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The Bakersfield Californian, Thursday July 21st, 2005

The Bakersfield Californian

Closing 'period of fear'

Buddhist monks bring 'atomic flame' to Bakersfield in march to New Mexico

By NADA BEHZIZ, Californian staff writer
e-mail: nbehziz@bakersfield.com

Keigaku Muchu led a group of Buddhist monks, dressed in traditional robes and rope sandals, from Wasco to Bakersfield Thursday morning.

It was part of a 1,600-mile journey on foot from San Francisco to New Mexico for 15 Buddhist monks to end a cycle of fear.

More than 50 miles later, the group reached Bakersfield City Hall carrying a bright red lantern that was illuminated by a fire that has burned for nearly 60 years.

The "atomic flame" is a remnant of the fire that scorched Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the U.S. bomber dropped a nuclear bomb on the Japanese city.

Keigaku Muchu, whose name means "the one who walks in the mountains of enlightenment in his dreams," said he joined the march to fulfill his purpose of being in service to others and to practice acceptance.

"People aren't just walking but we are telling people that we can do something to create the world we like," Keigaku Muchu said.

After arriving at City Hall, they formed a circle, hands clasped together, and prayed.

After the prayer was over, they systematically bowed to one another and gathered to share Tupperware bowls of sliced apples and oranges.

For the next three weeks, they will carry the flame south and east, through California and Arizona until they reach the Trinity Site at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where the world's first atomic weapon was detonated.

They plan to reach the test site the day the atomic bomb known as the "Fat Man" exploded over Nagasaki in 1945.

They will extinguish the flame upon arrival at the test site, a symbolic gesture meant to inspire the end of nuclear weapons.

By bringing the flame back, they are closing the circle of destruction, said Matt Taylor, executive director of the Global Nuclear Disarmament Fund, the nonprofit sponsoring the walk.

"This will open the new circle that will pass empowerment to the people to dismantle nuclear weapons," Taylor said.

Taylor walked among the monks, each from different sects. It is rare in Japan for monks from different orders to work together.

But this flame has brought together an unlikely group to close the 60-year circle.

Over the past 60 years, monks have walked back and forth between Nagasaki and Hiroshima, praying for peace and disarmament.

Taylor hopes the walk, "Full Circle -- The Epic Return to Trinity," will spark contributions to a project to destroy nuclear weapons.

"We hope to close this period of fear," he said.

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