Our Encounters with the Founder
On these pages appear comments by members of Rissho Kosei-kai overseas that describe how their encounters, either direct or indirect, with Founder Nikkyo Niwano have influenced their lives and have enabled them to understand Buddhism, especially the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. The place names below the respective writers' names represent the Rissho Kosei-kai branches to which they belong.
Kris Ladusau"Now that my house has burned down, I have a much better view of the rising moon."
--MasahideI became a member of Rissho Kosei-kai after the passing of Cofounder Naganuma. In fact, I was three years old and just beginning this lifetime as she was finishing hers. I obviously never had the opportunity to meet her or to see how she lived her life.
But I was fortunate enough to meet Founder Niwano and experience his smile and warm handshake. He had a way of connecting with you that transcended barriers of culture or language.
When Founder Niwano's lifetime ended, I sensed a tremendous loss from all who had known him. I knew that he had well considered how to transfer the work of Rissho Kosei-kai to the next generation, and one of my favorite writings on this subject comes from the final page of President Nichiko Niwano's book, My Father, My Teacher.
In it, Founder Niwano says, "Myoko Sensei and I and the others who worked to get Kosei-kai started had our own experiences, but nothing says you must undergo the same kind of discipline we knew. If you did, you would be able to save only people of our generations who would share the views such discipline presupposes.
"Times change. Life styles change. Value criteria alter and diversify. People in positions of leadership must keep up with all these changes. Of course, the essentials of Buddhism are eternal and immutable, but the ways they are put to use and applied must suit the needs of the times and the audience. This is what we mean by limitless experience.
"We older members are the roots of Kosei-kai. The trunk is now standing, and you younger people must become the branches, leaves, flowers, and fruit. You don't have to train yourselves to be roots and trunks. These parts of the tree are already there, and all you have to do is accept them and go on with your own jobs. You will have to suffer too. But your kind of suffering will differ from ours. You will have to face new, complicated problems and will have to put your lives on the line in solving them.
"Basically, the issues will be similar, but the problems will manifest themselves in new ways. This means that though fundamentally it will be the same, your discipline will have novel nuances. Don't be foolish enough to lack confidence because you have not trained yourselves as we trained ourselves. . . . You have the duties of putting forth branches that culminate in fruit. Have the confidence required for your task and train yourselves to be able to fulfill it."
When Cofounder Naganuma passed away, Founder Niwano worked day and night to continue the dream that they shared. President Niwano accepted the responsibilities of leading Rissho Kosei-kai and his daughter will follow in his path. I have great respect for both of them. I can only imagine shouldering the responsibility of a worldwide organization. May the Buddha give them strength and may they feel the love and support from the members worldwide.
But what do you do when someone as vital and compassionate as Founder Niwano dies? What can the people who loved him do to get past the loss and continue his work? And what can we share with the new American members who did not know either the Founder or the Cofounder.
Someone very important is gone now. Do we look at this as a bad thing? Is it an example of the Buddha's tactful method? Can we turn to a parable in the Lotus Sutra and see ourselves? Will we remember to take the medicine and heal ourselves when our "father figure" is gone? Did he need to leave, for us to "step up to the plate" and take responsibility for ourselves and helping others? His trust in us is the "backbone" of our journey on the Bodhisattva Path. It gives us the freedom to truly own the teachings. We support each other along the way-- because it's not about preserving something, it's about helping it grow. And we must "own it" to make that happen.
It was not the Founder and Cofounder's job to develop Rissho Kosei-kai in America. They simply planted the seeds. Now it is up to us--we have bodhisattva work to do.
From the altars of the past, take the fire, not the ashes.
Allan CarpenterWe've all heard the familiar Zen proverb, "When the student is ready, the teacher (or teaching) will appear." While there may be truth in that idea, it is also important to remember that the process of accepting the teaching is not always instant; the seeds of wisdom we receive now may take years to blossom in our hearts and minds.
I first encountered Founder Niwano's teachings back in 1989; I was a small-town kid, fresh out of college, and eager to know about all the world's religions. I had, of course, read about Buddhism in general; but when I picked up a copy of Buddhism for Today, I could tell that it was a special book from a special teacher. Founder Niwano managed to bring the loftiest concepts, and the most complex symbolism, down to earth, showing me how the difficult concepts of the Lotus Sutra could be transformed into practical, useful wisdom that applied to daily life. Despite the Founder's wide-ranging knowledge, I knew this man wrote from his own realization, not merely from dry study and research. Through the book, Founder Niwano became a friend to me; I sold or gave away many, many books over time, but I always held on to Buddhism for Today and the Founder's other books.
I naturally wanted to know more about Rissho Kosei-kai, and in 1990 I wrote to headquarters in Tokyo; I received some introductory information, but I assumed I couldn't be a member because I lived far from any branch. I practiced with several different types of Buddhist groups over the years, learning a little--or often a lot--from each. At the same time, I was also exploring many other kinds of spiritual practice. I really didn't consider myself a seeker; I was simply trying to be open to truth wherever I could find it. Still, I knew inside that I hadn't found my spiritual home. I held on to the information I received from Tokyo, and wondered if I'd ever find a teaching as profound and accessible as Founder Niwano's.
Sixteen years later, the seeds of that first encounter with Founder Niwano's teachings finally began to bloom. By an apparently chance encounter (but the laws of karma were, I think, in operation here), I found the Rissho Kosei-kai Internet group on Yahoo. Through the group, I came to know several other members in the U.S. who live in areas far from a branch. I was more than ready to join. Within weeks, Rev. Saito from the New York branch had enshrined the symbol of faith in my home, and I had finally completed the process that had begun many years earlier.
Getting to know Rev. Saito and the other members of the New York branch, as well as members from all over the eastern U.S., has only made me more convinced of how special an organization Rissho Kosei-kai is, and how unique Founder Niwano's vision was. He took the essence of the Buddha's ultimate teaching--the Lotus Sutra--and put it directly into the hands of ordinary people, challenging us to gradually manifest the buddha-nature in our lives, and, by doing so, uplift the lives of those we encounter. I'm glad to say that I have helped Rev. Saito in guiding others to the faith over the Internet, and that through answering their questions and concerns, my own understanding of Founder Niwano's teachings has deepened. In fact, I helped a new member receive his symbol of faith in late January--only five months after I myself had joined! We do not need to be perfect beings in order to begin, nor should we be shy about our faith; even a little understanding of the Dharma, shared with other people, may eventually transform their lives.
Dr. Constance HilliardAs I now look back on it, I would have to admit that I have spent much of my adult life in waiting. This was not a conscious character trait. It was rather one that had burrowed into the deepest recesses of my psyche. But what exactly was I waiting for? It was for the day when a knight in shining armor or perhaps a samurai waving a katana of exquisitely polished steel would gallop into view, slaughter my demons, and whisk me away from all my worldly troubles. But precious years passed and that savior never arrived.
And then several years ago, something remarkable happened. A Japanese friend introduced me to Rissho Kosei-kai. This was a gift more precious than diamonds, for it showed me how I could become my own savior. The frustration of waiting was finally over.
Under the spiritual guidance of Founder Nikkyo Niwano, I learned to chant and seek insight in the Lotus Sutra. I also found inspiration in reading Buddhism for Today, Rev. Niwano's in-depth commentary on this sacred scripture. As the Founder's teachings became a more intimate part of my daily life, something wholly unexpected happened--I began to see more clearly. I don't actually mean that my visual acuity improved or that I tossed my eyeglasses in the trash. No, it was something far stranger. I began to catch fleeting glimpses of my own buddha-nature, the ultimate fount of joy, unconditional love, and spiritual discernment.
In the last several years, I have found many occasions on which I was called upon to put these newly acquired life skills to the test. In terms of family life, I have become calmer and more patient with my preschool son. My relationship with my husband has benefited from a newfound capacity to read his heart rather than respond defensively to criticism. Even in my professional life, the spiritual practice that I have learned from the Founder's teachings has reduced my daily stress, allowing me to think and work more effectively. And most important of all, I have learned from Founder Niwano's spiritual wisdom how to become my own salvation.
Swarna DelgodaAyubowan! (May you live long!)
Colombo, Sri Lanka
I consider it a signal honor for Rissho Kosei-kai Sri Lanka and for me personally, to have been invited by the publishers of DHARMA WORLD to make a brief contribution of a few comments to share with the readership in this special centennial issue dedicated to our Founder.
Buddhism in Sri Lanka occupies a unique place in the Buddhist world, in that it is here that the Theravada form of Buddhism has been preserved in its purest and most pristine form for close upon 2,500 years. Our clergy, our benevolent rulers, and our concerned people have protected, nurtured, and passed on the teachings from one generation to the next. This eternal truth and refuge is what I call a philosophy of life.
In the shelter and the warmth of this philosophy, I found peace within myself and learned how to live in peace with my fellow beings. Then a few years ago I was introduced to the Lotus Sutra and its teachings.
The meaning of family and community, the meaning of communicating with others, the meaning of being helpful and useful to my society, the meaning of togetherness in good times and bad, and the concept of sharing--these new meanings in life, together with the precepts of Buddhism, gave a totally new dimension to my outlook on life. This was the icing on the cake. This was the practical aspect of the philosophy. The Lotus Sutra is not dogmatic; one can question it, debate upon it, argue its points, and finally believe in it or not, or accept its teachings or not. The Lotus Sutra with its practical aspects offers to the depth and breadth of the Buddha's philosophy a human angle and brings out the humanity of the philosophy, easily understood and easily assimilated, and further, equally easily adaptable to my daily activities. I find that the teachings of the Lotus Sutra slip into my life as easily as drinking a glass of water.
I am happy to know that the Buddhist practices I engage in blend very well with the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. There is no confrontation between the two; there is only harmony. A friend once asked a senior reverend what role meditation plays in the Lotus Sutra. The reverend replied that while meditation by itself is not practiced, the very act of reciting the sutra with single-minded dedication and right mindfulness is in fact an ingredient of meditation and its practice.
I wish to share with the readership two experiences that have made a lasting impression upon me. As my nature has been to be useful and helpful to others, with the understanding of a small section of the Lotus Sutra I have been able to make a more concerted effort toward being helpful to others. The wide and varied natures of the members of the Sri Lanka branch have shown me that besides my usual circle of friends and associates, there is a larger society out there. With these members, I have been able to discuss and share their anxieties, their sorrows, and their joys. Having shared thus, my own problems appear like just nothing, and I am able to confront any obstacle or disagreement with a smile and a positive outlook.
Second, a friend whom I introduced to Rissho Kosei-kai spoke of the death of a close relative who, together with his family, had been exceptionally nasty toward her, and she mentioned to me that she was determined not to attend the funeral service. As her friend and as a member of Rissho Kosei-kai, I prevailed upon her to attend the service as she was duty bound, not withstanding what the family would say to her or how they would treat her. Heeding my advice, she did attend the service and later thanked me because this family had accepted her gracefully, thereby opening the door to reconciliation. This I consider a win-win situation for my friend, for me, and for the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai, however minor this incident may appear.
May the blessings of the Eternal Buddha be yours.
Dr. James R. HodgkinI am honored to have this opportunity to relate my impressions of Founder Niwano and the effect his teachings have had on my life.
I first encountered the Founder's teachings directly when my wife joined Rissho Kosei-kai in 1964. For the previous several years I had been a workaholic and an alcoholic, and had had little or no consideration for my wife. I would come home from work late each night after drinking with my fellow workers.
On our return to Japan in November 1964, unknown to me, she was planning to obtain a divorce. Her mother, an inactive member of Rissho Kosei-kai, had sent her to the local branch. At the Nishi-Tama branch, she was advised that she had the power to relieve her own suffering and she was told that if she would change herself, then her husband would change. One night when I came home late she was waiting up for me. She apologized for being the kind of wife that made me act in such away. At first I was relieved by this unexpected attitude, but I began to consider my own conduct and soon changed my bad habits. The Founder's teachings of the direct application of Buddhism in daily family life saved my marriage.
I became active in branch activities, and after our return to the United States in 1974, we transferred to the Los Angeles branch. I served on the Board of Directors there for some 26 years, and I continue to serve as the man in charge of External Affairs and as an English Leader.
For the past 40 years, I have lived the life of a Rissho Kosei-kai member under the continued benevolence of the Founder's teachings. During our years as members of the Setagaya branch, we attended services at the Great Sacred Hall and listened to his sermons on an almost weekly basis. Later, I personally experienced his warmth and compassion during visits to Japan to receive my commissioning to undergo English Leader training, and to give a testimonial at the Great Sacred Hall. From all of this, I came away with an understanding of some of the unique qualities and characteristics of his teachings. First, he envisioned and developed a way to connect the abstract principles of fundamental Buddhism to practical applications in daily life that empowered members to relieve their own suffering and achieve peaceful and harmonious lives. That empowerment enabled members to not only resolve their own problems, but also to find a way to help others, their family members and neighbors.
As he himself continued to expand his own vision of the world family, he extended his sphere of influence to encompass the wider religious community, first throughout Japan, and then to a truly global level. His legacy will continue to grow and empower our lives.
Rev. Ken NagataI am still a rookie minister here in the San Francisco branch, having been assigned here in 2003. My family lives in Los Angeles, where I was a member of Rissho Kosei-kai of Los Angeles since about 1975. I am a third-generation Rissho Kosei-kai member and my grandmother was active in the 1950s in Tokyo.
Founder Niwano came to Los Angeles a couple of times, and on one occasion I was the driver who picked him up at the downtown hotel and drove him to our branch. I was far too young and green to even think of conversing with him. The Founder was a tall and gentle looking teacher to me.
In one of the Founder's sermons, he mentioned that in the eyes of the Buddha, the value of wisdom and knowledge was the same or similar to the value of the compassion one has. Specifically he was comparing Miroku Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Maitreya) to Monju Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Manjushri). Today, knowledge and education are regarded as important assets, and any who are not very knowledgeable or slow to learn are often regarded as in a lower class. Because Manjushri was top in wisdom, whereas Maitreya would repeatedly, and very humbly, ask the Buddha to explain the Dharma again, it would seem that Manjushri would be regarded higher and held in esteem, while Maitreya would be classified as not too smart. But the Founder told us in his sermon that Maitreya and Manjushri are both on the same level. Humility and compassion are just as valuable virtues as wisdom in the realm of the Buddha's teachings.
When my son, Hiroshi, was three years old, back in 1983, he suddenly had a seizure and was diagnosed with viral meningitis, a virus infection in the brain fluid. Fortunately, through immediate medical care, he was saved and physically unharmed. However, during the seizure, his brain did not get enough oxygen in one section and his mental capacity was diminished. He was diagnosed as mildly retarded when he entered kindergarten. My immediate reaction was anger and frustration, since I had been helping out at Rissho Kosei-kai of Los Angeles for many years and thought that this was some kind of negative reward for me. But in reality, up until then--and slightly so even now--I was always a temperamental, impatient man. Maybe genes have some influence, since my dad was also short-tempered.
After the seizure, as I began taking care of Hiroshi, I realized that it was a blessing for me to have the opportunity to practice humility and compassion through Hiroshi. In helping Hiroshi, I needed to give him the same instructions or repeat the same words many times for them to sink in. Slowly I began to realize that the Buddha was training me in the practice of compassion and humility through my interaction with Hiroshi. Though he was slow and sometimes clumsy, my wife and I worked hard to practice patience with Hiroshi.
The kind smile, the always positive and optimistic views, and the warmth of the Founder has been an important part of our lives as we have coped with Hiroshi. When I realized that my son was really my teacher, I realized that the Dharma teaching and practice are similar to what Maitreya was practicing. Hiroshi successfully completed special education through the highschool level. Having gone to an adult training center, he is now twenty-five years old and working part time as a box boy at the local supermarket.
Through Hiroshi, I am glad to have the continued opportunity to practice compassion and humility. And without the Founder's help in creating Rissho Kosei-kai, and my grandmother's and mother's connection with Rissho Kosei-kai, I would never have had this opportunity. Thank you, Founder Niwano.
Franklin AndersonIn 1991, my partner, Douglas, and I moved to Sacramento to buy a house. In the course of our house hunting, we moved next door to a family of three: husband, wife, and son. They were very friendly and we often spoke across the fence we shared. One day we heard a bell that had a familiar sound. Upon further investigation, I learned that the lady of the family was a member of Rissho Kosei-kai. Her name was Donna Ozawa.
I went to a Japanese-language meeting in her home. She gave me some books written in English. I wanted to know more about this form of Buddhism. Every evening after work, I would go to Donna's house to ask more questions. Donna encouraged me to read the 2nd and 16th chapters from the Kyoden [Sutra Readings] for myself. I attended other Rissho Kosei-kai services and before long, my friends and I were attending meetings regularly.
I kept visiting with our neighbor, Donna, every evening. Douglas and I were now practicing both the Nichiren Shoshu teachings and those of Rissho Kosei-kai. This went on for approximately a year. The more I practiced with Rissho Kosei-kai, the more I wanted to know about this practice. Then Douglas and I chose to become book members of Rissho Kosei-kai. Right away, I started to have problems with the practice. Even though I had become a member, I began to feel like a guest when I visited our branch. When I mentioned this to Donna, she told me that I should read chapter 20 of the Lotus Sutra. This was the chapter about the Bodhisattva Never Despise. When I started reading chapter 20, my relationships with other members seemed to get worse. I thought of myself as this lone person against people who do not practice what they preach. I was struggling with organized religion.
Over the next few years, I practiced the teachings of Founder Niwano and went to many meetings and training sessions. Because of studying the Founder's teachings and my association with other members, I began to take responsibility for my own happiness.
I became a member of the International Association for Religious Freedom and went on two pilgrimages to the Great Sacred Hall in Japan. I read several books by Founder Niwano and one by President Niwano, My Father, My Teacher. In the course of my studies, one phrase that struck me particularly strongly was when Founder Niwano said, "The Bodhisattva Never Despise is characterized by his practice of paying respect to others and disclosing their buddha-nature." He said that the bodhisattva should not be the object of our prayers. Rather, he serves as a model for how to practice. According to the Founder, the Buddha declares the supernatural power of the bodhisattva in order to awaken our own desire to be as splendid as this bodhisattva and to try all the harder to practice the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
Using this passage from Founder Niwano's teachings as a point of faith in my daily life, I, like the Bodhisattva Never Despise, will continue to develop myself through the practice of paying respect to others and helping to disclose their buddha-nature.
We have meetings in our home, a minimum of four times a month. My goal is to introduce others to the basic teaching of the Lotus Sutra and to develop a chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom in Sacramento.
Marvin W. ColeIn 1963-64, I had observed with interest that an unusual looking building was being built in an area shortly before I reached Shinjuku Station as I was commuting from Camp Zama to see a friend at the Stars and Stripes U.S. military newspaper in Tokyo. One day I convinced a friend to help me find the building for a closer look. We soon found that it was the Great Sacred Hall that was under construction. As an American in the military, I was very interested in all the various temples in Japan. However, the Great Sacred Hall was a very different looking building, and I wanted to take pictures of it.
Everything went well while I was taking pictures outside. However, when I attempted to take pictures inside, I met with resistance immediately. Then a group of people passing us to one side seemed to stop everyone, who bowed to the people in the group. A few words were spoken and several minutes later, a man who spoke English approached me with a red armband and said that he would show me around the building and that I could take as many photos as I would like. We were taken to the roof where we were required to wear yellow helmets because there was construction going on with what appeared to be towers around the outside portion of the roof.
As we were being guided to another section of the building by way of a large hall with murals on the wall, I observed what appeared to be the same group of people that had I seen coming into the building earlier. One of them was apparently giving what appeared to be a lecture to the remainder of the group.
Although I only understood a small amount of Japanese, it was very obvious that the man giving the lecture was very enthusiastic about what he was saying. There was a certain glow about this man that prompted me to ask our guide about the group. He motioned for us to be quiet and he hustled us on our way to another area. Later, I specifically asked about the gentleman giving the lecture in the large hall with the murals. I was informed that he was the founder and leader of their religious group. As we entered the main auditorium of the Great Sacred Hall, there were a number of people that were working with the lighting system as they adjusted the lights focused on a large curtain that was gold in color with a depiction of Mount Fuji with a sun that was either rising or setting. As they adjusted the lights, it seemed to change the appearance in such a fashion as to appear to be either rising and setting depending on the lighting.
I was informed that the curtain had been made by the members. This impressed me very much. I asked if there was any material in English. I was informed that he didn't think there was anything available at that time.
Months later, I returned to the Great Sacred Hall with my girlfriend, who later become my wife. I discovered that her mother and family were members of this religion and I again wanted to obtain something in English. I was informed that something was available, but that it would have to be searched for and provided at a later date. Meanwhile, my girlfriend took me to a branch where I again attempted to obtain something in English or to have someone explain more to me about the religion. My girlfriend admitted that she did not attend very often and said that she would attempt to find something in English for me.
The first thing she provided, as I learned later, was a draft of the first Kyoden that appeared to have been produced on a mimeograph machine, with a hole punched through one corner and tied with a ribbon. Later I received a leatherette bound Kyoden that had only a few pages. I was unable to find anyone who was willing to talk to me in English to explain anything.
It wasn't until I returned to Japan a few years later that I was able to obtain more information, but with little or no explanations. I was told this is the way we do this or that, but little else.
It wasn't until I returned to the United States and met Rev. Maruta from the San Francisco branch that I was finally able to learn about the Founder's teachings. I also was able to meet him in person when he visited San Francisco, returning from Los Angeles en route to Japan.
The journey to learn about Buddhism and the fire that was stirred in me by the Founder, started many years ago, and the thirst to learn is still growing, 40 years later.
Kim MillerI first saw Founder Niwano when I participated in the Group Pilgrimage in 1995 and then again in 1998. Founder Niwano's demeanor was that of a humble man who was generous of spirit and heart. He had a wonderful smile. It was easy to see his buddha-nature because it radiated everywhere.
One of the ways in which I have been influenced by Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra is in my understanding of and compassion toward people. Through the Three Seals of the Law, the Ten Suchnesses, and the Twelve Causes, I have a much different perception than I did ten years ago. In the past I looked at situations as being good or bad, right or wrong.
Not only did I look at situations that way, but people as well, including myself. Looking back on that time I realize how limiting that perception was. It confined me in my experiences--of myself and of other people.
In trying to understand the law that "nothing has an ego" means that we are all connected, I became aware of and grateful to the people in my life that I took for granted--the mail deliverer, the garbage collector, and the person I talked to on the telephone when I had computer problems. That truth has also given me a more global view, especially after having been to Japan and other parts of the world, where I saw that people are essentially the same and want the same things from life that I want--food, clothing, shelter, to love and to be loved.
In chapter 2, "Tactfulness," we find the doctrine of the Ten Suchnesses. From this I learned that I am the primary cause of my own suffering. This was a huge lesson for me. Prior to studying these teachings, I was a blamer. Everything that was wrong with me and my life was someone else's fault.
The Twelve Causes are found in chapter 7, "The Parable of the Magic City." Through this teaching I understood that the essential stages of life are the same for everyone.
As I have studied, contemplated, and experienced these teachings over the past ten years, I feel like I have been able to be in a space of compassion toward myself, my family, my friends, and even strangers, rather than in a place of judgment. It doesn't always happen automatically, and often I have to work at it, especially with someone I have just met or with a group of people I don't yet know. It is my habit to be critical and to judge them negatively. I can make up a story about someone I don't know based on my prejudices in, as it is said, a "New York second." But last weekend, when I was co-teaching a seminar, I realized that instead of thinking critically about the participants as they arrived, I felt appreciative for all they had done to come to our seminar. This seminar was at the Phoenix convention center, in a downtown area under construction. Many people had flown in, didn't know the city, and were frustrated because it was difficult just to get to the venue. Two discouraged women from Pittsburgh abandoned their rental car and hired a modern-day rickshaw driver (he used a bicycle rather than his feet) to take them to the convention center!
The really important part of this is that if Founder Niwano had not written Buddhism for Today, I would probably not have ever read the Lotus Sutra. That he took the time to write this book touches me in ways I find hard to express. For a while, even after joining Rissho Kosei-kai, I was hesitant to call myself a Buddhist.
At the Oklahoma Dharma Center, we have pictures of Founder Niwano and Cofounder Naganuma on the wall next to the altar, just as they do in other branches. I like to sit where I can see the picture of Founder Niwano and I tell him that I will do my best when I pound the mokusho (a wooden block). I had a profound experience one Sunday in realizing that if Shakyamuni Buddha devoted his life to finding a way to end suffering for all of mankind, and if Founder Nikkyo Niwano devoted his life to interpreting the teachings in a way I could understand, I would be proud to call myself a Buddhist. With greatest appreciation to Founder Niwano.
Trina OzunaAs the centennial anniversary of Founder Niwano's birth approaches, I am reminded of the beauty of his words and how they have inspired and empowered me to continue my spiritual path based on the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra.
San Antonio, Texas
His compassionate guidance often focused on facing and overcoming the struggles of domestic affairs, the workplace, and relationships, such aspects of human life that are closest to us, by cultivating our minds and hearts through bodhisattva practice.
He was a teacher in the truest sense, and he continues to teach us through his multitude of articles and reflections, but mostly through the model he set with his own peace-inspired endeavors. By our faithful commitment to emulate such actions, we enable his life to go on.
From this great role model of wholesome living, I have absorbed the profound respect and concern for others that is woven into the fabric of the bodhisattva way. These ideals are a source of inspiration, not only for myself, but also for my family, especially my son, who will soon be graduating from Rissho Kosei-kai's Gakurin seminary in Japan. Through Founder Niwano's example, he was inspired to devote his life's energy to spreading the precious Dharma, enthusiastically serving as an emissary of the Buddha, just as the Founder did.
Founder Niwano's teachings and life further showed me the importance of seeing the value of every person's life. Because he could see the buddha-nature in others so clearly, he never gave up hope in mankind, and instead urged harmonious living through cooperation and appreciation.
How fortunate the Buddhist world in San Antonio, Texas, is to have such a strong connection to this rare and extraordinary man--a man whose bright smile and powerful teachings have changed the lives of millions around the world.
Jenny A. Uemura-SanoBuddhism arrived in Hawaii in the 1800s by way of the Japanese immigrants who worked on the sugar-cane plantations. My grandparents were issei, or the first generation of Japanese in Hawaii. They settled in Kona, where coffee was grown. Coffee farming offered an independent lifestyle compared to the harsh conditions of the sugar plantations. This is my background and it was in Kona that Rissho Kosei-kai was first planted in Hawaii by the Reverend Tomoko Ozaki. The Hawaii branch was established in 1959. My mother was one of the founding members when I was still a toddler.
English was the primary language in our home. My parents, who belong to the nisei, or second generation, were encouraged to speak English and demonstrate their American loyalty, especially during World War II. However, Buddhist teachings and practices were still conducted in Japanese. Although they knew both English and Japanese, my parents were not proficient in either, therefore making the transmission of Buddhist teachings to their English-speaking children difficult. For my generation, the third or sansei, this was a language barrier that I had no desire to overcome.
Although my mother shared with me the practices of Rissho Kosei-kai throughout my life, I did not embrace them as my own. I explored Christianity, but I was in a spiritual limbo for many years.
My true spiritual awakening occurred in 2001. My mother had been a Rissho Kosei-kai member for over 40 years when she died in November 2001. Due to illness, she had moved into a studio unit next to our main house a few years earlier. On the day she died, I went into her living room to clean the family altar. I was feeling very mournful and lonely, as I had now lost both of my parents. (My father had died 24 years earlier.) Yet as I sat in front of the altar, a peaceful feeling filled me with warmth. I felt that my mother would always be near. I realized how the Sangha had always provided prayer, guidance, and comfort to our family during times of hardship. Always helpful to others, my mother was a very trusted child-care provider to many families in Kona. She was very accepting of my own misguided choices in life. She was the kindest, humblest, and most honest person that I have ever known.
My mother's example as a practicing lay Buddhist of Rissho Kosei-kai is what Buddhism means to me. Founder Niwano says in his book Invisible Eyelashes, "To manifest our true merit, it is important that we begin by fixing our gaze on whatever is nearest at hand." For years, my gaze was beyond my everyday life to find spiritual growth, when all the time it was right in front of me. Unfortunately, it took my mother's death to make me realize this. Shortly thereafter, I became a member of Rissho Kosei-kai. I received the go-honzon (focus of devotion) last July. From 2006, I was appointed the new leader of the Maui Dharma Center, on Maui, Hawaii, where I have resided since 2002. I am very grateful and honored by the Buddha's arrangement of these events in my life.
As a branch leader, I will encourage the third and succeeding generations in Hawaii to overcome their own stereotypical image of Buddhism as a Japanese-only religion, incomprehensible to our American ways. We can no longer use the language barrier as an excuse to remain uninvolved. If we do so, we will become a product of our own ignorance. I look forward to sharing the teachings with my English-speaking peers.
On the occasion of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Founder's birth, I am grateful to be a part of this exciting time in realizing his dream of spreading the teachings around the world. Thank you for this opportunity to share my experiences and realizations.
Deshapriya Barua ChowdhuryRissho Kosei-kai, founded by Rev. Nikkyo Niwano, continuously works toward propagating Buddhism according to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Lotus Sutra. A human being can be modified by following the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. Realizing these teachings in our lives and helping to alleviate the pain stalking mankind is the teaching of the Founder. We are working toward propagating this teaching to relieve the sufferings, sorrows, and problems of our fellow human beings. I always consider the sufferings of others as my own, and I visit several families and tell them of the teachings of the Founder and urge them to practice reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra twice a day. I always try to lead them to righteousness and to support them through my welfare activities. In this way, I believe that we can establish peace and tranquillity in the families as well as in the world.
In Bangladesh, we think that "religion" is something to help others, but Rissho Kosei-kai teaches us to awaken the Dharma in the minds of the people; thus, following the bodhisattva path is the religion. Through Right Action, anyone can enjoy eternal bliss, and by establishing Shakyamuni Buddha as the guide, one can achieve proper salvation. The Lotus Sutra has influenced my life greatly. The importance of this sutra can easily be understood by reading it with concentration. It is true that the late Founder has interpreted the Lotus Sutra in lucid language for us. We can easily enjoy eternal bliss in our everyday lives by realizing the inner meaning of the Lotus Sutra. I believe that the teachings of the Lotus Sutra may help us to bring happiness in our everyday lives.
Of all the chapters of the Lotus Sutra, chapter 20, about the Bodhisattva Never Despise, has especially helped me and given me new hope and enthusiasm. In this chapter, a bodhisattva called Never Despise is described as paying respect to everyone he meets, saying that they will all become buddhas. Although many people criticized him and abused him, he did not give way to anger. He possessed great virtue and he showed us the way to become a buddha. If we follow such an example in our lives and propagate the teachings, it will be easier for us to understand Buddhist philosophy, and we may be able to achieve buddhahood. It is our sacred duty to pass on the teachings of the Founder on the auspicious occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. We should also encourage people to put into practice the ideals of the Founder in their lives, and we should also come forward with a view to establishing a peaceful world with the help of the Founder's teachings.
This article was originally published in the April-June 2006 issue of Dharma World.
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