I WAS poor, but my spirit was full, and my life was glowingly vibrant. After my morning milk deliveries, I immediately went out to give religious guidance and to lead people to a religious life. I never knew what time I would be able to return home. Sometimes it was around nine in the evening; sometimes it was after midnight. On some days, I would have a late supper; but even this was often interrupted. A member would rush in to tell me that a sick person needed me; and bolting my food, I would dash out, probably not to return until very late. In winter, the cold and the biting wind would add to my fatigue. When I finally went to bed, I slept very soundly.
I remember once hearing a knocking on the shutters covering our sliding doors. Turning on the light and looking at the clock, I saw that it was two in the morning. "Who can this be at such an hour?" I asked myself as I opened doors and shutters to find a woman, out of breath from a long run in the dark night roads. "Please come quickly; my baby has a fever. I'm afraid he will die. Please look at him and see what can be done." I changed at once into street clothes.
In those days, there was little medicine in Japan. What there was could not be easily obtained. In many cases, even when medicine was available money was not. Doctors were few; and for many people, I was the only person they could rely on. I realized this and was eager to fulfill what I considered my mission by helping them. No matter how late at night, when called, I hurried to the side of the person in illness or pain. When the person who needs to be helped is in perfect accord with the person who wants to help, things happen that can be described only as miraculous. People who were so ill that doctors had given them up and others who had long suffered from stubborn chronic sicknesses recovered with my assistance. They and their families always rejoiced with tears in their eyes and thanked me from their hearts.
My own domestic and business affairs were in a desperate state. Because I left the house for guidance and other religious tasks immediately after morning milk deliveries, my bill collecting got behind, and I made no new customers. There were occasions when I failed to pay the milk suppliers on time, with the result that my supply was stopped and I had to find another supplier as fast as I could.
I was too busy to care about my appearance. I wore ready-made trousers bought at an old-clothes store. Since I am very tall, such pants never came much lower than my shins. People often commented on the odd way I was dressed. "These pants, you mean?" I would ask. "Oh, these are just the thing for rainy days. No matter how wet the weather is the bottoms stay dry. I wouldn't be surprised if they became all the rage before too long." "Oh, I see," was the kind of reply I generally got to this explanation.
Of course, I was only joking; but even those sad garments sometimes saved the day for us. Though they brought very little, they could be pawned; and the little they did bring stood between the seven members of my family and starvation on several occasions. Many things from my house were taken to the pawnshop. At formal Japanese-style occasions it is customary for men to wear a kimono with two outer garments: the skirtlike hakama and the fingertip-length coat called the haori, which is decorated with the family crest. These articles of clothing are expensive, and mine were frequently in the pawnshop. Whenever I had to participate in a formal event, on the preceding evening, I would go to the pawnshop and take my clothes out, only to return them when the event was over.
At the Kawamoto Pawnshop, I became so good a customer that the owner suggested I use an account book instead of the ordinary pawn tickets. I thanked him for the idea; but he said he would benefit by the arrangement, since it would relieve him of the need to write pawn tickets for individual articles. And from that day, for seven years, the Niwano household had an account at the Kawamoto Pawnshop. If one of us took the account book and an article for pawning to the shop, the owner lent money without comment. When one of us took money and the book to the shop, the previously pawned article was returned with equal taciturnity.
This was the way we lived. I was poor, but I was not regretful. I never sent my wife to the pawnshop. Though we were not blessed in the material things of life, I experienced a rich sense of fulfillment because of my work in spreading the Buddha's Law and in saving others from sorrow. As a father, I sometimes felt grieved that my children, who knew little or nothing of what was happening to them, had to suffer. But I suppressed both my compassion for my children and my love for my wife in order to devote all my energy to religious work.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.