The London Peace Pagoda (51.482018°N 0.159025°W) was completed in 1985 on the south side of the River Thames in Battersea Park, London. Permission to build it was the last legislative act of the Greater London Council.
The Battersea Park Peace Pagoda has a guild representation of Buddha on all four sides. It was built by Buddhist nuns and monks during Ken Livingstone's time in charge of the GLC.
The idea of Battersea Park being home to one of Japan’s foremost Buddhist sects may strike the casual visitor as incongruous – to say the least. But to early morning joggers and dog-walkers it will not be a surprise. A saffron-robe clad Buddhist monk, gently beating a drum as he does a daily perambulation at sunrise from his temple to the Peace Pagoda, is a familiar sight.
The Reverend Gyoro Nagase first arrived in England in 1978 from Aichi prefecture, near Nagoya, in Japan, to assist in the construction of the first Peace Pagoda in the UK in Milton Keynes. In 1984 he moved to London, as part of a team of 50 volunteers and Buddhist monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order, to construct the Peace Pagoda in the park, which was completed the following year. They were living in what is now the Children’s Zoo but, as the site was expanded, the Buddhist order was offered a storeroom, in the trees near the Old English Garden, by Wandsworth Council, on the understanding they carried out all renovations and the conversion into a temple. Gratefully the offer was accepted, the work was carried out by volunteers and today, with just one remaining monk, that temple has developed into a successful centre for the sect, attracting Buddhist followers from not just London and Japan, but also people from China, Sri Lanka, India, Burma and Taiwan who are now living in the UK.
‘It is so important for a large city, such as London, to have such a spiritual centre,’ explained Rev. Nagase. ‘ In the park recently I met a man who lives in London but who happened to be in New York on September 11. He was stranded there for several days before he could fly home, during which time he thought of the Peace Pagoda and its significance in today’s world. When he arrived back in London he brought his young son, who had been very worried about his father, to find comfort here’.‘It is a very spiritual place. It is peaceful, there is no confrontation. People don’t even need to pray, they just find peace here. I believe it was a truly amazing decision on the part of the Greater London Council to accept a pagoda in the heart of a fundamentally Christian city.’ The Founder and Preceptor of Rev. Nagase’s sect, The Most Venerable Nichidatsu Fujii (1885 – 1985), or Fujii Guruji as he was called by Mahatma Ghandi, was devoted to world pacifism and international disarmament. He worked with Gandhi in India in the early 1930’s, fighting for Indian independence and protesting against Japanese militarism. Following WWII, with the bombings at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he campaigned against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sent monks and nuns across the world to construct Peace Pagodas.
But why one in Battersea Park? The answer lies in the unlikely town of Milton Keynes. In the seventies when the new town of Milton Keynes was being developed, one of the planning advisers visited Sri Lanka where he saw a Peace Pagoda at the sacred site of Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. He liked the thought of one in the new town, proposed the idea to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation and the idea was warmly welcomed. Not only did the Milton Keynes Peace Pagoda become, and has remained, the main centre for the Nipponzan Myohoji Order in the United Kingdom, but the progress of the building of the Pagoda, officially opened on 21st September 1980, was captured on film by a local cameraman. Coincidentally, the cameraman’s wife gave birth in the bed next to a woman whose husband worked for the GLC Arts and Recreation Committee. The GLC was looking for ideas to mark its forthcoming Peace Year so the video was exchanged, the site alongside the river selected and, as they say, the rest is history.
The Rev. Nagase spends his day in Buddhist meditation, ‘other works’ and in maintaining the pagoda, a job not made easy by the fact that people climb up it and make a mess on the second floor, an area forbidden to the public. He relies on donations to live and is grateful to the bread he gets from a local Caribbean bakery and vegetables from a Chinese vegetable shop. Any help is welcome, not least with his heartfelt pleas for assistance in cleaning the pagoda.