MYOKO NAGANUMA was born as Masa, the sixth daughter of Asajiro Naganuma, in the village of Shidami, in northern Saitama Prefecture. One of her ancestors had been a samurai retainer of Ujinaga Narita, feudal lord of Oshi Castle, in the north of present-day Saitama Prefecture. After the fall of the castle in war, toward the end of the sixteenth century, this samurai, whose name was Sukerokuro Naganuma, settled in the village of Shidami. For several generations, the family managed to maintain samurai status; but Masa Naganuma's father was a good-natured man who was easily fooled. Ultimately he lost the family house and everything but a small plot of land. The family was forced to live on charity in a temple. These were the circumstances into which Masa Naganuma was born. To make matters worse, when she was six years old, her mother died. An uncle living in a nearby village took her in and made her work from morning to night in his domestic food-provision service. Innately, Masa was not the kind to give in easily. Her love of labor was probably instilled in her by her childhood experiences. In later life, she often spoke of the way people in the neighborhood used to praise her for being so industrious at such an early age.
She never lost her love of work. As a housewife and an owner of a small commercial undertaking she carried out all her duties eagerly and well. Even after she became the vice-president of Rissho Kosei-kai and something like a living buddha in the eyes of its entire membership, she always seemed to be happier in the kitchen than in a teaching session. When there was cooking or washing up to be done, none of the other ladies could hold a candle to her for speed and skill.
At the age of sixteen, Masa was adopted by a much older sister. But eager to live an independent life, she soon left for Tokyo, where she first worked as a maid. Later she labored in an army munitions dump and arsenal, but the work had such a deleterious effect on her health that she left it and returned to her uncle's home in the country. At the age of twenty-six, she was introduced to a man from another old family in her native village. At the time, he was a barber. They married, but the husband proved to be a spendthrift and a wastrel. She submitted to him for years; but when it became clear that there was no hope of his reforming, she divorced him and moved back to Tokyo. In the tenth year of their marriage, this couple had had a daughter; but the child died of illness at the age of two.
In Tokyo, Masa married again, this time to the owner of an ice wholesale dealership. At the same time, she opened her own shop, where she did a thriving business in ice and baked sweet potatoes.
Constitutionally frail, after long years of hardship, she found herself suffering from a bad stomach, a weak heart, and uterine inflammation. Sometimes she hemorrhaged for as long as two months. The doctors announced that she probably did not have long to live. It was at about that time that I began giving her guidance. Convinced that she had been granted longer life because of the Buddha's grace, Masa Naganuma resolved to devote her whole self to the Buddha's Law.
Her second husband was incapable of keeping pace with her religious life. Immediately before the end of World War II, they were divorced. He later married a member of Rissho Kosei-kai, and he and his wife became students of Myoko Sensei.
When we founded the organization, she and I continued to operate our businesses. This meant that our work loads were murderously heavy. Of course, we had a director and vice-director general above us, but the major responsibility was ours. At the time I was in my thirties, and she was already well over forty.
We traveled everywhere together on our guidance work. Myoko Sensei was a short woman; she came only to about my shoulders. Usually she wore traditional Japanese kimono and the wooden clogs called geta. I have a long stride, and when we walked together she had to trot to keep up with me. In doing this, she would swing her arms wide. One day, I commented on her way of waving her arms as she walked. She laughed but continued hurrying in order not to fall behind. Later I realized that I should have been courteous enough to adjust my walking pace to the convenience of a woman of short stature.
Nothing kept us from our guidance work. When the place we were to visit was far away, I would give her a ride on the luggage carrier of my bicycle. If the place was still farther, we would ride the packed buses and trains. In the blazing sun of summer and the cold winds of winter, we went on with our work without taking Sunday off to go to a play or a motion picture, without making shopping or pleasure excursions, and without so much as dreaming of the kind of trip to a hot-spring resort that all Japanese people love.
When I first offered her spiritual guidance, Myoko Sensei was a weak, sickly person who had a strong will but who was introspective in nature. After she recovered from the illness that was afflicting her at the time, she became a different person. She brightened. She became richly emotional. And, although she was reticent, when she did speak, it was with fiery enthusiasm and passion. The people she spoke with were never left unmoved by what she had to say. But her personality had other outstanding characteristics. She was thoughtful and considerate in a womanly way, and she felt things more deeply than most people.
One night, the wind was piercingly cold as it rattled the branches of the leafless trees along the street. We had finished a day of visiting more than thirty houses and of offering spiritual guidance to some twenty-odd people. I was giving Myoko Sensei a ride to Rissho Kosei-kai's headquarters on my bicycle. As I pedaled with all my might against the biting head wind, she said to me, "I'm sorry to cause you this much trouble; you must be very tired."
I was tired and I was hungry. Finally, when our nighttime ride brought us to the doors of the headquarters building, I felt drained in both mind and body. I turned around to see how Myoko Sensei was doing and found her crouching on the ground silently rubbing her knees. If a full day of walking and cycling in the cold wind had exhausted me, how much more tiring must it have been for a woman seventeen years my senior. Her legs were so chilled and numbed by the cold that for a short while she could neither stand nor walk. After a time had passed, she rose and, with a smile that a mother might give her child, said she was better and apologized for having detained me.
Inside the headquarters building it was almost as cold as it was outdoors. But soon we found comfort and warmth around a small heap of glowing charcoal in a hibachi brazier. First we rested for a brief while. Then Myoko Sensei went out and came back with a tray on which were two small porcelain bottles of hot sake. "Drink this," she said. "It will warm you."
In those days, sake was rationed. I do not know where Myoko Sensei got it; I did not ask. But my first taste told me that it was exactly the right temperature. The sake and the concern and consideration of the person who prepared it for me seemed to bring warmth to every part of my mind and body. Then, saying only, "I wonder if you'll like these," she put a plate with four or five grilled sardines in front of me. She knew precisely what I liked and what I wanted. She had offered it to me with perfect timing and without pretention or fuss of any kind. Though the food she offered was simple, her acts were of the kind that can be performed only by truly generous and gentle people. That evening, we sat until late at night listening to the wind in the trees and speaking warmly of the Law of the Buddha.
Myoko Sensei and I were truly friends on the road of search for religious knowledge. She was to me a good teacher and a friend eager to refine my abilities and help me correct my faults. Before entrusting myself to the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, I had various experiences with faith. Other teachers praised me, but I cannot recall that any of them criticized me for or cautioned me about my religious attitude. After the founding of Rissho Kosei-kai, Myoko Sensei and I sometimes had sessions of religious training that virtually made sparks fly. She mercilessly pointed out all my faults - so many faults indeed that she seemed to be critical of such small things as the way I raised and lowered the chopsticks with which I ate. Whenever I objected to what she said, we had highly heated debates on the subject at hand. If a member of Rissho Kosei-kai happened to need one of us during such a discussion, we would pause to take care of whatever business required attention and would then return to our argument with renewed fervor.
She often said, "No one can make happiness for you: you must make it for yourself." In this she closely followed the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, in chapter sixteen - "Revelation of the [Eternal] Life of the Tathagata" - in which is related the story of a doctor who prepares medicine to cure his sons, who have mistakenly drunk poison. The doctor offers the medicine to his sons, saying, "This excellent medicine, with color, scent, and fine flavor altogether perfect, you may [now] take, and it will at once rid you of your distress so that you will have no more suffering." Some of the sons drink the medicine and are cured. Others, however, are too far lost in delirium to see the good sense of their father's offer and, refusing the medicine, remain uncured. This tale illustrates the plan of the Buddha whereby, in order to be saved, we must accept the salvation that he has prepared and offers. Even people who have become members of Rissho Kosei-kai and have come into contact with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra cannot expect to attain the merits of virtue unless they attempt to live and grow in accordance with those teachings. To be happy, a person must correct his personality faults. He must reach out his hand and accept the medicine. This is what Myoko Sensei meant when she said that one must make one's own happiness. This demonstrates her profound understanding of the Law of the Buddha. She was able to put that knowledge to excellent use in the ways in which she helped people.
In one instance, a young woman joined Rissho Kosei-kai largely because she wanted to improve her health, which had deteriorated when she was in high school. An only daughter, she had been spoiled by her parents and had developed a stubborn streak. Myoko Sensei was determined to guide the woman so that she could become a happy person of spiritual breadth. As part of her plan, Myoko Sensei instructed the woman to clean the toilets in the headquarters building.
The young woman was perplexed to the point of illness by being compelled to perform a task that she would never undertake in her own home. But Myoko Sensei remained silent; and the young woman, seeing no reason to refuse to do the work, went glumly about her job with a look of profound displeasure. One day, as Myoko Sensei was watching the listless fashion in which the woman worked, she approached and said, "That is no way to get the job done. Here, let me show you. This is the way to clean." Myoko Sensei thrust hand and cleaning rag into the toilet bowl and gave it a thorough scrubbing. The young woman stood by in amazement, watching Myoko Sensei at work. As the woman did so, her body trembled slightly. From the following day, her entire attitude changed. There was a shining light in her eyes from that time forward, and she made steady spiritual progress. The young woman of whom I am speaking is Masae Okabe, who later became the head of the Nakano Church of Rissho Kosei-kai. There is no way of counting the people that Myoko Sensei helped and guided to the kind of happiness this young woman found.
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