I volunteered to give this experience because I read something President Ikeda had said that at a meeting when someone asks, “Does anyone have an experience?”, every hand should go up. I also wanted to share my experience for the opening of the new SGI Center in Teaneck because of how much having a center in my area and district meant. So I felt that, even if I may not feel that I have an experience, I should chant so that by the time of the meeting, I am able to strongly encourage the people present with an experience. Obviously, this feels like a very risky strategy but here I go.
Since having this experience depends on having that breakthrough on-the-mark daimoku, this is already a challenge, since I have a very wandering mind, enough negative experience to shake my belief in the Gohonzon, and major bouts of fatigue getting in the way of feeling any sort of conviction or confidence or even just enjoying my daimoku. But at least I am able to open my mouth and continually chant the words Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. That in itself is major proof that somewhere in my 28 years of practice, I have been able to develop a deep conviction, despite whatever is going on in my conscious mind, that daimoku really works powerfully. This is significant because I have a tendency to quit and give up on things.
My story begins in 2010, the major turning point year of Rock The Era, when the youth division inherited the torch for kosen-rufu, which they have been carrying ever since. I was married, busily working on writing screenplays and, in a mere short few months, when most of America was still barely recovering from a severe recession, I managed to go from one job to another while still receiving severance pay on top of unemployment. Although I am still employed at this obviously life-saving job which ensures my survival living with diabetes, all the rest changed when my wife walked out the door in early 2011 and left me grappling with severe depression, very challenging financial difficulties, even greater health struggles, the sordid world of trying to find love on the internet, endless, tiresome and lonely house chores and extreme difficulty in what felt like a very unfriendly and authoritarian work environment. Although I reflected on where I had fallen short in being unable to be a good husband and resolved to give more to my wife if she returned or to the next woman, I was left all alone with this struggle, now for five years. On top of that, the combination of my ardent desire to change my life through stepping up in my Buddhist activities combined with my tendency to snap at myself and, by extension, other people, ended up alienating and angering some people both within and outside of SGI, and I was left feeling like an outsider in the organization in which, in the past, I had been virtually pushed into leadership roles. This added to my feeling of depression, that I was unwanted, no longer needed, and that my life was going nowhere in a dead-end but necessary job, making me feel like I was getting too old for life and that death kept peeking its head through the window and flaunting itself mockingly at my sorry self. I often was frightened by fears of me passing out on my floor and nobody knowing.
And so my life went on as being barely able keep it together was what I discovered I had to keep settling for to say I had a victory. Thus, how could I possibly encourage anyone else to want to practice Buddhism with such a pitiful picture?
What I discovered in my soul-searching moments in front of the Gohonzon was that it was my desire for self-perfection and a perfect environment to support me which was the cause of my always feeling I was falling short and then snapping at myself and alienating others in the process. For the many long years of my marriage–itself a huge benefit of the early years of my practice–I had the human support I desperately needed, which kept me going. But it covered over my self-deprecation, enabling me to not deal with my bad karma and do my human revolution. But eventually this came out when I snapped at my wife whenever she fell short. Whenever marital issues arose, I could only see my wife’s deficiencies while being blind to my own. An article in the April 29 World Tribune, entitled “Changing Karma”, explains the underlying principle of making good and bad causes and receiving good and bad effects over many lifetimes as follows: “To slander the Lotus Sutra [which is the highest and most fundamental law of life, of cause and effect] is to fail to recognize or to belittle the value and dignity of the human being; it means to deny that one’s life and the lives of all others are precious embodiments of the Mystic Law…..this is what gives rise to various forms of karma and suffering.”
It all came to the surface when I had no one but myself to count on for support. Ironically, just I as I had blind to my bad points while married, that blindness now blocked me from seeing all my good points. I was judging my life’s value based on my relationship status instead of the inner truth of my life–which Buddhism teaches is the supreme worth of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This outlook prevented me from seeing the real improvements that were actually going on in my life during this period in which I struggled to practice Buddhism and make the changes I need to make, improvements which were all but entirely inconspicuous to me. However, others, both in SGI and elsewhere, did point out that I looked much better and seemed much happier. It was just as the New Year’s Gosho says, “We ordinary people can see neither our own eyelashes, which are so close, nor the heavens in the distance. Likewise, we do not see that the Buddha exists in our own hearts.” ( WND I, 1137)
Another famous Gosho passage which is actually from T’ien T’ai’s great concentration and insight illustrates another reason I was undergoing all these sufferings. It states: “‘As practice progresses and understanding grows, the three obstacles and four devils emerge in confusing form, vying with one another to interfere.'” This illustrates that I was suffering so much not because I had done something wrong but precisely because I was pushing my life to change in so many ways, particularly in this year, The Year of Expansion in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-Rufu, by taking on the extreme responsibility of determining to make sure every security shift at the new SGI Teaneck Center will be manned, even if I have to do it myself, for signing up for the only remaining FNCC Conference I can go to before the new Center opens, the Soka Spirit Conference, and by sharing this practice with as many people as I can despite my sensitivity to rejection. Nichiren quotes this writing three times, in The Opening of the Eyes (WND-I-281), in The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra (WND-I-770), and in The Letter to the Brothers (WND-I-501). In the last writing, Nichiren also says, “If you propagate it, devils will arise without fail. If they did not, there would be no way of knowing that this is the correct teaching.” (ibid)
It was in the midst of all this struggle, including coming up against extreme exhaustion during the day and insomnia at night that a big bombshell hit. At a recent study meeting, at the tail end of it, right before everyone was about to leave, my women’s district leader announced that the opening of the new SGI Center in our district’s hometown of Teaneck would be occurring very soon–next month–and asked us to determine that we will become a champion district by the day of the opening, a feat we had never achieved since this challenge was given to each of the SGI-USA districts two years ago. Knowing how impossible that had been and still seemed, I was unable to sleep well that night because I knew this was truly the campaign I needed to fight in. I was filled with deep worry and anxiety and the pressure plunged me into a deep depression. But then I dragged and pulIed my tired body out of bed and chanted. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t feel good but eventually I was able to realize and remember that Sensei agonized greatly at the start of the most famous campaign in SGI history, the Osaka campaign, in which, the Soka Gakkai members in Osaka were able to introduce 111,111 families to Nichiren Buddhism in a single month. He chanted and chanted and chanted until he realized that faith in the Gohonzon and in the practice of the members was the only way to achieve the results and that it couldn’t be achieved using any mental or physical strategy outside of that. I decided that, yes, we too in Teaneck could be victorious in the same way. Based on my daimoku, I knew this had to be the focus now for real human revolution, real change, real victory in the community and society. And this was the great opportunity I needed to get myself over that seemingly impossible hump in my life.
I tried to put my all in this campaign all of the 10 days of this first phase. Sometimes the very positive reactions of people I invited to the meeting, and even some maybes where I expected nos, helped me have more confidence inviting more people, and in so doing, sharing the practice with them. Then there were the days all my past negativity kicked in and I couldn’t bring myself to reach out to anyone.
As of this writing, I don’t know whether this campaign will turn out successfully, but I have a feeling based on the incredible amount of effort I put into it, and being only one of the at least ten very active members in the district also making causes to win this campaign, that something amazing is going to change in my life, our lives and in the Teaneck and surrounding community.
As for my life, I am far from out of the woods at this time. If you were expecting a Hollywood ending, you will be disappointed. But the concept in Buddhism of the Middle Way has kept me anchored and going for the many years when nothing seemed to make sense because I know that life is always both a thing and it’s opposite and nothing as we experience it now lasts forever. It is, as the preamble to the Lotus Sutra, the Sutra of Infinite Meanings states “neither existing nor not existing, neither caused nor conditioned, neither self nor other, neither square nor round, neither short nor long……” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, Chapter 1, Virtuous Practices, p.7) It is discovering a beautiful enchanting bed of flowers that wasn’t there yesterday and will be gone tomorrow, in a lonely quiet field rather than the big pot of gold you were looking for. It is a perfectionist’s nightmare yet the wise person’s absolute happiness. When I first started practicing I was very scared of people and unable to laugh, plus I was unable to see that I had any problems other than that I could never land a girlfriend. I went from living house to house, from job to unemployment to job, and from friend to friend. But because I had conviction in the practice, I never lacked a roof over my head, never missed a meal, and always had the medicine I needed to survive with my diabetes. Over the years I challenged my fears of people and money by participating in contribution activities and by devoting my time and energy to supporting the members in the Gajokai and Men’s Security activities. My life has been amazingly protected, escaping so many disasters that I see happen to other people. Just the other day, I was pulled over by a cop for making an illegal U-turn but he let me drive away. This was proof that, in fighting in this campaign to help my district become a Champion District, I had changed some serious karma. After ten years of extreme austerity due to extreme debt when I lost one of my jobs, I now have two credit cards which have enabled me to get to the FNCC for one last time before I dedicate myself to supporting the Teaneck SGI Center as well as make a financial contribution in the May campaign that is larger than any I have ever made. I know from taking this risk, my life will expand revolutionarily, thus enabling great fortune–even though I can’t see it now, to come pouring into my life.
Nichiren says, ” You must not spend your lives in vain and regret it for ten thousand years to come.” (WND I, 622) [see pocket book for rest of passage]