The Story Behind The Celebration For Aveline and Lily Kushi on July 30th, 2008
The evening Event of July 30th, 2008 for Aveline Kushi honored the unique spiritual occurrence and coincidence of both the Seventh Anniversary of her passing (2001) as well as the 13th Anniversary of my sister’s, Lily Kushi, passing (1995). In Buddhist tradition the 1, 3, 7, 13, 17, 23, and 33 anniversaries of someone’s death require a special ceremony to assist the deceased to elevate to the next higher spiritual level. The coincidence of this happening in the same year for both my mother and sister will happen only once more on the 17th anniversary of my mother’s passing when it will also be the 23rd anniversary of my sister’s death.
My mother is buried on the 600 acre property where the Kushi Institute is located in Becket, MA. Every year since her passing until 2008 I have been charged with the task of hosting what is known as the “Aveline Award” at the summer conference – a short and brief ceremony that honors macrobiotic leaders whom exemplify the pioneering spirit of Aveline. Every year I was asked to do this at the very last minute and usually during the conference itself and only one or two days before the event itself! For some strange reason I was asked by conference organizers months before, in February of 2008 to commit to do this. I thought it was odd that they asked me to do this months before however I appreciated that fact and so I naturally agreed and afterward thought nothing of it. It was a simple task and I would do what I had done every year prior which was basically to get up on stage, talk about my mother for a few minutes and then introduce two or three persons and then turn the stage back over to the conference. I was planning for not more than fifteen minutes of my own involvement for the evening. However, the spiritual world seemed to have other plans in store for me and this event.
Earlier in March of 2008 a woman from Japan came to the Kushi Institute to attend a week-long seminar. She was given a room next my parents room in the Main House to stay for the week. Every night during her stay she had difficulty falling asleep in the room. She felt so unnerved that every night wound up sleeping in the empty bed of an adjacent room that her friend, also from Japan, was staying in. However, she was determined to try to sleep each night in her assigned room and while attempting to sleep again she felt a presence in the room. Again she, found herself sleeping in the next room with her friend. During the day she found her resolve to attempt again to sleep in her assigned room. Then, one night, again in a half-dream state the presence made herself know and it was none other than my mother Aveline. She told this woman to deliver the message that this year marked the seventh anniversary of her death and that a special ceremony must be held for her. The woman wound up sleeping in the adjacent room for the rest of the week. She was not only disturbed by the vision but also did not know who to pass the message along to.
Well, it so happened that I was invited by another participant and friend, Sanae Suzuki, to attend the closing ceremony of that particular seminar. That evening most of the students and I went out to celebrate at a nearby restaurant including the woman from Japan. Over the course of the evening she recounted her story to me and in doing so finally felt an immediate relief that she found the right person to deliver the message that was given to her. In that moment, I also realized that the message was clearly meant for me and that I was to plan for a much larger ceremony for the night of the Aveline Award.
I was not at all familiar with Buddhist traditions and the significance of the seventh anniversary of a person’s death and so the woman from Japan explained to me that such a ceremony had to be conducted by a Buddhist priest. She said she knew of a wonderful priest in Japan that had been to the summer conference before who may be available to do it. Well, later and after a few weeks of international correspondences to Japan, it turned out that this priest could not come and perform the ceremony due to other commitments. I was stumped because I did not know of any available and capable Buddhist priests whom I could readily contact.
Then, on May 26 Aveline’s younger brother’s wife, my aunt passed away. My uncle and his family lives in New York and they arranged a funeral and burial at the Dai-Bosatsu Zendo located in the beautiful Catskills mountain. It is a place that I had never been to nor even heard of but somehow was familiar to me. When the Abbot, Eido Shimano, of the temple appeared and performed the simple and peaceful ceremony I realized that he was the person who could also conduct the ceremony for my mother. A week or two later I contacted and spoke to him and shared my story and he concurred with me that nothing was a coincidence and that the spiritual world was moving to make things happen. He felt honored to be the one to perform the ceremony.
In keeping with Aveline’s commitment of cultural exchange as a means to create world peace, I felt it important that the ceremony not be a closed private family affair, as it is normally done in traditional ceremonies in Japan but as public and educational event. But being familiar with organizing events, I felt that something was missing and that a somber Buddhist ceremony alone was not enough. I felt that there should be something more on the program that was in keeping with the the theme of cultural display and was spiritual in nature and was closely connected to Aveline. The answer became obvious to me and that it could only be a traditional Noh Performance.
Noh Theater is deeply embedded in the spiritual world and my mother was passionate about it. In the early 1970s she started studying Noh Theater, taking classes that were only known to the local Japanese community in Los Angeles at the time. She then arranged for an entire Noh Troupe to visit from Japan and organized public Noh performances in Boston and New York for the very first time.
I searched the internet and found Theatre Nohgaku, a school and performance group in the US that was developed by students of the same troupe, the Kita Nohgaku school, that my mother originally studied with and hosted. I sent them an email asking if someone from their troupe could do a simple performance. I waited for their response. Finally, someone contacted me and said that unfortunately that week the entire troupe would be busy with their annual rehearsals, however, one of their members, for family reasons and who happened to live in Massachusetts, was not able to be at rehearsals and could therefore do the performance and would get in touch with me. “Was this more than just another coincidence?”, I thought. I waited again and this person finally contacted me. I explained to him that all I wanted was a simple performance and demonstration. I also explained who my mother was and the context of the event. He thought about it and then later got back in touch with me and told me that he felt that he was incapable to do the performance and would not do my mother justice. I was disappointed because I knew that even a flawed or practice performance would have been sufficient.
Meanwhile, the school director, who happens to live in Japan got word of my request and told his teacher about it. His teacher was immediately interested in it and conveyed that he would like to do the performance. I was shocked, amazed and in awe because his teacher turned out to be Noh Master, Akira Matsui, the same person who taught my mother and was part of the troupe that my mother invited to perform in Boston and New York years before.
One final unusual “coincidence” is that I found out that Master Akira Matsui was going to be in Bloomsberg, PA together with Theater Nohgaku the week prior to the conference and would need to travel from Bloomsberg to Boston on July 27th. He was planning to take a bus to New York that day and was asking if someone could pick him up from there and take him to Boston. For some strange reason I thought that being informed about Bloomsberg, PA, a town I have never even heard of, was more than coincidence.
Based on the previous spiritual “more than a coincidence” cues I had encountered around this event, I took my chances and asked my brother, who loves driving and drives an 18 wheeler for a living, to see if he would be willing to drive out to Bloomsberg, PA and pick up Mr. Matsui. It would mean driving back and forth and much time which I was assuming that my brother did not really have given that it was just before the conference and that he probably be busy. I was amazed to find out that not only did he have time, but that he, in fact, would be driving right by Bloomsberg, PA on Interstate 80 on his way back from Ohio to Boston on that very day!
It is clear to me that there was something much more at work occurring in the invisible and spiritual realm that made the event possible. It has also taught me to be much more open to things that are newly introduced to me.
You can see clips of the Celebration on the Blip TV website by clicking on the links below:
1. Speech made by the the Abbot Eido Shimano Roshi of the Dai Bosatsu Zendo: http://blip.tv/file/1130716
2. Akira Matsui’s performance of Hagoromo here: http://blip.tv/file/1130657