Happiness Starts Here

Nicole Sakurai, minister of Happy Science Kaua‘i and president of El Cantare Foundation

Happy Science Kaua‘i and the El Cantare Foundation present the annual Bridge of Peace Festival on Saturday — all for the sake of making the Garden Isle a better place by promoting unity between religions, cultures and races.

People discover religion at sundry times and for various reasons. In Nicole Sakurai’s case, she found her belief system following a horrific car accident in which, as she puts it, “I almost died.”

The near-fatal collision left her with major injuries that required about three years to recover from. During this period, Sakurai reflected upon life and realized how fleeting it could be. And so she began to open her eyes, and her heart, to things beyond the physical realm.

“I went searching for something,” admits the Tokyo-born Sakurai.

O‘ahu’s Hawai‘i Gagaku Society will perform at this year’s Bridge of Peace Festival, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday. PHOTO COURTESY EL CANTARE FOUNDATION

Eventually, she discovered Happy Science and helped found the organization on O‘ahu. Nine years ago, she started traveling to Kaua‘i and eventually made the island her home, bringing her faith with her. Today, she serves as minister of Happy Science Kaua‘i and president of El Cantare Foundation, teaching meditation and coaching for self-development at both centers. She’s also been involved in other foundation-sponsored projects, including a talk she gave about female empowerment at a United Nations workshop in New York City earlier this year.

Her primary goal, though, remains to “bring more peace awareness” to the Garden Isle.

“I want to integrate everyone — to make Kaua‘i a better place,” she says.

This hope for greater harmony continues Saturday when Sakurai and other members of Happy Science and the El Cantare Foundation host the annual Bridge of Peace Festival. Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Kaua‘i Veterans Center, the event will feature Hawai‘i Gagaku Society, which performs ancient imperial court music and dance. Founded by Rev. Masatoshi Shamoto in 1968 on O‘ahu, the group will conduct its inaugural presentation on the Garden Isle at 11 a.m.

“We feel the music very deep inside of our hearts,” Sakurai says.

Mark Lynn meditates at the Happiness Planting Center in Lı-hu‘e.

Besides spiritual music, the event will have other performances, including a reading from the Kojiki, an early eighth-century Japanese creation story. Food vendors selling mixed products like bento, green tea powder and gummy candies from Japan will also be a part of the celebration, as well as craft vendors.

The mission of the event, and of Happy Science in general, is to create unity among all religions, cultures and races. The theology, which originated in Japan, is based on “universal truth” teachings.

“We believe we are divine in nature,” explains Sakurai. “Basically, beyond race, philosophies, background and genders, we believe we have divinity within. We are looking at people and their potential within.”

The “science” of attaining happiness was founded in the 1980s by Ryuho Okawa, a former businessman turned spiritual leader. Members of the Happy Science faith believe he is a reincarnation of Buddha, as well as a form of their revered “god of the earth,” El Cantare.

Members meet every Sunday at the Dragon Building in Kapa‘a, as well as attend regular meditation gatherings and ikebana (flower arrangement) classes at the Happiness Planting Center in Līhu‘e. Happy Science, which implements philosophies from all religions, including Christianity and Buddhism, draws approximately 1,000 members on Kaua‘i.

Laurie Morita, a member of Happy Science, is one of the many people who Sakurai has inspired throughout the years. Morita was separated from her husband, Russell, about four years ago when she met Sakurai, who encouraged Morita to attend the Sunday service.

“And once I started going, I never stopped,” says Morita. “And now my marriage is wonderful. We bonded back together, and now we’re like two little kids again.”

Instead of pointing a finger at her husband and placing blame on him, she’s now able to refocus her mind.

“It (Happy Science) teaches you how to see things in a better way,” she says.

Miyuki Scheidel, vice president of El Cantare Foundation, agrees.

“The moment I think bad things, I can change,” says Scheidel, who adds that she now has no problem “showing her heart.”

“I’m so calm. My life is really peaceful,” she says.

Her husband, Mark Lynn, describes the faith as comprehensive and having a “well-grounded spiritual standpoint.”

He was happy with his life before, but says he wasn’t “progressing.” After meeting Scheidel — who is a native of Japan and has been involved with the organization for years, starting in Tokyo — he became intrigued with the teachings.

Lynn quit his corporate gig and started a new path as a life and business coach, and is well on his way to publishing six books.

The four principles each of the members of Happy Science practice are love, wisdom, self-reflection and progress. Members believe that if they lead a way of life that properly follows these principles, known as the “Exploration of the Right Mind,” they will “return to heaven.”

Sakurai says the teachings helped her develop more appreciation for her family, as well as the community. She has a sense of responsibility to promote that feeling of peace, well-being and happiness to everyone, thus, the reason for the upcoming event.

“I truly believe we can connect people,” says Sakurai.

It’s an undertaking she says is essential in a continually divided world. “Kaua‘i is the place to start peace,” adds Scheidel. “If we cannot make peace here, we can’t make peace anywhere.”

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