Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Famous American Buddhists: Jan Chozen Bays...


From a recent article in the Oregonian:

Jan Bays was born the day the United States dropped the atom bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. "It was in my baby book," she says. "My parents were not really happy about the bombing, so it was kind of a mixed day of happiness and sadness for them."

Today Jan is a local pediatrician who specializes in the evaluation of children who may have been abused or neglected. She's also a Zen master who serves as priest and spiritual director at the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie.

Especially after she became an adult, every year when she celebrated her birthday Jan was aware it was also an anniversary of the awful loss of life in Japan. She decided a few years ago that when her 60th birthday -- and the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki -- arrived, on Aug. 9, 2005, she would do something to commemorate the deaths.

"I make these little statues of Jizo, a figure in Japan who is beloved." Jan has visited Japan a number of times and noticed stone statues of Jizo "everywhere, wearing little handmade red bibs and caps. Jizo is considered the guardian of women and children, people who've died, and travelers" in Japan.

Jan decided to make 60 small statues of Jizo and take them to Hiroshima and Nagasaki on her 60th birthday, "in memory of the people who died, and as a prayer for peace in the future."...

A few years ago, when her project was in its less ambitious stage, Jan made a trip to Japan and visited the atomic bomb museum in Hiroshima. On that visit, Jan says, "what startled me was that so many children died in the bombing." As a pediatrician who works in the field of child abuse, she was disturbed and touched by what she learned.

"Children were mobilized in Hiroshima to clear fire lanes around strategic areas, and they happened to be at the epicenter when the bombs exploded. Thousands of children were just vaporized."

Jan saw exhibitions of tiny fragments parents found later, at the bomb sites. "Parents would come to look for their child and would find a tiny bit of a sandal they recognized the pattern of, or a piece of a lunchbox or a school badge. That's all they had."

Jan left the museum thinking she wanted to present a Jizo figure for every person killed. "But that was 270,000 killed, in those two cities. It was an almost incomprehensible number."

Jan shared her idea with friends, who didn't think the project was impossible. In particular, her friend Kaz Tanahashi, a Japanese American artist in Berkeley, Calif., was encouraging. Kaz suggested people make cloth panels the size of a sheet of paper and put multiple images of Jizo on them, each in memory of someone who died. Then the cloths could be sewn together into banners or quilts.

Her personal style isn't my style, but this woman has a heart the size of the Pacific Ocean...

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