How My Two Years in Gakurin Seminary Helped Me Grow

Sri Lanka Dharma Center

by Salgamuwa Hewage Pashindu

This Dharma experience was delivered during the ceremony
for Founder Niwano’s anniversary at the Great Sacred Hall on March 1, 2016

Mr. Pashindu shares his Dharma experience at the Great Sacred Hall during the ceremony for Founder Niwano’s anniversary.

Good morning, everyone.

I was born in a town called Galle, the southern part of Sri Lanka, on March 24, 1989. There are five people in my family—my parents, grandmother, and a younger brother. I am the eldest son. My parents divorced when I was eight years old and my brother was five. After their divorce, my father moved away to another town by himself. Divorce is uncommon in Sri Lanka. After he left, I felt lonely and found life inconvenient and difficult in various ways. Although our financial situation was tough, my mother focused on working to support the family, and my grandmother took over the housework and raised my brother and me. Wishing to help my mother who had worked constantly, I dropped out of college despite my family’s objections and started working at the age of 19.

A few years ago, my mother joined Rissho Kosei-kai, and she sometimes talked to me about Rissho Kosei-kai. Originally, my family believed in Theravada Buddhism, and I opposed her action, saying, “Why do you want to believe in the teaching of Rissho Kosei-kai, a Japanese Mahayana Buddhist organization?” As I had listened to her, though, I gradually became interested in Rissho Kosei-kai and began to visit the Dharma center with her. I started to participate in youth members’ activities at the Galle Hoza Center. The time I spent with them was always filled with laughter and happiness. 

Later, because of work, I moved to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, by myself, and was busy every day. The pay was low and holidays were minimal. As I was wondering whether I should quit my job, I received guidance from Rev. Yamamoto, the minister of the Sri Lanka Dharma Center. Rev. Yamamoto told me about the story of Founder Niwano, who came to Tokyo at the age of sixteen. Founder’s father told him, “Work at a place with long hours, low wages, and do your utmost best.” The Founder chose painstaking work. Rev. Yamamoto said, encouraging me, “Right now, you are doing the same practice as the Founder when he was young. You are doing your best working for such a busy work with little pay. Firmly tackle your immediate work.” I became really happy and wanted to try harder when I heard that I was doing just what the Founder had done.

Thereafter, I received the role of Youth Leader in the Dharma center. Rev. Yamamoto gave me Dharma guidance, since I was troubled about the difficulty of gathering young members. While receiving Dharma guidance from him and doing tedori (visiting the members to guide them in the Buddha Way), youth members started to gather little by little through events and activities the youth group was holding. Although balancing work and the role as a youth leader was not easy, I found it very worthwhile. 

At that time, Rev. Yamamoto asked me many times, “Would you like to learn at Gakurin Seminary?” I always declined his offer because I needed to support the family. However, in my heart, I had always admired those seniors who graduated from Gakurin Seminary, seeing them actively working. In addition, the Galle Hoza Center in my hometown was closed down, and members were troubled because they did not have a place to gather. Therefore, my mother said to me, “As a representative of our family, I hope you will go and study the teachings of the Buddha in Japan. Not just for our family, but to share the teachings of the Buddha with everyone in Galle.” Encouraged by my mother, I took the exam and passed the entry exam for the Gakurin Seminary International Course. I decided that I would definitely reopen the Galle Hoza Center center again by practicing Dharma training and learning in Japan about how to manage the center, as well as how to disseminate the teachings of the Dharma for its members.

The Gakurin Seminary International Course is located in Ome City, in the suburbs of Tokyo. It is very similar to my hometown, Galle, because of its rich natural setting, and I could easily relax there. However, I was not able to get used to the Japanese lifestyle and had no knowledge of the Japanese language, so I experienced difficulty after I entered Gakurin Seminary. I was often sick and was absent from school, so I was not able to catch up with my schoolwork. I had a bacterial infection called “impetigo” and had surgery on my foot, for which I had to take three weeks off from school. Whenever I was resting in my room at the dorm, I would think of the nice care my mother would give me if I had been at home, and that made me feel that it was much harder to live in Japan.

I was having such a hard time, and I had felt even more pain when I my father had gotten married again. Up to that point my father had not remarried because of the opposition of my younger brother and me, even though he mentioned many times that he wanted to marry again. But he suddenly decided to marry another woman. I asked my brother to try to stop our father from getting remarried, but our father wouldn’t change his mind. The last time I was talking on the phone with my father, we ended up arguing loudly and he said, “You guys are not my children!” He threw my younger brother’s cell phone and broke it.

Since I was in Japan, I couldnt not do anything, so I pushed my brother to talk my father out of his decision. That broke up the relationship with my brother. I wished that my family could get back to the way things had been before my parents’ divorce, but thinking that it would never come true, I felt sad.

Furthermore, the day before my father’s wedding, my ninety-five-year-old grandmother passed away. I couldn’t accept her death because she was cheerfully joking over the phone when I had talked with her just two days before. My grandmother had always been a person who understood and supported my mother after the divorce, and her existence was also very important to my brother and me.

I believe the passing of our grandmother must have made my mother feel more sad and uneasy than me. Even so, my mother didn’t tell me about grandmother’s passing right away because she knew it would worry me.

Our family fell apart after our grandmother’s passing and my father’s remarriage. I stopped caring about my studies in Japan. I was suffering so much because I was worried about my mother and brother. I talked with people about what I could do to go back home, but all of them said, “It’s not good to go back now.”

Both Rev. Yamamoto and my mother said, “You don’t need to worry about anything” and “Don’t worry and continue studying in Japan.” However, I couldn’t understand the true meaning of these words and became depressed, thinking that my family didn’t need me in such a difficult time.

I was suffering more and more, so I sought guidance from the Buddha, saying, “I can’t do this anymore. I want to go back but I can’t. What can I do to make myself like studying? What should I do to change my way of thinking so that I can stay in Japan and focus on my studies?”

While I was still feeling depressed, I had to take the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in order to enter the second year of Gakurin Seminary, but I failed. The minister and other people around me supported me so that I could move up to the second year, and I took the promotion test. I passed it and entered the second year.

After entering the second year, we began to study about Buddhism. Up until then, I only had the perspective that Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism are different. However, I was deeply impressed to know for the first time that the teachings of the Dharma in Buddhism, which was born in India, came to Japan via China and the Korean Peninsula, including the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.

Later on, I was assigned to go to the Kofu Dharma Center for Dharma training. There were many things that I wanted to study and I was filled with hope. However, the first duty Rev. Yoshida, minister of the Kofu Dharma Center, assigned me was to organize the Dharma center’s storage.

Mr. Fujimaki, a member of the Dharma center, was also assigned to the duty together with me. He encouraged me whenever I felt like giving up. He taught me to reflect on myself when I felt like I was suffering and wanting to escape. Before I came to Dharma training, my heart was clustered and filled with too much misery. However, through cleaning the storage room little by little, my mind slowly became at ease. Seeing the joyous expressions on everyone’s face after cleaning the storage room, I felt a sense of accomplishment beyond description.

During my second Dharma training, I set up the goal of learning the management of the Dharma center and the Dharma dissemination. To support my wish to michibiki(lead ones to the Way), members in the chapter to which I had been assigned performed morning devotional service to help me achieve my goal. Thanks to their kind support, I learned many things through hoza, Dharma circle, and unannounced visits to nonmembers’ homes to talk about the teachings. I also guided two households to the faith. It was such a wonderful experience, and one I am very grateful for.

 At the end of the Dharma training, I received the duty of sharing my spiritual experience on November 1. However, I was feeling very distressed because for a couple months I had not been able to get in contact with my brother who was working at a part time job in Dubai, in the Middle East.

On October 30, on the way back from a member’s funeral, the chapter head said to me, “Let’s go home in my car” and “You have been looking a little depressed recently. Something happened to you? What is bothering you most right now?” Then I told her everything about my brother.

Looking back, I had always worried about my brother because he had little social experience and was not independent. By that point, he had joined a youth gang and he couldn’t stay in the same job for more than two to three months. When he said, “I want to go to Dubai,” I opposed his idea and said, “I worry about you going abroad by yourself.”

After listening to my thoughts, the chapter leader asked me why I was worried about my brother and why I wanted to deny my brother’s wish to go to Dubai. She gave me Dharma guidance, saying, “How about thinking about your brother’s feelings while performing your sutra recitation tonight?”

That night, after the sutra recitation, I was sitting in front of the altar and pondered, “Why does my brother always cause trouble and never listens to what I say?” I noticed that I had always seen him as someone who couldn’t do anything.

I thought about the reason why my brother quit his favorite job at the hotel and left our mother alone in order to go to Dubai. I reached the conclusion that he wanted to protect our family on my behalf because I couldn’t do anything for my mother. I realized how wonderful he had been while he had been doing his best to work part-time there. I didn’t notice his thoughtfulness and denied his wish, thinking that he had acted selfishly despite my objection. I felt sorry to my brother from the bottom of my heart, and my heart was filled with gratitude to him for his consideration toward the family. That night, I fell asleep with a warm feeling, thinking about my brother.

In the middle of the night, after I had slept a few hours, my cell phone suddenly rang. It was a call from my brother. He told me that he had found a new job, although the pay was low, but he would like to do his utmost. We continued talking for hours with tears in our eyes.

The next day, I told the chapter leader about this, and she shed tears of joy. “Such is the invisible world,” she said.

On the day of my spiritual experience, I had a feeling of gratitude for my brother, and I was able to talk about my thoughts before the Buddha and the members of the Kofu Dharma Center, feeling refreshed and renewed. I said, “I came to the Kofu Dharma Center with the intention of bringing what I have learned here back to my country and help liberate those who need it, but I found that it was really for my own liberation.

Before, I wasn’t able to understand the feelings of my family members who had been close to me. However, as I listened to those who have fathers during the training, I began to think, “What was in my father’s mind?” My mother also told me that being alone after my brother and I left to another countries, she could somewhat understand that how lonely her husband must have felt after their divorce.

I couldn’t stop blaming my father, so I did not even consider that my father might have felt lonely. I wasn’t able to understand his feelings and support him. I reflected what kind of feelings he must have had about such a son. I felt really sorry about that.

Looking back at the two years I spent in Gakurin Seminary, it was filled with hardship. However, thanks to the support from many people and the chances they’ve given me, I was able to come all the way here without giving up. To fellow classmates who have spent time together in Gakurin Seminary, my classmates who have served as an example for me, and teachers and sangha members who have supported me, thank you very much.

After returning to my country, I would like to devote myself to being diligent in the practice of the Way, aiming to reopen the Galle Hoza Center, which is my dream. Moreover, I will never give up in whatever situation I may find myself, and share what I have learned in Japan with many young people in my country. Everyone, thank you very much for your kind attention.

Mr. Pashindu (bottom left) with youth members from the Sri Lanka Dharma Center.