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30th Anniversary Event: The 700th Anniversary Memorial Service for the Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai (1223-1298)

Saturday, November 21, 1998 @ 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

無外如大禅尼 (1223-1298) 700年遠忌法要

700th Anniversary Memorial Service in honor of the Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai (1223-1298)

Commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of its founding in 1968, the Institute held a series of events November 21-23, 1998 on The Culture of Convents in Japanese History at Columbia University.

Nuns from the few remaining Imperial Buddhist Convents of Japan now being studied by the Institute visited the United States for the first time to conduct a rare Buddhist ceremony in St. Paul’s Chapel in memory of their spiritual leader, Zen Abbess Mugai Nyodai, who is known as the first female Zen master in Japan. The seven-hundredth anniversary of her death in November 1298 was commemorated as part of the Institute’s thirtieth anniversary.

During the memorial service, nuns from Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Tokyo conducted Buddhist rituals never before seen outside Japan, and never viewed by the general public even in Japan. Chief Abbot Keido Fukushima of Tofukuji monastery performed a special incense burning and poetic invocation.

Unprecedented musical offerings were conducted in honor of Abbess Mugai Nyodai, including not only a world premier of Mind in Mirror: Nyodai’s Dream composed by Yuriko Hase Kojima for shakuhachi, pipa and bass koto, but also an offering of songs composed by the medieval German Catholic nun, Hildegard von Bingen, performed by members of Columbia’s Collegium Musicum.

Dr. Peter Haskel (First Zen Institute of America) chanted The Heart Sutra, and words and poetry were offered by Prof. Barbara Ruch (Institute Director); Dr. George Rupp (Columbia University President); Ambassador Seiichiro Otsuka (Consul General of Japan in New York); Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki (Buddhist Council of New York); The Very Rev. James Parks Morton (Interfaith Center of New York); and High Priest Shunsho Manabe (Kanagawa Prefectural Kanazawa Bunko Museum). (The full text of these remarks can be seen in the Program of the Memorial Service.)

The entire ceremony took place in front of a Buddhist altar arranged before an exact replica of the thirteenth-century chinso portrait statue of Abbess Mugai Nyodai. The replica, the original of which is designated an Important Cultural Treasure and enshrined in a Kyoto convent, was lent to the memorial service by its owner, the Kanagawa Prefectural Kanazawa Bunko Museum.

Led by Abbess Shozui Rokujo of Domyoji Convent, the nuns’ rituals included a rare performance of the scattering of paper lotus petals in a circumambulation to gagaku music.

At the conclusion of the two-hour service, more than 200 guests from around the world offered incense at the altar in honor of Abbess Mugai. Following the memorial service, the Buddhist clergy and special memorial service guests participated in a traditional tea ceremony provided by the Urasenke Chanoyu Center of New York in the Rotunda Gallery of Low Memorial Library.


Saturday, November 21, 1998
10:00 am - 12:00 pm
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St. Paul’s Chapel, Columbia University
1160 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10027 United States
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