Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
by Shin’ichi Yoshida, Japan
I have lived in a soundless world since I was born in 1967. One stormy day my mother wondered why a baby like me wasn’t crying out of fear of the thunder. She took me to hospital for a checkup and found out that I was deaf. Since that time, a struggle to lead a “normal life” afflicted my whole family.
When I was four, my voice training started at a school for deaf-mute children. It took me almost two years to master pronunciation of the 50 sounds in the Japanese alphabet. Children in my neighborhood bullied me because of my physical disability, and I knew my mother was really upset by this. I could barely pronounce “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” the key phrase of our Buddhist practice, by the time I was five.
Surrounded by a supportive family and friends, I was comparatively comfortable until the time I came to graduate from vocational school at the age of 20. Attempts to find a job caused me great suffering because of my disability. Some of the companies I visited turned me down instantly when they learned that I am deaf. My father encouraged me, saying, “Never give up no matter what. I know you will get a job in which you can feel a sense of purpose and mission if you continue to practice Buddhism.” I followed his advice, and in 1993, at the age of 26, I got a job with a leading recruitment service company.
Their warm hearts moved me, and I came to realize how much I enjoyed being with them.
It was the 48th company that I had visited during my job hunting, and I still work there today.
Although I found something powerful in Buddhism, I was reluctant to attend regular Soka Gakkai discussion meetings because they were held in the “world of sound.” I felt I was left out because I couldn’t join in and laugh with the others.
A Soka Gakkai young men’s leader visited me often to encourage me, and tried to communicate with me through writing. He wrote, “Let’s go to a meeting,” and I wrote back, “I don’t want to go because I can’t hear a thing.” He continued, “Then, I will study sign language for you.” Because of his efforts, the study of sign language began to spread among the local group. Their warm hearts moved me, and I came to realize how much I enjoyed being with them. I also sometimes meet with other deaf members to discuss Buddhism together.
Inspired by my experience in the Soka Gakkai, I began to feel it was very important to do something for society. Today I volunteer as an actor and stage manager at a deaf theatrical group, and belong to a chorus group which performs in sign language. I am also an advisor for deaf people who suffer from bullying and other problems in society.
Giving lectures in sign language at primary schools, I found out that many schoolchildren feel sorry for handicapped people. I tell them: “Handicapped people are not to be pitied, and in fact they are often very strong-minded. Someone who cannot hear is still capable of overcoming big hurdles and attaining his goals in life through his own effort.”
I am happy that people have begun to understand deaf people as a minority group which maintains sign language as its own culture.
related article Illness and the Middle Way by Meri Everitt, UK Meri Everitt describes how her Buddhist practice enables her to hold onto determination and hope and make wise choices as she lives with a health condition that causes chronic pain and fatigue. In 2001, I participated in TV programs and lectures using sign language. I have also studied American Sign Language and joined an international event, “Deaf Way 2,” supported by Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., in 2002. I felt strongly more than ever that sign language is a strong “weapon” for uniting people’s hearts regardless of race and national boundaries.
My source of energy for developing myself lies in Soka Gakkai activities. Because a lot of them are challenging, I feel very happy and strong when I succeed. People live in a world where sound means a lot. However, I dare to enter their environment because I believe that my mission is to be a bridge between the world of sound and the soundless world.
[Courtesy July 2005 SGI Quarterly]
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