Chanting to Thaw ICE: A Participant’s Report

Editor’s Note: The Ziji Collective co-sponsors a monthly walking meditation around the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Oregon headquarters on the second Thursday of every month. This report comes from Lynette Yetter, a participant in our most recent event on September 14.

I stood on the sidewalk outside the ICE headquarters in Portland, Oregon and chanted nam myoho renge kyo for half an hour. I was the only chanting Buddhist in an interfaith action to surround the ICE facility with compassion, to thaw ICE. Our compassionate intent is to protect people from being deported. As I stood there facing the brick wall and the security cameras turned straight at me, I waved to the cameras then placed my hands in prayer position and chanted daimoku. An image rose up in my mind of Nichiren standing on a cliff looking out over the ocean on April 28, 1253 as he chanted nam myoho renge kyo for the first time. The interfaith group told me I was the first chanting Buddhist to participate in their actions. I felt like I was continuing the transmission started by Nicheren over 700 years ago.

This action in Portland to thaw ICE happens at noon on the second Thursday of the month; a river of people walk in silent meditation around and around the building (which consumes an entire city block) while holding signs. On each corner stands a person to ground the action with sound. Three corners each had a person with a prayer bell, chiming positive vibrations. On the fourth corner I stood, chanting with my whole being, as I stared at the brick wall of the ICE headquarters.

The bricks, like everything, are composed of the mystic nature of life, nam myoho renge kyo, which keeps electrons spinning in atoms and galaxies twirling through the universe. I sensed the bricks softening and opening, like even the hardest of hearts. Starhawk’s words resonate with me when she describes how ritual resists and transforms hierarchical power-over structures. “Ritual can become free space, a hole torn in the fabric of domination. . . . a bridge that brings through into the world of the everyday a sense of the sacred. And so the everyday changes, deepens, until the sacred, like an underground stream, wears away control from below” (p. 98). Truly, I felt like a bridge of daimoku, of sacredness, flowing like water that transforms all it touches.

As I chanted, exposed in public, scrutinized by Homeland Security cameras, I felt grounded, powerful as the universe. Me, who covers the webcam on my laptop because it creeps me out to know that it is a spy device staring at me in the privacy of my own home. But all that fear, creepiness, even anguish evaporated as I stood facing that brick wall of ICE and chanted nam myoho renge kyo.

Two uniformed men whose backs read “Homeland Security”, one with a police dog on a leash, came out of the building and walked past me. I kept chanting, tuned in to our universal oneness of courage, compassion and wisdom. One man smiled at me and waved. I smiled and waved back as I continued chanting. After the action wrapped up many silent walking meditators told me how powerful it felt to walk through the vibration of my chanting nam myoho renge kyo.

Next month another SGI member tells me she will join me chanting to thaw ICE as the silent meditators walk around the headquarters in compassionate prayer. Maybe you can come join us, too! Or if you live outside of Portland, Oregon, perhaps you can connect with a local interfaith group to thaw ICE in your town, or start your own group to thaw ICE. After all, we SGI members chant nam myoho renge kyo because one person stood up alone and chanted for the first time.

For more information on this event, please contact: 

Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Portland
Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice