Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
My early life saw many struggles and, when I was at university, I started to wonder if I would ever be happy or have a sense of what life was really about. The few religions I had tried had not answered my questions. In the end, I was always left dealing with the limitations on my life—my pessimism and a constant yearning for everything. The difference between happiness and unhappiness was plain to me, but I was unable to find a way out of my unhappiness.
My desire to find something I could depend on was so pressing that I was led like a magnet to Buddhism. A young woman invited me to a Buddhist meeting at the SGI Toronto Culture Centre. I peppered some of the men there with my questions about life. Their answers struck me with their honesty and insight. One answer detailed a daily Buddhist practice that would strengthen my shaky inner life state. I dropped any skepticism and tried it.
If anyone was going to help my parents and brother to become absolutely happy, it had to be me.
The simple chant of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo allowed any negative feelings I had been harboring to climb into a hopeful joy. I felt “right with the world,” able to appreciate other people and life as they were. While many people want a complete scientific explanation for the working of this practice, the fact that it worked was all the proof that I needed at the time. Although I was chanting for only 10 minutes, twice a day, I kept it up steadily, attended small group meetings in my local area and could feel myself starting to change at the very core.
Yet for the first two years after encountering the practice in 2003, I was cautious about committing to the practice and didn’t receive the Gohonzon. By this time, I was in a relationship with Carina, the young woman who had invited me to the first meeting, and I wanted to be absolutely sure it was not just something I was doing for her.
One day, I was really struck by what one of the men’s group leaders said to me. He said that since I was chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I was also the only one who could lead my family to the “shore of happiness.” His words really struck me. My family had always struggled with misery. If anyone was going to help my parents and brother to become absolutely happy, it had to be me. I ended up committing to both the practice and Carina, and we were married in 2010.
My family’s dynamics had never been the greatest. My parents argued frequently and my own exchanges with them were cold and brief. So, with the idea of transforming my family karma, I decided to receive my Gohonzon in 2005, just a few months before an SGI youth culture festival. I made a serious commitment to help my parents and my brother realize the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in their lives, just as I had. My older brother Donny soon took to the practice and joined the youth band for the culture festival. With the support and encouragement of one of the youth members, Donny became less introverted and more sociable and happy. I was so happy to see my brother unconcerned about what others thought of him, so relaxed and at ease.
When my mother noticed how sociable and confident her older son was becoming, she started chanting as well and, through the friendship of a Cantonese-speaking women’s group leader, she also grew more optimistic and cheerful. In 2009, my mother and brother received their Gohonzons at the same time. However, my father had not yet shown any interest in the practice.
The biggest obstacle in helping my father understand how this Buddhist practice could make a difference to his life was his hearing impairment. When he was younger, an extremely bad ear infection left him with no hearing in his right ear and only 10 per cent hearing in the left. Though he had started wearing hearing aids some 30 years previously, his hearing had deteriorated and he was almost totally deaf. He was completely reliant on lip reading for what he could understand in Cantonese. I really wanted to tell him about the practice but his lack of hearing and my lack of Cantonese made that impossible. Since we were unable to communicate even on paper, our relationship felt nonexistent. I didn’t know how it could ever be possible for my father to hear Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but I continued to chant with hope.
For what purpose do we struggle? To become happy. To build a strong self that can never be defeated.
After a routine checkup, my father’s doctor referred him to a new audiologist who informed my father that he might be a suitable candidate for new cochlear implants that could help him to hear again. Previous doctors had assumed that his ability to hear had been completely destroyed. My father booked an appointment with a specialist to see what remained of his cochlear nerves. My mother, brother and I were excited for him and chanted with other SGI members for a good result. The tests found that despite his complete hearing loss, the nerves in his left ear were still intact and the specialist recommended that he proceed with the surgery. Despite the usual one year waiting list for this procedure my father only had to wait six months.
Many SGI members of the Chinese group in our area chanted for the success of my father’s surgery at regular chanting sessions. I was deeply moved when my father sat silently among them, prayer beads in hand. By now, I was chanting powerfully for the success of his surgery, and immersed myself in studying SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s guidance and the writings of Nichiren. As Nichiren says, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo “as surely as an arrow aimed at the earth cannot miss its target.” My target was for my father to regain his hearing.
A month after the operation, the audiologist fitted my father with a hearing device and turned it on. For the first time in over 15 years he was able to hear. His face broke into a smile of pure joy. In exact accordance with my mother’s prayers, his recovery was quick and painless without the need of medication. When he arrived home, with my mother’s encouragement and to my surprise, my father knelt down and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo several times, in appreciation for all the support he had received from the local SGI members. These days, he is more cheerful. This experience has planted a seed of enlightenment in his life and it has deepened my family’s faith.
related article My Life is My Greatest Treasure by Fern Brown, Canada Fern Brown describes how her Buddhist practice has helped her to come to terms with an unhappy childhood and become a stronger person and a campaigner for pedestrian rights. So much fear, anger, anxiety and misery have been brushed away through this practice. By studying the experiences of President Ikeda, my mentor in life, I have learned to embrace all my struggles as an opportunity to develop a strong and invincible core. As he writes: “For what purpose do we struggle? To become happy. To build a strong self that can never be defeated. To carry out our human revolution. We also struggle for the sake of the happiness of others and for the peace and prosperity of society . . . The key to winning in any endeavor is to first win over oneself.”
There are two things that drive me now: the desire to demonstrate my gratitude for finding Nichiren Buddhism and my desire to work for world peace and the happiness of others through the principles of Buddhism. President Ikeda says “Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is a great philosophy of hope that empowers us to forge ahead in our lives bravely and vigorously with fresh courage and determination, always focused on the present and the future, moving forward from this day on.”
[Adapted from September 2012 issue of Soka, SGI-Canada; photos courtesy of SGI-Canada]
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