Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
From age seven, I was beaten and verbally abused by my mom who, at the time, was addicted to drugs. When I was 13, my mom planned to kill herself, but first, she went to get her hair done. It was from her hairstylist that she learned about Nichiren Buddhism.
Instead of ending her life, my mom started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that day. I started chanting, too, to prove it didn’t work. That was 39 years ago. My mom overcame her addiction, the physical abuse ended and our family situation improved.
During the next three decades, I earned my Master’s, began teaching, married my wonderful husband, had two beautiful daughters and was very active in SGI-USA. I thought I had a strong Buddhist practice but, in hindsight, I see that I slowly fell into a comfort zone where I never pushed myself too hard.
Then, about six years ago, my life crumbled. Financial problems threatened our home. I was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, an incurable illness that often left me doubled over in pain. At work, I was reprimanded for taking personal calls, sometimes several a day. Those calls concerned my most unbearable problem—a darkness that consumed my home and heart as one of my daughters spiraled into hell.
At age 12, my daughter started wearing all black and sneaking out at night. She cut herself and used heavy drugs. She had 60 detentions within two months and was failing every class. She was violent at home and spoke of wanting to end her life. As she continued to harm herself over the next year, I felt utterly hopeless and unable to help someone I loved more than my life.
Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is the struggle to overcome our own weakness and lack of confidence in ourselves.
Five years ago, I attended an SGI-USA women’s conference. A senior in faith spoke of “getting out of our comfort zone” and talked about a woman who set a daily goal to chant abundantly, share Buddhism with one person and study SGI President Ikeda’s guidance. I filed that away in my mind.
The next day, as I sat chanting, I realized I did not believe my prayer could impact another life that was so deeply in hell. A senior in faith encouraged me to take full responsibility for my daughter to overcome her fundamental darkness. In that process, she said, I would overcome my own fundamental darkness, which was connected to all my other problems.
I recall thinking: I don’t have fundamental darkness; I’m so optimistic. What I would later come to understand is that fundamental darkness takes many forms, but boils down to one thing: lack of conviction in our Buddha nature.
At first, things got worse—my daughter became more violent and self-destructive. I remembered the goals I had heard at the women’s conference and began a 365-day campaign to chant abundantly, share Buddhism with one person and study President Ikeda’s lectures.
related article Discovering My Abilities by Blandina Happiness Sembu, Tanzania As a single mother who had lost her right arm in an accident, Blandina Happiness Sembu faced severe challenges. She describes how her Buddhist practice has given her the confidence and courage to tackle all her problems as well as her work as a spokesperson for women with disabilities in Tanzania. One passage I read repeatedly: “Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is the struggle to overcome our own weakness and lack of confidence in ourselves. It is the act of impressing in the very depths of our being the conviction that we can change the situation without fail. Prayer is the way to destroy all fear. It is the way to banish sorrow, the way to light a torch of hope. It is the revolution that rewrites the scenario of our destiny.”
The next time my daughter yelled at me in anger and disgust, I smiled and said: “I love you anyway. Have a great day.” She was stunned. Soon after, my daughter told me: “Mom, you should just give up on me. I’m worthless.” I responded: “I will never give up on you. My mother physically hurt me, and I promised that would never happen to my children. Now, you’re hurting yourself. My mom wanted to commit suicide, and you talk of this, too. I will take full responsibility for your suffering to change.” She looked shocked and relieved: “Really? You?” That’s when I knew it was up to me.
I also realized then that I had been blaming my daughter. I stopped judging her and stopped complaining about my problems. I chanted like never before. I pushed myself every day to share Buddhism with someone. This really yanked me out of my comfort zone. Gradually, I stopped being swayed by my daughter’s anger, violence and self-destructiveness. And she noticed.
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is an SGI member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. Within a month, as I was chanting, my daughter pulled up a chair behind me and chanted for more than an hour. I was stunned. My prayer, not my words, had touched her heart. She chanted with me every day—one, two hours, sometimes more. She told me about her suffering, her feeling that she did not fit in.
That year, she stopped cutting herself, stopped using drugs, stopped smoking and started wearing colors, including bright red hair. She also started smiling, even laughing. We found an alternative school she loved and where she excelled. She chants often and shares Buddhism with her friends. She is constantly striving to improve herself and our world. She volunteers for two social justice peace organizations and leads their activities.
My daughter has taught me faith. Every other problem is also transforming. My colitis is 80-percent healed, and I am no longer in pain.
I understand with my life why President Ikeda says we must entrust everything to the youth. They are our precious future. I thank my daughters for teaching me what prayer really means, I thank my mom for bringing Nichiren Buddhism into my life, and I thank President Ikeda for his guidance that inspires me daily.
Courtesy January 2014 issue of the SGI Quarterly.