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Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
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by Foo Mow Nam, Malaysia
I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism 30 years ago with a deep desire to be happy. As a young woman then, I thought that meant being happily married to a man of strong financial standing. Money was vitally important to me then as I was born into a poor family. Money had always been an issue and the source of all family squabbles.
So when told that I could chant for anything I ever wanted in life, I thought having money would bring me freedom. I did not realize at that time, understanding karma and enjoying freedom from our karmic suffering are more meaningful than anything else.
Thirty years of sincere practice had indeed brought me many wonderful benefits and positive changes in my life—both conspicuous and inconspicuous. I am indeed happily married and financially secure now although the path had been rocky and difficult.
As I deepened my practice of Nichiren Buddhism, I also began to realize that there is a deep karmic pattern in my family—illness and "premature" death. My mother passed away at the age of 40 due to illness. All three of my younger brothers died, one after the other, of the same illness—liver cancer—and all in their 40s. No words can describe in any way my pain and grief.
The death of my second younger brother, Yong Foo, due to liver cancer was the most painful for me. We were very close. Yong Foo was strong in faith and contributed actively to the advancement of the kosen-rufu movement in Australia, where he and his family had lived for the past 20 years. I had pinned my hope on him to transform our family karma because of his sincere and selfless dedication to the happiness of others.
When Yong Foo informed me, in early 2001, that he had been diagnosed to have the same illness that resulted in the death of his elder brother, I was devastated, but determined to fight alongside him. The treatments began, and coupled with strong daimoku, he battled the illness against all odds, coming very close to death at least three times.
related article Embracing the Cycle of Life by Gwen Harris Through her 12-year struggle of caring for her father, grandmother and mother, who all passed away within 18 months of each other, Gwen Harris determined to create value from this experience through becoming a gerontologist. She now helps other families face the aging and dying process. In the following three years until his death in November 2003, Yong Foo exerted more than ever in his efforts for kosen-rufu. He traveled throughout Australia to visit members and to encourage and inspire them with hope and courage, and urged them to develop strong conviction in the Gohonzon. He met with as many youths as possible, and moved them to seek the path of mentor-disciple relationship.
I, on the other hand, fought my own battle. I quickly learned that it is one thing to understand intellectually the theoretical concepts of Buddhism such as karma and the eternity of life, but quite another when you have to grapple with them directly in your own reality.
I studied President Ikeda's guidance to draw hope, and searched for answers from the Gosho for reassurance. During such painful and difficult times, I clung to President Ikeda's comforting words whenever he met with members who had lost someone dear to them. His guidance pointed out to us that as human beings it is natural for us to feel grief and sadness at the loss of someone dear to us. We may even feel that his/her death was premature and unexpected. However, from the viewpoint of the deceased, his/her death is perfectly in rhythm with the eternal law of cause and effect. Therefore, I could bring myself to accept it when President Ikeda said that although to us someone's death may be difficult to understand and accept, from the deceased's standpoint, his/her death is part of his eternal life. Ultimately, everything comes down to our faith. If we wish to live a life that is free of fear, doubt and anxiety it is essential that we understand two vital aspects of life: the dignity of life and the eternity of life.
One thing became very clear to me as I battled my sorrow. This is the realization that it was no accident that I was born into this family, and shared this karmic bond with my parents and siblings. In fact, Buddhism teaches that from the standpoint of karma, due to the causes and effects that we ourselves have made, we have in a sense chosen our parents and consequently connected to our siblings. And Buddhism goes one step beyond this, and offers a dynamically positive outlook: that is, I had vowed in the remote past to experience this suffering so that I may prove the profundity of Nichiren Buddhism.
As a Bodhisattva of the Earth, I have taken on, of my own free will, the "great vow" of the Buddha to triumph over this karma in my family, and help others do the same. It is my unique mission, and only I can fulfill it.
related article Summoning up the Determination to Win by Lyla Cansfield Lyla Camsfield's experience with cancer enabled her to test the power of her practice of Nichiren Buddhism and to develop the courage to pursue the career of her dreams. But, what does it mean to win, in concrete terms?
I learned that "being victorious" does not always mean getting what we chant for. Rather, being victorious means learning to feel joy even in the midst of great suffering.
I believe my younger brother had indeed triumphed over his illness and karma, and prolonged his life through his practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Most importantly, he had lived meaningfully until the last moment of his life.
I was able to be with Yong Foo during the last few days of his life, and the great good fortune we have built through the practice became evident. In fact, his illness had become almost insignificant to him as he directed his whole life towards encouraging and inspiring everyone around him with his sharp wit, humor and compassion. Yong Foo also did not experience unbearable pain normally associated with cancer patients. In fact, he ended up most of the time comforting all of us.
That evening before Yong Foo went into coma, he sung a birthday song to his beloved wife Janice, and telephoned his siblings in Malaysia as he knew he would not be able to see them again.
He passed away peacefully the following day after being in coma for a short period. By this time, despite my deep sorrow, I was ready to let him go. I came to see that his sick body needed a new lease of life. Most importantly, he had triumphed and fulfilled his mission in this lifetime, and was ready to move on to his next mission for kosen-rufu. I bid farewell to my beloved brother, and promised that we will meet again in our next lives for kosen-rufu. With a drop of tear rolling down the side of his cheek, he breathed his last.
Members from all over Australia attended Yong Foo's funeral, which was absolutely dignified with the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo reverberating throughout the Sydney Culture Centre. Hundreds of members across Australia had been deeply touched by Yong Foo's life—his passion for life, his fighting spirit, and most importantly his determination and actions for kosen-rufu.
Through the karmic bond that we shared, I have finally understood the deep significance of Nichiren Buddhism.
I now know the answer and meaning of my karmic suffering—I was given the opportunity, together with my siblings, to break the karmic cycle caused by our shared slander of the Law. But most significantly, our ultimate triumph over this is to prove, without a shadow of doubt, the greatness and profundity of Nichiren Buddhism.
[Adapted from Winning in Life, Soka Gakkai Malaysia, 2004]
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