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Finding My Mother

by Edmund Lam
Canada

Edmund with his wife Wendy and grandson AngusEdmund with his wife Wendy and grandson Angus

I was born into an extremely poor family in a small village in China. We were so poor that my parents had to leave me with my grandma when I was only three years of age, and they took my baby sister with them to Hong Kong in search of a better future. In the ten years it took them to return for me, I became desperate for parental love. Every day I envisioned the reunion—I would see the kind and loving face of my mother, and all would be right again. However, the face that greeted me at the train station in Hong Kong was nothing like my dream. It was the face of a tiger—cruel, determined and harsh. In my new home, it seemed like my needs faded even further into the background. Eventually, I was just the overlooked oldest child in a crowded house of nine children.

During the postwar 1950s, my family lived at a level of hardship that is hard for people to imagine now, but that was common for people of the time. We did what we had to for survival, so after only six months of formal education, I was put to work and did a variety of jobs, from helping my parents to hawk peanut candies to working as a child laborer in a kitchen. The humid weather conditions in Hong Kong meant we could only sell our peanut candies from November to January, and I had to find other jobs to support the family during the rest of the year. I struggled a lot and worked very hard, hoping to find love from the mother I had missed for so long, but time and again my mother seemed incapable of kindness and affection. I still gave 90% of my earnings to her, but I kept my feelings of bitter disappointment to myself. Gradually, I stayed home less and less, and by the age of 16, I had moved out entirely.

When I married Wendy and we had children of our own, I was determined to give my children much more than I had received, so caring for my family became my main concern. Then in 1983, a car accident left Wendy’s younger brother paralyzed from the neck down. An SGI member taught him how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but it took him some time to realize the life-changing power of chanting. Wendy’s love for her brother led her to chant for his recovery and he eventually used his faith to create many positive experiences for himself. He prolonged his life and learned a way of operating his wheelchair using head movements.

Wendy joined SGI after one month of Buddhist practice, while I was away on an extended business trip. I was surprised to return home to find her chanting in front of the Gohonzon. At first the practice seemed strange to me, but I did not object. I noticed she was becoming more patient and caring. I began to ask her about chanting and her Buddhist practice, and she offered me a book called The Human Revolution. The first words of the novel were impressive: "Nothing is more barbarous than war. Nothing is more cruel. And yet, the war dragged on." By 1984, I too had become a member of SGI.

The poverty that I had experienced in my past made material security extremely important to me. I worked in a mini-van transportation business, but I was always wary of the gangs that I encountered. As I began to practice Buddhism, courage and compassion gradually began to replace the fear I harbored. Eventually, I was able to engage in dialogue with some of the gang members and I even introduced them to the practice.

Then I decided to change my line of work and moved into the import and export of electronic parts. I was fortunate to receive many material benefits through my Buddhist practice, and my business became so prosperous that, in 1990, we were able to move into a very large luxury apartment. Although this should have been a time when I felt only happiness, I was not content with what I had. Though so much of what I had suffered was in the past, the alienation I felt in my relationship with my mother continued to gnaw away at me. Knowing how much effort I put into raising my own children, I could not forgive her for denying me the love to which I was entitled. My state of mind was reflected in the words of Nichiren Daishonin: "[H]ell is in the heart of a person who inwardly despises his father and disregards his mother."

It was at this time that my younger son Marten got himself into such big trouble at school that he was suspended. I was worried about where his life was headed, and I began making plans to send him to Canada to study. My concern for him meant I was chanting far beyond my normal routine. With the need for some wisdom about what to do about my son, I was earnestly chanting in front of the Gohonzon, and an amazing realization came over me. In a rush, the knot that was binding my heart unravelled. I could see all the suffering that my mother had gone through raising nine children in the poverty and struggle of those hard years. A single problem with my son had left me overcome with worry and distress. I asked myself "How was it for my mom?" I could only imagine all the financial, emotional and physical hardships that she must have experienced in trying to protect her family. These things she could not share with anybody. At that moment, I completely understood the determination behind that "tiger look." I was the one who had been cruel to her. I was the one who had been so wrapped up in my own bitterness that I was incapable of showing any consideration for the struggles she had gone through to protect us.

From that time on, I discovered a love for her that I had never experienced before. I began to care about her and show appreciation for whatever she did. This transformed our relationship completely, from one that was chillingly negative to warmly positive. So strong were the changes my mother saw in me that when I introduced her to the practice in 1992, she took faith. Due to her Buddhist practice, the last two years of her life were very fulfilling, right up until she passed away in 1994. In her final repose her expression was victorious, with no sign of the difficult life she had led. The practice had softened her tiger face into a look of beauty and serenity. At her funeral, out of gratitude and appreciation, I sang to her a well-known Chinese song, "The Beauty of Sunset."

In 1993, I visited my son who was studying in Toronto. As soon as I arrived, I fell in love with Canada and I submitted my immigration application right away. It took less than a year for my application to be approved. Now I am living with my family in Ontario.

Through this experience, I can feel the transformational power of chanting and the greatness of this Buddhism. Through chanting, I was able to reorient the internal compass of my life. As a result, all my actions changed and, in the end, everything around me changed as well. This Buddhism really changes all despair into happiness and all poison into medicine.

[Adapted from an article in the September 2012 issue of Soka, SGI-Canada; photo courtesy of Tom Hamilton]

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