they spread out in the Four Directions to live out their destinies.
Before the human beings parted ways, Creator established Four Nations, told them they would come together again towards the end of this Fourth epoch, and gave each the responsibility for one of the Four Elements: the Black Nation to keep the water; the Yellow Nation to keep the air; the White Nation to keep the fire. The Red Nation was instructed to caretake the Earth, to hold fast to traditional ways, and to protect Four Corners at all costs, and without violence. They were told that there is great power under the land. If this power is allowed to escape, he said, it would result in great destruction.
Traditional elders recall in their ways that the Hopi were instructed to remain custodians of this region while war still stalks the world. Four Corners is a microcosmic image of the entire planet; any violations of nature in the region will be reflected and amplified all over the Earth. There are specific prophecies that refer to Black Mesa and Big Mountain, and that warn they should not be dug into. The Hopi must hold this land until human beings live in harmony.
Still Under Siege
There is an ongoing war for Big Mountain, a war older than a generation that is waged with legal edicts and bulldozers on one side, and prayer, song, and dance on the other. Because Black Mesa is a key center of spiritual energy for North America and the world, and because it represents a hornet’s nest of crucial karmic and environmental issues, it is an issue that should be of intense interest to every American citizen.
It is a bitter irony that American corporations and government have targeted one of the principal sacred sites on the continent, and exploited it with technology, ripping it open to fulfill explicitly material intentions.
Speaking in the Dineh language (interpreted by a relative), Grandmother Louise Benally told the walkers, “Here we are still at war with the U.S. Government over energy. I feel like I am still living in the 18th Century, when the Cavalry started harassing us. Dineh people remain on Black Mesa, and oppose the forced relocation of traditional peoples so this place will not be taken over for the coal and uranium that are here. We have a spiritual responsibility to this place.”
For over 20 years, Peabody Coal Co. has been strip mining Black Mesa for coal, and consequently, residents believe, reducing the water table and causing radioactive pollution as uranium deposits are disturbed. Over 30 billion gallons of water have been sucked up from the aquifer at Black Mesa by coal company pumps, then mixed with pulverized coal, and used to slurry the mixture to a power plant in Nevada, where the guts of sacred Black Mesa is burned to provide power for the Las Vegas strip. Meanwhile, family wells on Black Mesa have dried up. So have the springs. Some elderly people in the Black mesa region must travel up to 50 miles to get drinking water.
Crisis is full upon the Four Corners this summer. The fire element is wildly out of balance, and that has impacted everything. No one has ever seen a year like 2002. Wild fires are burning hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the Southwest. Elderly Dineh who have herded their sheep, goats, and cattle here for generations, say they have never seen a drought so ferocious. More than 7,000 stock ponds are dry across the Dineh reservation. Thousands of head of livestock are dying or expected soon to die from lack of water and grazeable forage.
The assault on the material resources of Black Mesa continues. Peabody Coal Co. is planning on expanding operations by opening a new mine, which will ultimately infringe upon Big Mountain itself.
“It hasn’t changed,” Grandmother Louise Benally told the pilgrims. “The feds still want our energy, and they still want our land. There has been coal mining here for 20 years. Now the land is drying up. We feel ourselves drying up, too.”
Black Mesa elders remain determined to stay on their ancestral lands. They need support to hold this spiritual center. Some of the strongest support they have received over the years has come from the people of the Yellow Nation.
Twenty–five years ago a friendship was inaugurated among the traditional Dineh and Hopi at Big Mountain, and the Monks and Nuns of the Nipponzan Mihogi Order. The friendship began during “The Longest Walk,” a pilgrimage organized by various American Indian movements. This walk journeyed from the Pacific to the Atlantic to call attention to a host of issues of concern to indigenous peoples.
Traditional elders from the Four Corners region decided that the Big Mountain issue should be a part of this effort. Over the course of the walk they informed all the Indian nations about coal mining on Black Mesa, and the relocation of Dineh people. Traditional people have been resisting government–mandated relocation for over two decades. Despite their resistance, thousands of Dineh men, women, and children have in recent years been forcibly removed to a barren area, far from their ancestral homes.
Buddhist Monks and Nuns joined the Longest Walk, and they were touched by what they learned about Black Mesa. They walked and prayed the whole way alongside the Indians. Later, through the 1980s and into the 1990s, several Buddhist people lived at Big Mountain to help defend it. In this way traditional Dineh and Hopi and the Japanese people became a family. As portrayed in the newly released film, Windtalkers, earlier in history, during World War II, they had been enemies.
The friendship deepened when people of the Yellow Nation joined people of the Red Nation at Sundance. According to long–held Lakota tradition, the Sundance ceremony was to someday travel throughout Turtle Island, and to bring many Nations into the Sacred Hoop of Unity. The first Big Mountain Sundance was held in August 1983. The intention of the Lakota Sundance in Dineh country was, and remains, for purifying body and mind so that the people of Big Mountain can defend the ancient lands. The people dance to strengthen themselves spiritually. Although harassed and challenged, the Big Mountain Sun Dance still happens every summer.
Steps Along the Trail
With this background of friendship, it was natural that the Hiroshima Flame carried by the walkers should, in the end, guide them to Big Mountain, not far from the place where the uranium used to build the Hiroshima bomb was long ago dug from the Earth.
After the feast and the remarks of the elders, the walkers had an opportunity to reflect on their pilgrimage. They said that, as a group, they felt good about what they had accomplished. They said they had been faithful, and that they listened to Sprit the whole way. They never made decisions on any other basis.
The Hiroshima Flame Interfaith Pilgrimage had its origins in the year 2000 under the inspiration of Tom Dostou while he was in Japan. At that time he was entrusted with a spark of the Hiroshima Flame (the source flame remains burning in Japan). Tom conceived the vision of returning the flame to where it had come from — not as a protest, but as a necessary deed of spiritual redemption, because not only the people of Hiroshima had died, but also many native peoples were poisoned by the uranium dug up, without spiritual permission, on their lands.
Tom passed his vision to Jun Yasuda of the Nipponzan Miyohoji Buddhist Order. Then they started walking. They walked 1,300 KM in Japan, and then brought the flame to America. Over the months and miles of the walk, there were many remarkable developments. At the start, they could find no plane willing to carry the flame across the Pacific to North America. But at last they secured a boat ride to Hawaii, and by serendipity arrived at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 2001 — 60th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing.
Sister Jun Yasuda at Oyama
That bombing raid by Japan killed over 2,400 people, crippled the US Pacific Naval Fleet, and radically accelerated the world war which later ended at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In Hawaii the pilgrims were welcomed by a delegation of Kahunas, the traditional Medicine People of the islands. The Kahunas took them to the former site of a sacred shine on the island of O’ahu, overlooking what had once been an uninhabited tropical lagoon. This quiet lagoon, held as deeply sacred for generations by the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands, was dredged and bulldozed to create the military base of Pearl Harbor. For the Kahunas, there was an obvious karmic link between the desecration of one of their sacred sites and the bombs that later rained upon the military base.
The Kahunas and the walkers also journeyed to Mount Kilauea, carrying the Hiroshima flame into the volcano’s caldera. The pilgrims arrived in Mexico on Dec. 15, for the major spiritual festival honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Then they walked for months from the grave of Chief Seattle on the West Coast past nuclear installations in Hannaford, WA, Los Alamos, NM, Huntsville, AL, and elsewhere. Walk initiator Tom Dostou rejoined the walk in May in New York City for the UN and World Trade Center vigils. Thus the walk finished with the circle completed, the hoop whole.
“We followed the flame,” the walkers said. “We were not carrying the flame, but carried by it.” At the end, the flame led them to Big Mountain to add their force of their collective sacrifice to the defense of the Earth and the cause of peace.
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Nota Bene: Roberta Blackgoat, respected Big Mountain elder and lifelong defender of sacred lands, died in April, 2002 at age 84. For obituaries check the Big Mountain web sites
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