Embraced in the Buddha’s compassion

Rissho Kosei-kai of San Francisco (USA)

Ms Risa Kasuya

This Dharma Journey talk was presented at Rissho Kosei-kai of San Francisco on 29 September 2019, during the ceremony celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the chapter’s founding.


Ms Kasuya delivers her Dharma Journey talk at the San Francisco Dharma Center.

I am glad to be a speaker at this auspicious ceremony celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Rissho Kosei-kai of San Francisco.

I was born in 1965, as the eldest daughter of the Kasuya family in Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. During my childhood, I liked to watch TV shows featuring foreign countries, and I longed for an international life. By the time I was a high school student, I had decided that I wanted to live abroad.

After graduating from high school, I was hospitalised for a slipped disk in my back, and I had to receive treatment for a year. After the treatment was over, I enrolled in a university in San Diego, California. In the beginning, studying in English was a challenge for me, but I majored in environmental studies and received a bachelor of arts degree. After graduation, I started working at a Japanese bookstore, which was at my first job in the United States. In those days, I was practising aikido, a martial art, and I met a man during my time there. We dated for two years and then got married.

Our married life started happily; my husband and I bought a house and were blessed with two daughters. The life abroad that I’d dreamed of as a child had come true.

Because I was occupied with taking care of two small children, my husband worked hard to support us and pay our mortgage. He was a narcotics police detective, and he often had to work into the late hours. Even though he must have been tired, he got a second job as a security guard to help pay the bills.

One day, almost eight years after we got married, my husband said he wanted to live alone for a while and rent an apartment by himself. I continued to live with my two daughters at home, but two weeks later, I suddenly became unable to contact him.

I knew that my daughters, then six and four, needed to see their father, so I took them to my husband’s apartment. We visited the apartment several times, but he never seemed to be in, and we couldn’t find him anywhere. Once, I asked the property manager if my husband really lived there, but the manager did not answer my question.

One day, a month after we had lost contact, I knocked on his apartment door and then hid under the peephole so he wouldn’t be able to see who it was. My husband peeked from a window next to the door to check who was outside. My older daughter caught sight of him and called out, Daddy! My husband looked very surprised to see us.

I heard loud noises from inside the apartment, like he was moving things around. When it became quiet, he opened the entrance door and let us in. My daughters were shy with their dad, probably because they hadn’t seen him for a long time. He hugged them and talked to them. While he was chatting with them, I went into his bedroom and found the bedsheets stripped off and an earring under the bed.

I pressed my husband, asking whose earring it was. It was then that he suddenly declared that he was going to divorce me. I’d believed that he lived alone because he was busy with his work. When he confessed to having an affair, I was at a loss for words. I vividly remember driving home from his apartment, crying the whole way.

I wasn’t employed at that time, so I had no income. The balance of our joint bank account almost hit zero. I had to maintain everyday expenses for my daughters and myself. I sold one of our three cars and applied for child support services from the State of California in order to levy child support from my husband’s salaries.

As I did every year, I took my daughters to my hometown in Wakayama Prefecture for their summer vacation. I told my parents that my husband had left home and was living with his girlfriend. My mother looked sad, but didn’t say anything. My father was on bed rest after suffering a severe stroke, and I remember that he was crying in his bed.

My daughters and I had planned to return to the United States after two months’ summer vacation in Japan, but—as I wasn’t sure whether I could make a living in California, and I also couldn’t forgive my husband—I decided we would stay at my parents’ house for six months, until right before our flight tickets would expire, and test out life in my hometown.

In Japan, I worked as an English teacher and a waitress to pay our living expenses. I couldn’t expect financial support or childcare help from my parents; my father’s medical expenses were growing, and my mother already had her hands full nursing him.

I enrolled my daughters in local kindergartens. At some of the kindergarten’s events, my daughters’ classmates had parents and grandparents who came to see them, but my daughters only had me, a single mom. My younger daughter used to like to play with her classmates, but as the days passed in Japan, she began to say that she did not want to go to kindergarten. One day, when I went to the school to pick her up, I heard her murmur, as if she was talking to herself, I have a mommy. She was sad that she didn’t have a dad, so she was trying to encourage herself by telling herself that she had a mom. Neither of my daughters ever said they wanted to see their father, but they made sad faces often. It made me think that I should raise my daughters near their father.

Around that time, I received a bunch of documents from my husband’s lawyer. They said that I had kidnapped the children and that my husband had filed a child kidnap case with the local police. This shocked me, and I consulted with a local lawyer in my hometown. The lawyer told me that if my husband came to Japan to bring his daughters back, Japanese law would prevent him from taking them. But if the American police came for the children, nothing could be done. This prompted me to make up my mind to return to California and raise my daughters near their father. On December 15, a day before the flight tickets would expire, I flew back to California with my daughters.

When we returned home, my eldest daughter got out of the car, knocked on the door and called, Daddy! My husband’s co-worker came outside for a moment, but then closed and locked the door. I tried to open the door myself only to find that the lock had been changed. My husband was probably inside, but he did not open the door for us.

Although California’s weather is mild, it was cold outside in the middle of December. My daughters and I waited in the car for two hours. My daughters went up to the door and called out daddy many times, but he did not come out. To my surprise, a police officer then drove up and told me he was taking my daughters to a child shelter, and that I should go there the next morning to pick them up. I told the officer that this wasn’t necessary, but he took my daughters to the child shelter in San Jose.

While I was still in Japan, I had rented an apartment in San Jose just in case. I stayed there that night, and at seven o’clock the following morning, I went to the child shelter to pick up my daughters. I was made to wait until eleven o’clock, when a person in charge came out and said, The children’s father took them, and they will have to stay with him until the court hearing, which is in ten days’. I feared I might not be able to see my daughters again, but as there was nothing I could do, I went back to the apartment alone.

The first court hearing was held ten days later. I was extremely anxious, and I went to the court praying to see them again. After the hearing, I was allowed to live with my daughters four days a week.

Over the next three years, I was required to be at family court for divorce mediation once every two or three months. When the divorce was finalised, I lost $50,000 to the lawyers and court fees. I was unemployed, and I only received the sum that California Child Support Services levied from my husband’s salaries. In order to pay the lawyers’ fees, I economised money for everyday expenses and rented one room in a house for me and my daughters. I really thought that the costs for the courts were wasteful.

The first lawyer I hired charged $1,000 every month, but her work didn’t seem worth the payment. Divorce mediation continued endlessly. My friends advised me to withdraw the lawyer immediately because she was taking advantage of me. One day, in the middle of a meeting with me, she started talking on the phone with her friend about her upcoming vacation plans. I decided to ask the lawyer to withdraw.

I prepared the documents for family court by myself and went to the court hearing alone. A few people in court criticised me, saying, She doesn’t need child support’. Also, although I waited for a couple of hours at the help centre to prepare the court documents, my questions and requests for instruction were refused many times. I was unfairly and unequally treated at the court facility, probably because I am a foreigner and Japanese.

At the end of the divorce process, a lawyer was required, so I hired another one. My friend, a CPA, pointed out that the divorce settlement agreement the new lawyer had written contained incomplete clauses regarding the expenses of raising a child and property division. I asked the lawyer to fix the agreement, but he said that I accused his work, and he withdrew his representation without my approval.

Due to his contract, the amount of child support I received was reduced by $700 per month because the agreement had a sentence missing confirming the amount.

Soon after that, I was not able to access my bank account. It appeared that the second lawyer had hired a collection lawyer to put a levy on my account. He used my account to make up for unpaid attorney fees after he withdrew his services. I now had to pay everyday expenses with credit cards and loans. I went to the court and appealed to the judge and the collection lawyer that I needed money to support my two children. Despite my best efforts, $9,000 was taken from my account by the collection lawyer.

I distrusted the lawyers and judges. In addition, I was feeling insecure, distrustful and hateful because of the harassment from my husband and his girlfriend as well as my unstable living situation and income. I felt that I had to win the divorce battle’. I mentally hit bottom.

I returned to work as a Japanese-language teacher in San Jose, at the same school I’d worked in before. I met the leader of Rissho Kosei-kai’s San Jose chapter, Ms Yuki Ogawa, at the school. I came to know that Ms Ogawa had also gone through a divorce, so I began to confide to her that I was suffering from my own divorce problems.

She carefully listened to my story and advised me, even though she was very busy. When I told her my worries about the family court order, how I would provide for the three of us, and my daughters’ education, Ms Ogawa said, Do not fight. It’s okay to lose and cry. Even so, life is good’. I exhaled everything from the bottom of my heart. I could overcome my life’s hardships in that moment because Ms Ogawa took my hands and walked with me. Looking back, it was like the Buddha gave me a helping hand through MsOgawa.

Later, in 2010, Ms Ogawa took me to the San Francisco Buddhist Centre in Pacifica. I felt relieved because Pacifica looked like my hometown, the Nanki area of Wakayama Prefecture. I went into the Buddhist centre and smelled incense in the quiet hall. As I stared at the Buddha’s gently smiling face, the dark cloud in my mind faded away. I met a minister, Rev Koichi Nagamoto, who was very friendly. He invited me to join the Sunday services. On Ms Ogawa’s recommendation, I became a member of Rissho Kosei-kai that day.

I had sutra recitation with the sangha members, studied basic Buddhism, and learned Buddhism with interest by participating in Hoza sessions. I began to attend Sunday services and I liked listening to Rev Nagamoto’s teachings.

After Rev Nagamoto left, Rev Kazuya Nagashima was appointed as minister of the centre. The theme of Rev Nagashima’s talk one day was happiness, and he taught us what true happiness is and how to be happy. I was impressed by Rev Nagashima’s guidance that recommended us to say thank you’, sorry’, wonderful and glad’ on a daily basis.

I wondered how these four simple phrases could bring happiness into our lives, but I began to practice saying them in my everyday life anyway. They helped me become more open-minded, and I was also happy to see others’ faces brighten when I said them. I felt, little by little, that my heart was opening in the parts that had been shuttered since the divorce. I could feel that I was getting myself back again.

As my heart opened, my life began to change. Rev Nagashima began to challenge himself by doing his teachings in English. I was so inspired by his courageous performance that I applied for a supervisor license at my job and obtained it. I began to work as a site supervisor, and I received a pay raise.

There were many Japanese-speaking members at the Buddhist centre, and I thought I would like my children to learn Japanese conversation, manners and culture by interacting with them, so I took my daughters’ friends to the Buddhist centre along with us, hoping that her their presence would make my daughters like going to the centre.

Even after their friends stopped attending, my daughters continued going to the San Francisco Buddhist Centre with me (although they complained that it was boring to be around elders). Nowadays, my daughters regularly participate in sutra recitation at Sunday services, join Hoza, and play large roles in events. My daughters have learned cooperation and responsibility at the Buddhist centre, and I hope they will continue to learn Buddhism and apply it in their lives.

I am grateful that I have met other mothers among the sangha members, and that they gave me such helpful advice about parenting. Since I grew up in Japan, I was not confident in raising my children in the United States. Their advice greatly encouraged me.

Ms Ogawa attended my older daughter’s graduations from middle and high school. When the same daughter had a chance to participate in the Miss California USA pageant, the San Francisco sangha members warmly supported her by fundraising her participation fee and lending her gorgeous jewellery to wear onstage. Moreover, they praised her efforts when she was accepted to the University of California.

Rev and Mrs Nagashima attended my younger daughter’s middle school graduation ceremony. My younger daughter has studied ballet for ten years and has been in two professional performances every year. The sangha members bought tickets and attended her ballet shows many times. She was so happy to receive a bouquet of flowers from them.

During my divorce mediation, I had only thought about me and my daughters keeping up our everyday life. I blamed my ex-husband and fought aggressively in divorce court. However, I began to remember that he did his best to keep up our life during our marriage. By thinking back to his situation at that time, I was able to change my mind and thank him for his effort. I also appreciated him for making me the mother of two beautiful daughters.

When I went through the most difficult time of my life, Ms Ogawa’s words resonated in my heart: It’s okay to lose and cry without fighting. Even so, life is good. Being with others and believing in and following the Buddha’s teaching will present miracles to your life. It is like a lotus flower in a muddy pond’. She said this brightly, with a smile, and I was encouraged from the bottom of my heart.

I thought that, growing up, I was familiar with Buddhism, but my knowledge was shallow and I fell far short of being a Buddhism practitioner. However, when I broke my heart, Ms Ogawa and the sangha took my hands firmly and I came to see that life is good, even when I lose and cry. My old view of life gradually changed, and my new view of life began to grow. I changed my way of seeing things, I practised the teachings without worries, and, as a result, I have my current life.

Since we joined Rissho Kosei-kai nine years ago, my children and I have been raised up by Rissho Kosei-kai’s teachings and the sangha of San Francisco.

When my life touched bottom, Ms Ogawa carefully listened to my unspeakable suffering, encouraged and guided me patiently, even though I am not the type of person who is able to listen to someone’s words obediently. Ms Ogawa, thank you so much. My hope is to become a bodhisattva who helps someone be liberated when he or she has been lost on the way and is suffering, like Ms Ogawa did for me.

I sincerely appreciate the sangha that always welcomed us warmly. Thanks to your help, I have my life now.

My children and I appreciate our karmic connection with Rissho Kosei-kai, and we would like to connect as many people as we can to Rissho Kosei-kai for the rest of our lives. To do so, I would like to practise diligently, together with my daughters.

Looking toward the centennial anniversary of Rissho Kosei-kai and the fiftieth anniversary of the San Francisco Buddhist Centre, I would like to pledge myself to do my best to share the Dharma, enhance people’s connection with the Dharma and connect them to the Dharma.

Everyone, thank you for listening.

Ms Kasuya participates in Hoza.