UNTIL the age of fifty, Myoko Sensei had been so ill that she expected death virtually every day. When she was given fresh life as an outcome of new religious faith, she resolved to devote all her remaining years to the Lotus Sutra. In spite of her age, she worked ceaselessly and without rest for the sake of dissemination activities and the guidance of members of Kosei-kai. Regarding all the members as her own children, she scolded them when they made mistakes and cared for them lovingly, even in private matters. But her labors ultimately took a toll in weakened health. She sometimes said, "It's as if everyone were tearing at my breasts; but if it brings salvation to them, it will not matter if I fall by the wayside."
Hiroshi Naganuma tells several stories that reveal how she never took her eyes from her duty to the members of the organization.
"Whenever we traveled to other parts of the country on teaching missions, I felt sorry for her and realized how great her task was. As long as members were by her side, her eyes were alive and shining with strength; but they grew lusterless and weary as soon as she was left alone. She could not even go to the toilet without having people follow her and wait in the hall until she came out so that they could resume their discussions. Mr. Niwano is a carefree, open person. This kind of thing is easy for him, but it was very hard for her.
"Sometimes she would ask me to send away people who followed her everywhere; but it would always be with a small gift of whatever cakes we might have or a little money. She frequently said, 'I never seem to be able to rest until I am in bed at night.'
"Once shortly after the war, we made a trip to Nagano. Times were hard, and commodities scarce. The bedding in the inn where we stayed had not been washed for a long time, and the cotton stuffing of the mattresses and quilts was moldy. Fearing that this would be too uncomfortable for her, some of the local members brought soft, fresh quilts from their own homes. Because we were grateful for their kindness, we prepared to use the quilts; but Myoko Sensei refused, saying that it would be rude to the maids in the inn. When we insisted that she ought to allow herself to rest comfortably at least while sleeping, she finally agreed but instructed us to give the maids a small amount of money, which she wrapped up for them. She did everything."
But ceaseless concern for the public and private welfare of the people around her finally wore down a constitution that was innately not very strong. Cataracts developed to such a stage that she was nearly blind. She was operated on for breast cancer and was occasionally bedridden for as long as a month because of undetermined illnesses.
Some of her sicknesses had a mystical quality that defied medical explanation. When time approached for religious services devoted to holy mandalas or to tutelary deities, karma in Myoko Sensei's life seemed to accumulate to cause her to lose her sight or to become physically disabled in some way. After the religious services were performed, however, she would recover as if there had never been anything wrong. This occurred again and again.
After World War II, when I saw that something was seriously wrong with her eyesight, I forced her to consult a doctor, who told her that blindness from cataracts was only a matter of time. For a long while, her sight had been failing, though she had concealed it, for reasons of her own.
When she took part in readings from the Lotus Sutra, she followed unhaltingly. Everyone thought she was reading from the printed text, but it later appeared that she had been reciting from memory. The copy of the Threefold Lotus Sutra that she left at her death is marked and worn from the tens of thousands of readings that enabled her to make the text part of her very self.
At home she knew where everything was so well that she got along even without seeing clearly. When she went out, she was always accompanied by someone. Still, gradually I began to notice odd actions on her part. For example, she would try to put her geta on the wrong feet. At last, when I asked her outright, she admitted that her eyes were growing very weak.
Shortly after the end of World War II, lumps developed in one of her breasts. A doctor examined the lumps because he was afraid they might be malignant. Though he pronounced the tumors benign, he nonetheless decided to remove them. Hospital conditions were highly primitive in the aftermath of the war. Rice steamers were the only things available for the sterilization of scalpels and other surgical instruments.
Some time after this operation, lumps appeared again. This time, the head of the Maeda Clinic, in the Yotsuya district of Tokyo, diagnosed cancer and counseled a second operation: a radical mastectomy. The operation took place on December 22, 1948. Five days later, she insisted on being released from the hospital. And on December 28, she addressed a Kosei-kai memorial-day meeting. Her spiritual strength astounded us; but her rashness in leaving the hospital had no ill effects, for she recovered from the operation completely. Thereafter, whenever she felt unwell, we sent her to the Maeda Clinic for an examination to find out whether cancerous growths had reappeared.
In August, 1953, she once again fell ill. No one knew the cause, but I suspected a mental influence of the mystical kind that I mentioned earlier. She later wrote an article for a Kosei-kai magazine in which she explained what had happened.
She said that she had been brought to the sickbed in order to force her to reflect on weaknesses in her own character. The doctor had told her that there was nothing physically wrong; the cause seemed to be psychological. Still, her head was heavy and her breast was agitated. The slightest sound made her nervous. But as she reflected on various aspects of her personality and repented her faults, the symptoms abated. On the memorial day for the formation of chapters and for chapter heads, she felt well. She then remembered the old saying that one must suffer to understand the suffering of others. Her illness had helped her comprehend the hardships endured by the chapter heads, about whom she had frequently complained and grumbled in the past. She went on to express regret for the sharp words and harsh things that she had said to others and to profess the conviction that she, like all the other members, was no more than another seeker of the Truth.
She told of my watching by her bedside during her illness and of my reading to her from the Lotus Sutra. One of the passages I read was from the twenty-sixth chapter, "Dharanis."
"Whoever resists our spell
And troubles a preacher,
May his head be split in seven
Like an arjaka sprout."
In harboring resentments against me, her godparent in faith, she felt she had been profoundly guilty of troubling a preacher.
Throughout the period of her confinement, the heaviness and pain in her head had refused to respond to ice packs or any other form of treatment. She interpreted this pain as retribution for her having troubled a preacher of the Lotus Sutra. At one point, she wept and apologized to me; and according to her own account, from that, time on, her condition improved dramatically. In a dream, she was told the things she had done wrong in various parts of her house. The next morning, she requested that I put things right, ask for forgiveness from the gods, and conduct a purification ceremony. Suddenly the terrible pain in her head vanished. Her conviction was that she might have died had not the Buddha and I informed her of the sins she was unknowingly committing. She concluded the article by repenting fully and announcing to all the members that it was only through the forgiveness of the gods and buddhas that she had been granted additional life after having committed grave sins.
In the autumn of 1956, her condition deteriorated again. Nonetheless, in the first sixteen days of 1957, she participated in an exhausting round of meetings, services, and other events. The chief surgeon of Kosei Hospital urged her to slow down and to care for herself, but she would not listen. In late January, she agreed to go to a hot-spring resort for some rest; however, after only two days, not only did she leave, but she made a side trip to a distant training hall. At the urging of her friends, she agreed to go again to a hot spring for rest on February 16. I alone objected to the trip, because the resort selected lay in an inauspicious direction.
On arriving there, Myoko Sensei felt bad; and on February 22, she began running a fever. The chief surgeon, accompanied by nurses, immediately rushed to her side. She was confined to bed for about a month, at the end of which time she was well enough to return to Tokyo, where she at once entered a large national hospital.
Only a very few people knew that the cancer had reappeared. She was in such pain that she could sleep at night only if given injections. But gradually her blood vessels hardened, making intravenous injections difficult.
After performing my duties at Kosei-kai during the day, I spent the nights by her bed, reading passages from the sutra and comforting her as best I could. Then her blood vessels softened sufficiently to make injections possible again.
Privately the doctor told me that she could not live past September. Because she wanted to go home and because her house was in an auspicious direction, she left the hospital on June 16. The doctor warned of the likelihood of recurring pain if she went home, but she experienced none.
I reduced my activities to the minimum and spent as much time with her as possible. While she slept, I copied the Lotus Sutra in the next room.
Her condition fluctuated. From time to time, she was able to sit on the edge of the bed and look at the greenery in the garden. She would say, "I want to get well soon. I've promised to visit so many training halls."
But the hope was futile. On July 17, we summoned all the chapter heads, who spoke with her one by one in the room where she slept, the room where she said private devotionals. This was the last public meeting she ever attended. In all these interviews, she never said a word about her own sufferings but urged everyone to be firm and courageous. To those who cried, she said, in her old, familiar voice, "Don't snivel like that. Be brave."
Though she gradually lost appetite and ate very little, as her illness progressed she seemed to be in a brighter mood. She often joked and made her nurses laugh. When she coughed, those of us who stayed with her tried to ease her pain by pressing her abdomen. Ten days before she died, she smiled and said, "No need to do that any more." We smiled too and said, "All right."
At about the same time, the chapter heads asked if they could not see her again. We arranged for a large number of them to wait in the garden. I picked Myoko Sensei up and carried her to the window on the staircase landing. All the people in the garden brought their hands prayerfully together before their faces in the gassho greeting. Myoko Sensei returned the gesture with a look of deep warmth in her eyes. It was the last time these people were to see her alive. When a similar group had visited her in her house in July, she had already lost a great deal of weight. As I carried her for this final meeting, I found she was incredibly light.
A few days before the end, she told me that all the responsibilities were now mine. After asking the nurses to leave us alone for a while, she said, "Nothing can be done for me. Don't waste money on treatments. I'll be happy if you read the sutra for me often." That night she slept deeply and snored. The following morning, the doctor told me that the snoring had not been normal: it was caused by a blood clot in the brain. Myoko Sensei never opened her eyes again. She died peacefully at six fifteen on the evening of September tenth.
Shortly before her death she had said to me, "When you first gave me religious guidance long ago, I was ill. I thought I was going to die then, but faith in the teachings you offered extended my life by twenty-two years." As she made this remark, her face was calm. A beautiful light illuminated it. I looked at her serene, unclouded countenance and could not help thinking that she foresaw her own death. Her words fell heavy and hard on my heart. For twenty years she had encouraged me, helped me grow, sharply reprimanded me for faults, and believed in me. Once again, I looked at her face, and my entire body seemed to fill with memories.
"Flowering wisteria, grow longer and longer;
It is such grief to see you break."
Many of us hoped that the wisteria would, as Ryoichiro Yokoyama says in his poem, grow longer and longer. The Buddha teaches that everything that lives must die and that all who meet must part. Still, the sorrow at the loss of a beloved person passes all expression. When Myoko Sensei died, I felt like a bird deprived of one wing.
Funeral services were held on September 14 and I5; 250,000 members from all parts of Japan came to bid farewell to this woman, who, in the second half of her life, had been a true bodhisattva of compassion.
It had rained on the day that Myoko Sensei died. It was cloudy on the first anniversary of her death. The sky was leaden from morning as we conducted memorial services and dedicated a handsome gray stone for her grave. More than six thousand people, including the surviving members of the Naganuma family, chapter leaders, and other members, attended. The mingled voices of the large group filled the sky over Kosei Cemetery as we joined together in reading from the Lotus Sutra.
I read a message in which I commented on the grief of the more than two million members of Rissho Kosei-kai at her death and added that we felt the warmth of her presence with us even though she was gone forever from the earth. I said that her great merits were as lights on the path for those left behind. She had been an example for the practice of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, and in her we had been able to see the goodness of the buddhas and the gods. I explained that the cremated remains of Myoko Sensei had been reverently protected and cared for by over one hundred senior leaders of the organization for more than forty days after her death and that, throughout that time, the scriptures had been ceaselessly chanted in the presence of her ashes.
On June 1, 1960, almost three years after Myoko Sensei's death, the ideograms with which the name of Rissho Kosei-kai is written were altered. Another ideogram pronounced "ko" was substituted for the one we had originally used. The new ideogram is especially appropriate for two reasons. First, it represents harmonious exchange among human beings. Second, it is the one used to write "ko" in Myoko Sensei's name.
Though her physical being has passed from this world forever, as long as Kosei-kai exists, the great personality of Myoko Sensei, a woman dedicated to religion and compassion, will be loved and respected.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.