"I will take my wife with me"
In the closing years of her life, Founder Niwano's wife, Naoko used to say, "Having a copy of the Threefold Lotus Sutra is enough for me. I need nothing else."
For ten years, during World War II and through the early postwar period, she was away from Tokyo with her six children in Suganuma, her husband's hometown in Niigata Prefecture. "Seeing the sun during the day and looking at the moon at night, our mother didn't have anyone with whom she could confer. The sutra was all she could rely on." This expresses how her children in later years remembered their mother in those days.
Until very late at night, she stayed up to patch the children's clothes. Still, she got up at three in the morning, lit the candles at the Buddhist home altar and chanted the sutra. At sunrise every day, she went out to the field and worked until after dark. When any of her children became sick, she practiced a cold-water ritual beside the well and wholeheartedly chanted the sutra.
President Nichiko Niwano wrote in his book, My Father, My Teacher, "I have learned much of great value from father. Mother has taught me much too, and among her lessons the most important is to cling to the Lotus Sutra, no matter what happens."
Founder Niwano received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1979. In March of that year, the Rev. Dr. Wilbert Forker, the executive vice president of the Templeton Foundation, visited Rev. Niwano in Tokyo, informing him officially of the award and explaining various necessary procedures. After offering some general information about the award ceremony and related events, he asked Rev. Niwano. "Sir, will Mrs. Niwano be coming with you to the award ceremony?" For a moment, Rev. Niwano looked a little bashful, like a young man. But in the next instant, he straightened himself up and said clearly, "Yes, she will come with me."
When he was married to Naoko in 1930, the wedding ceremony was very modest. Only a brother from each of the two families and a cousin came from the hometown. The couple started their new life in a small rented room without furniture. Both of them worked for a pickle shop. Through the period of his religious search, when Rev. Niwano encountered the Lotus Sutra, he was devoted to it every day without paying attention to his family. And for the family, that was followed by ten years of living away from him in Suganuma.
Rev. Niwano felt that the honor of the Templeton Prize should be shared by all the members of Rissho Kosei-kai, that he was receiving it as their representative. At the same time, it was an occasion on which his deep affection for his wife, who had shared hardships with him for so many years, was strongly felt.
The Award Ceremony was held on April 9 at Windsor Castle outside of London, where generations of kings and queens of England had lived for 800 years. Rev. Niwano was presented a certificate, a medal, and a check for 80,000 pounds sterling by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. From the large windows of the room the view outside was of lovely greenery as far as one could see.
Following the ceremony, a luncheon party was held in a lodge in the huge garden, where Founder Niwano enjoyed talking with many prominent persons. During this time of chatting in a relaxed atmosphere, Mrs. Niwano presented her own set of prayer beads to Mrs. Templeton. Mrs. Templeton looked very touched by such a heartwarming spiritual gesture, and the two women became quite close.
It seemed to be especially memorable for Mrs. Niwano to experience the culture of another tradition-steeped country like England, becoming acquainted with many well-known people in various fields, and visiting the places in London where events related to the award were held.
For the next ten years or so, she spent her days peacefully, deep in her faith. Surrounded by her grandchildren, she felt every day was happy and bright. Toward the end of her life, she became ill and had to be hospitalized. Rev. Niwano, despite his busy work schedule, visited her at the Kosei General Hospital near Rissho Kosei-kai headquarters every day. Taking care of her warmly at her sickbed, he massaged her legs tenderly.
It was a peaceful time for the couple. To Mrs. Niwano, Rev. Niwano was of course her husband, but at the same time she might have felt that he also was her Dharma teacher. It is said that she often said to him, "I certainly owe you many apologies and thanks."
On April 13, 1994, Mrs. Niwano's final day arrived. After showing his concern for her until the last moment, Rev. Niwano left the hospital for home just a little ahead of the car bearing her body. He dressed in Japanese formal garb and waited at the entrance of their house for his wife's return.
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
Copyright © 2008 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.