by Anne E. O’Malley
In the art of traditional 13th Century Japanese joinery, wooden blocks of the new Hall of Compassion at the 32-acre Lawai International Center are coming together. Backed by a hill in Lawai Valley with a path zigzagging upward and dotted with 88 tiny shrines replicating in miniature a 1,000-mile pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan, the new building is close to completion.
Early this year, when the hall is completed, there will have been over 100 volunteers participating in the project. It will be a center for the world, non-denominational in nature and focused on aloha.
Lynn Muramoto, head of the Lawai International Center and a driving force behind the project, quotes from PilahI Paki’s definition of aloha, saying, “Aloha would be the key to the transformation of the planet.”
Muramoto adds witness. “This is the gift that has driven all of us,” she says.
“As the volunteers and supporters move with the flow of the artisans, as their perspiration is dripping from their foreheads, they do it because they want to help the next person, and that may be a stranger, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s the gift this host culture has given us, that is the aloha, that each person is your family — every person is important to the existence of all.”
Muramoto continues, “It is the remembrance that everyone has within them, that this kindness and generosity for the next person is present within every person on the planet, and Lawai is the place to reawaken that remembrance.”
Lawai certainly awoke something in Muramoto, who has spearheaded all that has happened there, from the purchase of the land to the refurbishing of the tiny temples to the current project. She is a reflection of the volunteers when she says of them, “It is their heart energy that is immersed in giving back to the community, to the world — that’s what this is about. It’s beyond shrines and a building.
“It’s all about the people and their hearts and their absolute kindness. Imagine there’s a place on this planet destined to bring kindness to the world. That’s what Lawai is about and always has been.”
There is a precedent for this. As the Lawai International Center website explains, “In ancient times, Hawaiians built heiau in the Lawai Valley only to be followed by the Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Filipinos and their structures of worship.”
When Muramoto walked into the midst of this place 23 years ago, she “got” it and began doing something about preserving it — not without opposition.
“People actually called it the no-can project in the beginning, they said it’s impossible,” says Muramoto. “After we rebuilt the rock wall, they said, ‘What is this, Lynn, Field of Dreams? Build a wall and the people will come?’
“It didn’t matter. We moved on.”
When she asked for help, people came, some on the basis of a phone call, not knowing her, unfamiliar with the site.
“That is the gift people have inside of them. That’s the gift of Lawai” she says.
It’s still happening. When she called a crane service out of the phone book on this project, the owner donated his services, as has a paint contractor, site unseen by either.
It’s definitely a gift, say many of the volunteers.
Ray Nitta, vice-president of Lawai International Center, learned about the site through a friend and, in speaking with Muramoto found out that she had been looking for it.
He says, “I took her there and it just resonated with her. It’s become her life’s work.”
Nita, also a volunteer builder of the Hall of Compassion, says, “As a woodworker for many, many years and having studied a little of Japanese woodworking, I find it an honor to even touch a building like this, no less work on it. It’s the kuleana of master temple builders to be able to work on a temple.
“It’s a 13th Century type of structure that’s being built out, a lifetime chance that I would have this opportunity to get involved in helping put together this temple.”
Nitta, who says he’s afraid of heights, says he soon found himself “scampering around like a Billy goat” on this project.
Asked what changed for him to feel comfortable, he responds, “It’s the project, the spirit of it. It’s tiring, exhausting work, but I’m energized by it.
“As the roof goes up, I’m walking on rafters and beams, pieces of wood about two inches wide, 20 feet up in the air” he says. “After a while, I just go with flow, get more nimble. Usually at that height, I’m sweaty-handed, clamped to a ladder.”
Gloria Nakea, secretary/treasurer of the organization, says, “The reason why we are creating this — why we have restored all the shrines, all the work we have done here, restoring the area here to be used by people of all cultures, all ethnicities, is for it to be a gathering pace for aloha, for basically love and compassion for people from all over the world.
“Because of that vision and that dream, I’ve continued with the project for all of these years. Although at first it seemed inconceivable that such a thing could happen, gradually I see it manifesting itself, and now I truly believe that this place will actually fulfill all of the dreams and ideas that people like Lynn and others around her have shared through all these years.”
Muramoto’s husband, Gerald, has been at Lynn’s side from the beginning, a believer in her vision.
“Wonderful things happen when you start doing things. Things start to fall in place,” he says.
“It kind of helps you along, so I’m quite amazed of this place. I think it’s special, from way back, from hundreds of years ago.”
Steve Soltysik defines his role as a volunteer as “Helping put the pieces together, fit the wood, shave the wood. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle and it’s come together, slowly,” he says.
“Do I feel that this is a gift to me, personally? It’s one very special personal energy center for me, from the early days when Ray Nitta and I crawled through all the overgrowth and discovered this. It was over 20 years ago.
“It’s come a long way, but it just has the right kind of a grounding for me, a center point of connection. I haven’t entirely understood what, yet.”
Mark Hubbard, consultant to the organization, has also had a long involvement with the Center and is helping with the building.
“As it turns out, Lynn is very spiritual, feels energy, and I’m very grounded and very conservative, I suppose, so we balance each other very well,” he says. “She feels things and feels the energy of the universe and I just help make things happen here.”
Asked if he feels the place is a gift to him personally, Hubbard says, “I have no idea. What I enjoy is working with someone who’s so different than me, who is very spiritual and feels the specialness of the place. And me? I’m just here.”
At the cost of roughly $850,00 for the Hall of Compassion, most of the funding has come in cash and in-kind support, with more to raise.
Call 639-4300 for more information, to volunteer or to contribute. Read more about the Lawai International Center online at www.lawaicenter.org.