March 9, 2014)

Albany County
New York

New York State

Albany Public Records Database

Port of Albany, NY

Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission

Save the
Pine Bush


The Bill Of
Wave It Goodbye

Articles about the M.L. King monument:
Jan. 31 2015
Feb. 9 2014
Jan. 30 2013
Jan. 26 2012
Jan. 23 2011
Jan. 24 2010
Jan. 25 2009
April 13 2008
Jan. 21, 2008
Feb. 3, 2007
Jan 17, 2006

Articles about wrongly persecuted Muslims:

Aug. 7, 2013
Apr. 17, 2010
Dec. 20, 2009
Jan. 30, 2009
Feb. 16, 2008
Oct. 14, 2007
July 21, 2007
Oct. 19, 2006

Articles about the Rapp Road "Landfill:"

June 2, 2010
May 25, 2009
Dec. 14, 2008
June 9, 2008
Dec. 7, 2006
Oct. 22, 2006
May 6, 2006
March 26, 2006
Jan 30, 2006

Articles About The Horror We Call Christmas:

Dec 23, 2011
Dec 25, 2010
Dec 30, 2007
Dec 31, 2006

Articles About Guns And Gun Rights:

Nov 17, 2013
Mar 31, 2012
Jul 7, 2008
Feb 3, 2008
May 27, 2007



Watch this amazing video artifact that helped save a unique geologic formation!

See The Wife
In A Pothole!






The Only Advertisement You Will Ever See On This Site!

Jackson's Computer Services

Let The Wife Take Care Of Your Computer Needs








A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

Click on this link to add this site to your RSS feed.

October 23, 2015

A Shrine To Peace, Southern Roots And The Moon

Some celebrations at the beginning of Autumn

*UPDATE* Mr. Leo Levy graciously provided the text of his two addresses he gave at the Peace Pagoda offering a Jewish perspective on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the start of Shabbot, and some of his interesting photographs of the Pagoda

The morning of this past October 3rd a friend insisted by email that I attend the 22nd Anniversary Celebration of the opening of the Grafton Peace Pagoda. This amazing structure is located deep in the woods on a hill located in the rural center of Rensselaer County, which is across the Hudson River from Albany. This is a place where one would normally expect to meet pickup trucks and shotguns rather than a Buddhist shrine devoted to world peace.

Grafton Peace Pagoda, 22nd Anniversary Celebration
Grafton Peace Pagoda, 22nd Anniversary Celebration

The Pagoda is the creation of an amazing woman named Jun-san Yasuda, or as we local Americans often call her, Jun Sun. Some 25 or so years ago I encountered several rootless persons in Albany who had been living a hand to mouth existence suddenly start talking like they had a purpose in life, a purpose which turned out to be to help Jun Sun erect the Pagoda. It sounded like a crazy, pointless idea, and perhaps it was, but I did notice the solid certainty about the importance and inevitability of the project from every person involved with it.

What exactly is it? It is described as “a symbol of non-violence,” one of many like it found around the world that originally were built in India over two millennia ago. Currently it is one of only two in the US, the other located outside Amherst, Massachusetts, although another is currently being built in Tennessee. The best description of its function as a structure comes from the Peace Pagoda website:

Many people ask the question, “what is inside the Peace Pagoda?” The answer is, “nothing but empty space.” Since the first Pagodas were built by the piling of stones on mud, their interiors were solid with no space inside. Although the modern construction techniques used to build the Grafton Peace Pagoda have created an interior space, this area is purposely left unused. All activities take place outside the Pagoda, which is also known as a Stupa.

Jun-san Yasuda in 2011
Jun-san Yasuda in 2011

Jun Sun is a monk of the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Buddhism, which is dedicated to actively promoting peace and non-violence throughout the world. This is what brings her to our area to live, although I’m told by someone who knows her well that she much prefers the climate of California to our miserable winters. Yet she characteristically goes about in yellow robes and sandals and a shaved head, working as a spiritual mother and advisor to a large group of supporters and friends living in this area.

And she’s tough, I was told how this wiry little Japanese woman, during the construction of the pagoda, would move boulders bigger than she is by wheelbarrow. For indeed she did not merely direct construction but actively led the work. And since her order prohibits soliciting money for any reason, Jun Sun attracted donated labor and materials by her own personal attraction, and continues to maintain the shrine without fundraising.

I can’t help but contrast Jun Sun’s sincerity to all too many of these so-called “non-profits” littering the City of Albany that produce little more than self-aggrandizing publicity and function primarily as salary generators for their directors. I suppose these non-profit directors have to make a living, but it’s a shame that so many of them profit from misdirecting the desire of regular folks to do something good for their communities. There is one thing that most everyone who comes in contact with Jun Sun agrees, is that this woman who wants nothing for herself gives back all that she can to whoever needs her help.

The Monks Chant Prayers, Jun Sun At Far Left
The Monks Chant Prayers, Jun Sun At Far Left

At this celebration there was a maybe 90 minute ceremony where monks of the order, who had come from around this country and from Japan, chanted prayers before an altar festooned with flowers, food such as pyramids of fruit and boxes of crackers, and a photo of the founder of the order. An American fellow at a lectern would periodically give us spectators a few explanations from a program. Jun Sun sat modestly to one side, discreetly directing the program.

All the monks sat cross legged on the low podium, in yellow robes and bareheaded in the cool autumn weather. That is, except for the two most senior monks who sat in chairs. The “senior monk from Japan” was accorded the most honors, and after the chanting he gave a long speech in Japanese that was haltingly translated at intervals by a young Japanese woman.

The Senior Monk From Japan Gives A Speech
The Senior Monk From Japan Gives A Speech

This senior monk had much to say about the Buddhist take on geopolitical violence, the use of nuclear power (“Humans cannot live with nuclear anything”) and he had an especial commentary on the plans by the Japanese government to use military forces abroad, a resolution that had been finalized the day before. He declared support for demonstrations in Japan against both the new militarism and the restart of the deadly Fukushima reactor. Eventually he supported his comments by tying them in with Gautama Buddha’s precise instructions on how to affect non-violence in this world.

One comment he made stood out very strongly for me. Referring to Climate Change and Global Warming, he said “The broken weather is a sign of the turmoil of our minds.” Yes, talk about tying together the personal and the global. Whether you look at that statement mystically or scientifically-materially, it makes total sense and cuts right to the heart of the matter. I really wish I’d caught his name.

The Temple Drum Brought Outside For The Occasion
The Temple Drum Brought Outside For The Occasion

After a report by a monk who represented a group who is building a Buddhist temple in Seattle on the infamous Ground Zero, we had brief statements by representatives of various faiths, basically whoever showed up. Notable was a Jewish couple from Dominica who recited a Sukkot prayer. There was also an Imam from Brooklyn, a black American, who astonished me by repeatedly saying that “Not only do Black lives matter, ALL lives matter.” As far as I can figure, that was a religious statement that rejected the nuances of verbal racism, he received much applause.

I forgot to mention that right after the chanting and before the speeches, the audience was invited to follow the monks as they climbed the stairs and circumnavigated the Pagoda. This was done, we were told, to honor the Buddha. Around the Pagoda are scenes of the life of Gautama that reminded me of Stations of the Cross. I made sure to twice bow deeply to the statue of the Buddha located at the top of the Pagoda stairs as I passed. I may have no use for organized religion but I do respect sincerity.

Dennis Banks Temporarily At A Loss For Words

Dennis Banks Temporarily At A Loss For Words

The guest of honor was Dennis Banks, wearing his fur hat decorated with mirrors, notable as a founder of the American Indian Movement back in 1968. He is a lifelong activist first for Indian rights, but from what I could see he has developed a broader advocacy for all humanity that was very appropriate for this setting. He is an early supporter of the Peace Pagoda and a close friend of June Sun who, he told us, stood outside in “20 degree below weather” banging a drum on his behalf when he was imprisoned in South Dakota.

His life is too complicated for me to describe in a few words, suffice to say that his early advocacy over the treatment of Indians by law enforcement is very reminiscent of the complaints of Black Lives Matter supporters today. Standing up at the mic after a reading by a lady of a strongly worded poem about how black lives do indeed matter, Mr. Banks was at a loss for words and instead asked for a drum, which he banged instead of speaking.

Forming A Big Dance Circle As Dennis Banks Drums

Forming A Big Dance Circle As Dennis Banks Drums

So as Mr. Banks drummed, Jun Sun jumped up and grabbed some hands and asked everyone, monks, spectators and honored guests all, to join hands and dance around in a big circle. Of course I joined in. On my right (my right hand up, that’s the proper way) I held the hand of a nervous young lady who apologized for her cold hand. On my left I held the hand (my left hand down) of a Japanese monk whose hand was warmer than mine.

Eventually we all settled down and Mr. Banks, well, it’s a good thing he was interesting to listen to because he sure can talk. He told us he has walked across the US seven times for various causes (Jun Sun has walked across four times) and announced that he planned an eighth walk this time, believe it or not, in opposition to legalization of drugs, including marijuana. This comes about because his daughter died of a drug overdose last year (“I have never used drugs or alcohol,” he said) and told us he wasn’t inviting anyone along but if anyone showed up to join him he wouldn’t object.

Potluck Meal At The Peace Pagoda

Potluck Meal At The Peace Pagoda

After Mr. Banks finally wound down with a complaint that “things like this should be scheduled during warmer months” (he is, after all, 75) the 100 or so guests moved on to a potluck meal. Having been induced to attend this event at the last minute, I had brought nothing edible to share but of course I happily partook of everyone else’s cooking, which was all excellent. Afterwards I was casually drafted into a team that helped dismantle the ceremony, bringing down the rude wooden flagpoles and collecting the benches scattered about the grounds.

It was all an ideal form of anarchy in action. I’ve been reflecting that anarchy works only if it is centered around an ideal that everyone respects, in this setting that ideal was the non-violent Buddhism centered around Jun Sun. There was no coercion, no hard fast rules to follow, but there was a collective agreement to do things a certain way that a one time visitor like myself had no trouble fitting into.

The opposite of ideal anarchy is coercion, where authorities such as governments and corporations force people to follow strict rules and enact punishments for those who insist on following their own rules. I suppose that if one day Jun Sun left the Pagoda and walked back to California that this perfect anarchy would disintegrate quickly. And yet on the other end of the scale, coercive authorities can never have enough power to coerce unless they have supporters among the coerced, it is exceedingly strange that oppression is not possible without the anarchic consent of the oppressed.

Mississippi Day 2015, Lincoln Park In Albany

Mississippi Day 2015, Lincoln Park In Albany

This past September 19 we had the 4th annual Mississippi Day Celebration in Lincoln Park, organized by the South End advocacy group AVillage. This is a commemoration of an important local aspect of the Great Migration, the 20th Century movement North of mostly rural Black people from the South in search of greater opportunities and less oppression. From the 1920s onward a large number of these folks left the State of Mississippi to settle in Albany, mostly the South End.

Since this event always takes place practically outside my door in front of the Lincoln Park Poolhouse I figured it was high time to check it out for myself. When I arrived in the middle of the afternoon after things had been going for half of the day, I have to admit that at first I felt out of place, being one of only a few white folks among the thousand (or maybe two thousand) participants. But very shortly I found a few people that I knew, and it turned out that everyone I talked was friendly and welcoming.

Volunteers Prepare Traditional Southern Style Food For Mississippi Day (Photo From AVillage)

Volunteers Prepare Traditional Southern Style Food For Mississippi Day (Photo From AVillage)

The interesting thing about this event was that it did not have a very strong nostalgic feel, after all, the old folks had left Mississippi to escape a grinding poverty and a grim future. It was more like an acknowledgment of roots, remembering and passing along to the kids the understanding that many of them come from somewhere, and what that somewhere was. It felt to me like a comfortable look backward from a high perch, maybe not high enough for everybody but a remembering that there are always higher perches to fly to.

Central to the event was food. Something like 800 plates of ribs and fixings prepared by volunteers ahead of time were handed out for free, people lined up for hours to get a taste of the back home meal. There were also informational booths, entertainments, lectures and a good deal of just sitting and enjoying the park. There was even a chess table that was pretty active, I considered jumping in to play but instead I just watched for a bit.

Jacqui Williams fills In Some Gaps In American History

Jacqui Williams fills In Some Gaps In American History

Up on the stage I listened to Jacqui Williams of the South End tell us about Black contributions to American history that have been left out of the books, some of which are quite important and spectacular. She is the founding director of Filling In The Gaps in American History (FIGAH) which functions as an archive that collects little known or forgotten information about Black history and seeks to make it available. I know from talking to her in the past that the amount of information that she has collected is vast, indeed most of what she talked about that day on the stage was new to me.

Really, the struggle for identity is very characteristically American, for persons of similar background to band together and remember where they come from is essential for all of us. On the other hand, we Americans are notable for our lack of remembering, most of us spend our lives floating in a rootless vacuum of distractions. To overcome that lack of remembering it takes an event like Mississippi Day and the dedicated digging and archiving of a Jacqui Williams.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan And Willie White Of AVillage

Mayor Kathy Sheehan And Willie White Of AVillage

AVillage is one of the handful of non-profit organizations in Albany that does do important work, in the short time that they’ve been around they’ve done some extraordinary things to improve the lives of ordinary folks and rebuild our neighborhoods. It’s the creation of Willie White, an extraordinary fellow who seemingly came out of nowhere and one day decided to start working to make positive changes in the Albany neighborhoods that everyone else just talked about. His enthusiasm and can-do attitude has attracted a growing cadre of volunteers, in a way he can be compared to Jun Sun but in a totally different set of circumstances.

In late afternoon Mayor Kathy Sheehan showed up to deliver an official proclamation, which she handed to Mr. White who was dressed in his more or less authentic back country costume. I mean, he looked like he was ready to dig turnips but his clothes were all brand new and I think that straw hat was really made of something more durable than straw. But besides the proclamation the mayor was there to dedicate the new steps to the Lincoln Park Poolhouse right nearby.

The New Steps At The Lincoln Park Poolhouse

The New Steps At The Lincoln Park Poolhouse

The old steps had been in deplorable condition for decades, it took a push coordinated by AVillage to get them replaced. An important detail is that these new steps were not paid for by City of Albany taxpayers, the cash came from a combination of State money and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) funds that are readily available for such projects. Which is why the new steps are so elaborate, if you want that ADA money you have to put in a ramp for handicapped people and with that steep hillside, well, we now have one serious switchbacking skateboard raceway.

The mayor was not the only politician to show up. The event began, as always with a march through the neighborhoods that attracted several elected officials, and at the end of the day when the crowds started to thin out it seemed like there were more City office holders than members of the public on the field. That of course shows the growing significance of this event, and it shows the success that AVillage has had bringing the attention of the politicians to our downtown neighborhoods and particularly to the South End.

The Moon Returning After The Eclipse Of September 27

The Moon Returning After The Eclipse Of September 27

On the night of September 27 I stood out on the corner of Morton Avenue across from the Martin Luther King statue and watched the full moon get eaten by a monster and then watched it get regurgitated. I mean, I watched the whole thing happen, I’m not sure why but I did. I saw various neighbors came out for a moment to peer at it and go back inside, while more than a few cars slowed down to peer at me curiously as I stared up at the sky.

I’m glad I did, it was a nice night and clear until the end when some low clouds moved in. It was one of the few times I wished I’d had better equipment than a pocket camera, I took several hundred pictures and about ten of them were tolerable. I understand there won’t be another eclipse like this for another 15 or 20 years, and besides, I knew there wouldn’t too many more warm nights this year when I could hang around outside and stare at the sky.


Permalink for A Shrine To Peace, Southern Roots And The Moon

Prior Post

If you are having difficulties posting a comment, please email Daniel Van Riper. We are experimenting with our spam filters, and we do not want to exclude any legitimate commenters, just spammers!

Posted by:Leo
Posted on:10/29/2015
The Grafton Peace Pagoda is one of my favorite places. A photo of the pagoda serves as the wallpaper on my computer. A combination of limited mobility and scheduling conflicts have kept me away from recent activities there.

There is a strong connection between the Grafton Peace Pagoda and Native Americans. The land for the pagoda was a 1983 gift of the late Grafton resident Hank Hazelton, a Native American rights activist who originally was from Texas. He died in 1995, and there is a memorial to him at the edge of the wooded area facing the pagoda steps (although you have to look for it to see it). While the upper level of the pagoda platform contains the "stations" of the life of Buddha,the wall of the lower platform level is decorated with Native American symbols.

Jun Yasuda is addressed and referred to as Jun-san in the traditional Japanese use of the honorific "san" as a form of respect for others. Similarly, she would address you and refer to you as Dan-san and me as Leo-san (and she likely would find it awkward not to do so). Jun-san is a person of extraordinary physical and psychic resilience who is one of the most compassionate and pleasant people I ever have met.

Add a comment, if you like :

Posted by
Email (required
will not be posted )

Are You Human? To post this comment please answer this question!

What is one plus one?
Please type the answer as a number (not as a word) here:

Your commment will only post if you answer the question correctly!

- Did you answer the question "What is one plus one" above?

You will lose your comment unless you answer the question correctly!

This site maintained by Lynne Jackson of Jackson's Computer Services.