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Chanting for Japan

Victorians find relief for grief through chanting, charities
Chanting fills the Interfaith Chapel at University of Victoria in sympathy for the disaster that has devastated life in Japan.

Victorians find relief for grief through chanting, charities

Tones fill the room as 30 or so people sit cross-legged, hands over their bellies, meditating. The hum rises from my own chest in breaths as we’re instructed to let out our single “omm.” The harmonious notes float up into the triangular top of the Interfaith Chapel at University of Victoria, then circle back down.

I feel tears well into my eyes and, for a second, I don’t know if it’s because of the beauty of sound, or because we are performing a chant called “Sho Sai Shu,” the Dharani of Removing Disaster in sympathy for Japan. I look up for only a second to see that people in each line of meditators have tears on their cheeks, too, and the emotional connection becomes clear.

“When something catastrophic happens, we develop this system of doing things. But one real thing we don’t find a lot of opportunity to do is to allow the impact of what has happened to hit us,” says Venerable Eshu Martin, abbot of the Victoria Zen Centre. “Rather than be with it and feel that hurt, we try to get busy, so emotionally we don’t have to deal with what happened.”

While Martin emphasizes that “doing things” is imperative in times of crisis, he says it comes down to finding a balance. The special chanting ceremony, held at the past two Tuesday-night Zen meditation sits at the UVic chapel, are a prime opportunity of doing just that.

“Chanting in a large group of people helps us to feel bigger than we are, and it connects us to that great strength that is humanity,” says Martin. “These are not just people suffering on the other side of the planet — they are a part of us. Fundamentally, we know how to understand that. Chanting helps us to dissolve into the action of it.”

During the ceremony, participants were also invited to rise from their sit and offer incense to a small bowl. Nearly everyone in the room did. Martin reiterates that often feelings of helplessness and the frustration of not knowing what to do in a crisis that’s occurring thousands of kilometres away can be overwhelming in itself — especially for those with close connections to the area. Yet taking action for one’s self is still action.

“Will chanting cause nuclear reactors to cool off or people across the planet to feel a moment of relief? Who knows? I can’t say,” says Martin. “For me, the scientific research done on prayer speaks to the impact it has on people … and they do say plants do better when you talk to them, and that focusing on negative energy only encourages more negativity. So, I can’t see how this can do anything but help — even if it’s only within some people’s own hearts.”

While the Victoria Zen Centre is not doing any fundraising itself, Martin says the centre will be supporting other organizations in their efforts to do so. There may be more special chants in the upcoming future, and people are always welcome at the free public sits Tuesdays, 7 p.m. at UVic’s Interfaith Chapel. Find out more at M

Locals rally to help victims

n Support for Japan has been pouring out, including a recent $500,000 donation from B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. A number of charities have been collecting donations for support as well.

n The Canadian Red Cross has a number of relief efforts occurring locally. To make a direct donation, however, visit, or call 1-800-418-1111.

n Donations can also be made through the Salvation Army, by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY, or visiting You can also text “QUAKE” to 45678 from any mobile phone, or make a financial donation at the closest Salvation Army unit in your area. Donors must specify their gift is for the “Japan Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund.”

n The Victoria Gilbert and Sullivan Society will donate 10 per cent of its net proceeds from its April 2 performance of The Mikado in support of the Japanese emergency relief effort. For more information about the comic opera, which is set in Japan, visit or call 250-298-0644.

n Local recording artist Ryan Narciso has partnered with Connie Dunwoody and Marlon Narciso to produce a song called “Tears At Your Door,” which is available for 99 cents through iTunes. (See the video at All proceeds will be donated to assist with the relief efforts in Japan.

n Tom Lee Music Victoria is hosting a benefit concert Saturday, April 9, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Colwood Pentecostal Church (2250 Sooke), with 100 per cent of the by-donation proceeds being sent to the Canadian Red Cross Japan Relief Fund. Music students and teachers are encouraged to perform. Email  by March 28, or phone 250-383-5222.

n Hope Love Japan is a fundraising event hosted by Victoria local Yukari Peerless and friends at the Parkside Victoria Resort and Spa Atrium (810 Humbolt). The group hopes to pull in $15,000 from the community by holding a Japanese traditional afternoon tea event with music by Masako Hockey and Satomi Edwards. The event will also feature a silent auction, with products and services donated by local businesses, crane-making workshop, t-shirt sale, photo-booth with photographer Véronique da Silva and a special Japanese blessing event. Admission by donation, with a suggested minimum of $20. Sunday, March 27 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 250-588-2082 or email for more info.

n The Support Japan 2011 team has been formed from the Japanese Friendship Society (JFS), Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS), Victoria Morioka Friendship Society (VMFS) and the Victoria Japanese Heritage Language School Society (VHLSS) banning together to host a number of fundraising events.  T-shirts with the phrase “Gambare Nippon” (“Never give up, Japan!”) will be on sale for $10 at all fundraisers and at several locations around town including Hillside Centre, Fujiya Foods, Silk Road Aromatherapy and Tea Company and Rocky Mountain Soap Company. So far, 1,100 have been sold.

n A Japanese cultural event will take place Saturday, March 26, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Hillside Centre, with entertainment, personal stories, paper crane folding and more. Donations encouraged. The amalgamated group will also host a dinner gala April 9 at Golden City Restaurant (721 Fisgard) with special Japanese cultural entertainment and surprises. Tickets to be determined, though 50 per cent of all proceeds will go to the Canadian Red Cross. Then, April 16, a silent auction will be held at the École Victor-Brodeur Centre (637 Head), with Japanese cultural performance and demonstrations. For more upcoming events, or for those interested in volunteering, visit, or call 250-704-6164.

n For anyone interested in donating straight to the source, VMFS president Bill McCreadie has donated his practice — McCreadie & Tait in Trust — to a collection point for donations to go directly from Victoria to sister city Morioka to help with relief efforts. Contact, or call 250-388-7043 extension 10. Donations over $50 will receive a tax refundable receipt from the City of Victoria.