THOUGH all Kosei-kai members who had been drafted returned safely after the war, there was still one of our families that could not be reunited: my own. When, on August 12, 1944, I sent my wife and children to live at my family's home in the country in response to a divine revelation received by Myoko Sensei, my oldest daughter, Tomoko, was twelve, my second daughter, Kyoko, ten, my third daughter, Yoshiko, eight, my oldest son, Koichi, six, my second son, Kinjiro, three, and my third son, Hiroshi, one. I explained to my wife and children that I was embarking on a severe course of discipline and study of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren and that I was sending them to the country, not out of selfishness, but out of a need to help other people. I asked my wife not to worry and to do her best to raise the children well. She nodded in both resolution and understanding.
She had become accustomed to Tokyo. It was by no means easy for her to take six children to live in the country. Still, she did her very best. In Niigata she helped in the fields every day. Toward the end of the war, there were sixteen or seventeen people living in the family house. Assuming the responsibility of cooking and doing laundry for all of them, my wife rose daily at four in the morning and was always the last to go to bed at night. But since she had been raised in the rural area and was used to hard work, the physical aspects of her position caused her little difficulty. The thing that made life most difficult for her was the attitude of the narrow-minded villagers. No matter what reason was given, they regarded her return to the village as indication that she was in some way unsatisfactory. Being looked on as a fifth wheel caused her great suffering.
During the ten years of our separation, I returned to Suganuma only twice: once for a memorial service on the occasion of the death of my father-in-law and once when I was drafted into the military a second time and faced the possibility of grave danger on the field of battle. But though on those occasions I came into contact with my own family, I did not speak with any of them. I preserved my vows of separation. When my young children came to my side and looked into my face, I wanted to embrace them; but I restrained myself. My apparent lack of feeling could not fail to arouse the suspicions and opposition of relatives and villagers. My wife bore all the sufferings, including my share.
I longed to inquire about their welfare and to urge the children to be good students and to obey their mother. But I could not. If I had spoken words of affection and concern to my wife and children, I would have destroyed the effect of the ascetic disciplines imposed on me until then by the divine revelation. Since I could not let this happen, I bottled my feelings up inside myself. Nonetheless, my attitude and rumors about me in the village had an unfortunate influence on the children's minds, especially on those of Koichi and my third daughter, Yoshiko, when they reached ages at which they were able to make judgments on their own.
The wife of my older brother recalled something about the problems and humiliations facing my wife at this time.
"Very few people truly understand Mrs. Niwano's suffering in those days in Suganuma. But it was great, as this example shows. When he was drafted for the second time, Mr. Niwano came to the village. With him were Myoko Sensei and a number of chapter heads, all of them women. This caused the villagers to raise their eyebrows. A large number of relatives were gathered in the Niwano house. The presence of five or six women from Tokyo, all strangers to the family, created a decidedly cool atmosphere. (In those times Kosei-kai was still young and small; and the people of Suganuma had no idea about its true nature.)
"During the visit of these people, the electric lights suddenly went out. One electric line served about six houses. If the people in one house turned on too many lights at one time, it blew the circuit, plunging all five or six houses into darkness and creating general inconvenience. As ill luck would have it, this happened just at the worst time and made the villagers more convinced than ever that all these strangers from the big city were unwanted burdens.
"After the lights went on again, Mrs. Niwano and my sister came out and knelt on the tatami to apologize to a whole row of gloomy-faced relatives. It must have been mortifyingly embarrassing for her. Her husband, from whom she had long been isolated, had visited but would not speak to her or to their children. He was surrounded by a group of unknown women, whose presence soured and annoyed relatives and village friends alike. And on top of all this, she had to apologize humbly for a light failure that was in no way her fault. My heart bled for her."
Although my wife does not like to talk about those days, she did say the following in a newspaper interview that appeared in the Kosei Shimbun on November 15, 1968.
"With the six children, I went to Mr. Niwano's elder brother's farm, where I worked in the fields, day in, day out. Since the separation was the result of a revelation, Mr. Niwano did not communicate with us in any way.
"On the two occasions when he came to the village, he said nothing to me or to his children. Even though it was part of his training, it must have been very hard.
"Having separated himself from wife and children, my husband was engaged in religious training and could discuss nothing with me. When I tried to talk the matter over with other people, they urged divorce. The Lotus Sutra was the only support I had to lean on. I read it every day.
"As I read the sutra in the utter silence and frozen air of winter, when our whole area was completely engulfed in snow, my own voice seemed to be the voice of the Buddha addressing me from the family altar. The Threefold Lotus Sutra clearly showed me the path I was to follow. I decided then that, since Mr. Niwano was engaged in difficult religious training, it was my responsibility to see to it that he had no worries about domestic matters. This discipline lasted for thirteen years."
From time to time during the period of separation, my oldest son, Koichi, would come to Tokyo to get money for living expenses and from talks with Myoko Sensei he learned much about me and the way I was living. On his return to the village he would tell his mother what he had discovered. Apparently the part of my training that upset my wife most was the statement in the Lotus Sutra to the effect that, after ten years, the Devadatta (or enemy of the Buddha's teaching) would vanish. My wife interpreted this to mean that she would herself vanish after ten years and became frightened of sudden accidental death or death from serious illness.
Even after the ten years of separation were ended, we did not return to normal family life. For another three years we were allowed to share the same roof but not as man and wife and father and children. Perhaps this period was more difficult for us than the ten preceding years. The children lived with their mother in a room on the first floor. I lived on the second floor. On returning from work or counseling, I went directly upstairs without talking with them. I ate alone. They took their meals downstairs. We could not bathe together, as Japanese fathers often do with their young children.
At the end of the third year, when the prohibition on family life was finally lifted, my wife said to me, "For a long time, no matter how difficult your mission, I thought of you as my husband. Then, just as I had come to consider you Mr. Niwano, president of Rissho Kosei-kai and not my husband anymore, the ban was lifted."
In the quote from my wife's newspaper interview, the question of divorce was raised. Since it was a serious issue, I should explain what happened in further detail. From my standpoint, the separation was only for ten years. But my wife's family, seeing no guarantee that we would return to normal family life at the end of the ten-year period, were both disturbed and angry at the course events were taking. On several occasions they sent letters of warning to my older brother and to me. My brother, a carefree man, said that I was an adult and should be allowed to do as I liked. But unable to look at it in this clear-cut way, my wife's family held six family councils to discuss our situation. There were times when I began to feel certain that we would have to part for good, and I seriously entertained the idea of letting my wife take three of the children while I took the other three.
I learned later that each time the subject of permanent separation came up, one of the children would fall ill with a rash or injure himself and have a limp for a while. At such times, miraculous cures were effected by my wife's diligent reading of the Lotus Sutra and chanting of the Daimoku. As the result of these experiences, the children naturally grew into people of deep religious faith.
Indeed it was faith that enabled us to escape the danger of divorce. My wife and I are both patient, persevering people; but there are limits to human abilities. And our trying conditions would have led us beyond those limits had we lacked religious faith.
For the first year or so after they left the city, the children were amused by the novelty of living in the country and did not suffer. But after the war, when other people who had evacuated to the country for safety began returning to their city homes, my children began wondering why they did not go too. I never wrote to them, and their mother never sent me complaining notes. My daughter Yoshiko, however, did write me sincere letters in which she asked me why I did not summon them home and complained about her mother's hard lot and about being lonely because of the separation from her father.
It was difficult for them and for me. Though I tried to put up with the situation, there were times when I sent notes to Yoshiko asking her to be patient a little longer.
Other members of Kosei-kai have sacrificed family happiness for their religion. Myoko Sensei and her husband parted because of her heavy schedule of religious activities, and other leaders in the organization have suffered in similar ways. Recalling their experiences always brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.
It was because of the protection of the gods and buddhas that, in spite of what might be called an unnatural family situation, my children grew to be upright and honorable people. Today they are all happily married and have children of their own. My wife and I are typical grandparents, with sixteen grandchildren. In 1960, I took my wife for a short trip to the seaside hot-spring resort of Atami, a few hours from Tokyo. This was our honeymoon, taken in the thirtieth year of our marriage. The trip made her very happy, and I realized how much suffering I had brought to her.
Today my wife is as essential to me as the air. Recently, when the children gathered, I made the remark that I could not live a single day without her. They all laughed at what they probably thought was the old man's senility. But I meant every word.
My wife gets up at four o'clock every morning for her private devotionals. In order not to disturb me, she never puts away her own bedding. After I get up and wash my face, I fold up both her bedding and mine and put them in the cupboard. Invariably she rushes from the kitchen and thanks me for having put her bedding away. She then begins cleaning the room. This is the way we live now. Our relation is uncomplicated, refreshing, and mutually considerate.
Copyright © 2009 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All right reserved.