Okinawa Dharma Center Assistant of the Youth Groups
by Ms. Eriko Shimabukuro
The following religious testimony was delivered at the ceremony of the Founder’s Birthday on March 11, 2012.
Everyone, please guide me.
I’d like to express my appreciation for this opportunity to share my religious testimony on this great day, the Founder’s birthday.
I was born in 1977 on Okinawa, a southernmost island of Japan, as the only daughter of a father who was working as a taxi driver, and a mother who has congenital retinitis pigmentosa.
I first encountered Rissho Kosei-kai when I was a first grader at elementary school. Although my parents had built a new house, my father was not working, and my mother was angry to see him going to a shaman on Okinawa.
One day, my mother met a neighbor who said she went to church. My mother asked her if it was a Christian church. The neighbor replied that it was a Buddhist church, where they had taught her about ancestor veneration. My mother immediately joined Rissho Kosei-kai, believing that it must be a good place, because they practice ancestor veneration. And she told my father that there was a male shaman at the Dharma Center, and persuaded him to go (the minister of the Okinawa Dharma Center at the time was a man, Rev. Nagatooya). After my father heard Rev. Nagatooya’s Dharma talk, he declared that the shaman at the center was a good one, and started to attend services there.
Although we had joined Rissho Kosei-kai, my father still was not working and could not pay the mortgage. Then, we ended up leaving the house and moved to a small apartment. We used to live only on my mother’s disability pension.
My parents diligently attended the Dharma center in the hope of improving our poor living situation and my ill mother’s condition. She was weak-sighted at the time, and made an enlarged copy of all pages of the Threefold Lotus Sutra: she wholeheartedly recited them.
When I was a fourth grader in elementary school, I started to learn how to write posthumous names on behalf of my parents, who were not able to write the letters. When I became a sixth grader, my mother told me that I should recite the Threefold Lotus Sutra too, and I participated in the mid-winter recitation practice. I had recited the whole sutra every ten days as a recitation practice in the morning, and also at home in the evenings, from the time I entered junior high school. I wondered why I had to do it, but I thought that if I continued to recite the sutra, something good was bound to happen. Then my father gradually found work. And I saw my mother supporting my father, and my parents talking happily and laughing, even though we were still poor. As a child, when I saw them acting this way, it made me happy.
When I became a high school student, I had a goal of entering the preparatory course of Rissho Kosei-kai’s seminary Gakurin. I thought that I would learn the teaching more deeply there, as well as meet people of my own generation, and make some lifelong friends. My goal became a reality, and I was able to enter the class of 1996 at Gakurin. And I had a chance to talk directly to the President while in Gakurin. When I heard that the President was going to participate in the “Musashino Walk,” one of the annual events of Gakurin, I thought that it presented a perfect opportunity to talk to him directly, because I was a senior at university and was hunting for a job. So I got up the courage to speak while walking next to him.
I told him that I would like to work in mass communications, and be a person who could contribute to society on Okinawa. Then the President replied, “There will be times when things don’t go your way.” I was expecting encouragement from him, and I still remember how confused I was at his unexpected words. As it turned out, I instead found a career as a medical social worker, and was able to find a job at a local hospital. Through the President’s words, I was able to understand that even if it is not something we have wished for, we will have a chance to find something that truly suits us. I have wonderful co-workers, and am very proud of what I do now.
There are some unforgettable events that changed my life greatly.
One day, all of a sudden, a document from the court was delivered to our home. When I opened the envelope, I found the word “defendant” written on the document after my father’s name. My mind went blank. When my father was driving the taxi, he had failed to notice a pedestrian walking across the road, and he caused a traffic accident. The victim had congenial cerebral palsy. He suffered a severe blow to the head and was badly hurt. Although his life had been saved, the accident made him unable to walk; he was confined to a life in an electric wheelchair. He was left with serious aftereffects. It was secured by for him by the insurance company, but my father was sued by the victim’s family, because they thought my father showed no sign of remorse for what he did. I doubted the existence of the mercy of any deity or buddha. Why did this happen to my father, who went to the Dharma center every day and never missed the recitation practice in the morning or at night? I had believed that everything would be all right as long as I went to the Dharma center, but this was apparently not right in any way.
Just before the accident, I was encouraged to participate in the Youth Leaders’ Seminar and I agreed to take part. Unexpectedly, the Buddha had arranged my participation during the worst possible situation. When the seminar began, my father started to complain of feeling ill. He was examined in the hospital, and we found out that he had progressive cancer of the large intestine. The planned trial date for the traffic accident was postponed, and my father had an operation to remove the cancer. My mother and I spent days preparing for the trial and visiting him in the hospital. During that time, the assistant minister told me that the Buddha never gave us challenges that we could not overcome, and his words gave us support. Once every month, I went to the Yashiro Dharma center in Kumamoto Prefecture, and by talking about the trial and the sickness of my father, I was able to feel peace of mind.
Before the trial, the lawyer recommended during a meeting that my father write a letter to the victim. Writing on behalf of my father, I apologized in the letter for his causing the accident, and that the trial had to be postponed because of my father’s operation. And at the end of the letter, I wrote that I would like to visit the victim in the hospital.
Before the first trial, my parents and I visited the victim in the hospital. I thought that we would be refused entry into the room but the victim allowed us in. He told us that he had read the letter. After looking at our faces, he said to my father, “Is your body all right?” Those were the first words he said to us. We all collapsed in tears upon hearing his words. We apologized many times, saying that we were very sorry for what my father had done to him. He has cerebral palsy, but I found that he is a tenderhearted person. When I looked at the bedside, I found a CD on which was written “Jesus Christ.” He turned out to be a Christian.
Something occurred to me: I thought that only because he has religious faith, was this man able to speak compassionately to my father, the offender. This made me reflect on my attitude toward faith. I thought that if I perform sutra recitation, something bad will be prevented; if I keep attending the Dharma center, something good will result. I had cultivated my religious mind to expect only good results and phenomena. That was not right. We should accept whatever may happen to us and change our minds in a positive way. I realized that was the true significance of having a religion. I was able to take in what the assistant minister had told me before, and thought of the teaching that the Buddha never gives us challenges that we cannot overcome, and how it was connected to this situation.
As the result of the trial, the court gave my father a suspended sentence, and six months in litigation finally ended. Since then, my father and I have visited the victim in the hospital once a month. Thanks to the accident caused by my father, I was able to learn the attitude that religious people should take. I would like to genuinely express my gratitude to the victim for teaching this to us, at the cost of the health of his own body.
After a while, my father’s cancer returned. He died in 2008 at the age of 74. He never missed a day of recitation practice in the morning and at night, and visited the Dharma center with my mother at 6 o’clock every morning. When we received the Dharma Titles of the Founder and Cofounder, to be enshrined in the family altar at home, we brought them to him in the hospital. He was delighted with them, repeatedly saying, “Thank you.” It is a memory I can never forget. Because of my father who loved Rissho Kosei-kai, I am able to be here and share my religious experience today in front of the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni in the Great Sacred Hall. Thank you very much, Dad.
Now, I have been assigned as an assistant of the Youth Groups at the Dharma center and devote myself to the activities of the Youth Groups under the guidance of Rev. Hironobu Suzuki, minister of the center.
Rev. Suzuki always tells us to gather with fellow members in any circumstance. The number of active members is so small you can count it on your fingers. And when we visit members’ houses, we often get nervous and maybe the encounter does not go well as well as we wish, but the members of the Dharma center always encourage us. Thanks to their support, 47 members participated in the special training session for Young Men’s and Women’s Groups on Miyako Island two years ago. And mainly members of Youth Groups participated in Oeshiki Ichijo (One-Vehicle) Festival, held at headquarters in Tokyo, last year. When I first was assigned a role, I strongly believed that I had to do something about it, and there were times that I vented my anger at the five heads of the Youth Groups. However, as I continued in my role, my mind started to change and I began to feel that I could make it through somehow. One of the things that I am truly grateful for is the way that the whole Dharma center supports we members of the Youth Groups. I would be unable to carry out my role without the encouragement from Rev. Suzuki and the sangha members.
Last month, we were given an opportunity to participate in the Founder’s Birthplace Festival in the city of Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, and performed the traditional Okinawan dance called eisa, as children twirled the traditional firemen’s standard called matoi. Each of us diligently fulfilled our roles, and seeing them frantically practice at their given places gave me great encouragement and made me realize how dependable they are. The time we had spent together for this one goal strengthened the ties between the members. I learned that this was one of the great merits I received.
Since I was assigned my role, I have had two great opportunities. One is that I was diagnosed as having the same progressive visual disorder called heredomacular dystrophy as my mother has. I was given an explanation that the disorder was inherited. I find it difficult to focus my eyes, and it will be getting more difficult for me to read penciled characters. So I sometimes feel uneasy about my future. However, one day in the evening hoza circle, when I talked about my condition, one of the members of Men’s Group, who had lost his wife because of cancer, said to me retaining his tears, “You’re not going to die from this.” His words gave me the hope to keep on living. I also have a role model to follow; my mother. She is totally blind now, but she does the household chores all by herself. Even though she has had visual disorder for a long time, she wholeheartedly raised me. I would like to pull through living with this disorder, and offer my life in gratitude to my mother for raising me.
And the other opportunity is my upcoming marriage. Rev. Suzuki introduced me to one of the youth members of the Kawauchi Dharma Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, and I am getting engaged next month. Next year, I will be moving to his house in Kagoshima. I was worried about my mother, but he told me that my mother was the only parent left for us, and that he would like to be filial to my mother. Because he could not do much for his parents, he wanted to take care of my mother. My mother also is going to move to Kagoshima. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I am able to begin a new chapter in my life by the Buddha’s blessed arrangements.
There are word of the Founder that I use for mental support. Rev. Suzuki shared with me one passage titled “Accept challenges” from Founder’s Random Thoughts. It goes like this:
“Even if you feel a little hesitant to do something, just accept it and make your best effort. This enables us to take a fresh look at things and develop new ways of thinking, and to feel that we have matured . . . We can accept any kind of person or situation, and change them for the better. Is that what religious people should do? And that results in real growth.”
Impressed by these words, I keep the principle of accepting challenges as a precious ideal.
I don’t know what is in store for me. The marriage, moving to Kagoshima, the sickness– everything has just started. I could not have been as I am now had I not encountered the encounter with the teaching. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to conclude my testimonial today with my vow to dedicate my life to being of service to as many people as possible.
Everyone, thank you for your kind attention.
Ms. Shimabukuro talks with a staff member of the Okinawa Dharma Center.