Mrs. Kato delivers her personal spiritual experience in the Great Sacred Hall.
Good morning, everyone. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the warmhearted support from President Niwano and all the sangha members in Japan when we were struck by the big earthquake in Kumamoto Prefecture last year.
I was born as the eldest daughter of the Nishiyama family in 1972 in the town of Mashiki in Kumamoto Prefecture. I grew up in comfort, receiving plenty of affection from my parents and grandparents, together with my brother, who is three years older than me. When my mother was pregnant with me, she was distressed by my father’s affair with another woman. She cried every day in the hospital after she gave birth to me and kept thinking that she would go back to her parents’ home with me. Around that time, she was invited to Rissho Kosei-kai by my father’s aunt and became a member when I was five months old. I am the second generation in the faith of Rissho Kosei-kai.
When I was little, after she returned home from job and finished housework, my mother would visit members’houses in the neighborhood, bringing copies of the Kosei magazine. I went with my mother to members’ houses, but as I often fell asleep while there, my mother would end up coming home carrying me on her back. When my brother and I were school students we participated in Sunday schools and training seminars at the Kumamoto Dharma Center.
I began practicing the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai on my own after I got married. When I was a junior in university, I met a man who was seventeen years older than me and who was at the time my employer at my part-time job. We started seeing each other. He had lost his wife to disease and lived with his son, who was eleven years old. He also had a daughter who was born just before his wife passed away. His daughter was three years old at the time and lived with the parents of her deceased mother. I began to think about marrying him because he was a kind and reliable man and was dedicated both to his job and to his children. As I was anxious about becoming the mother of two small children, I talked to my parents about my intention to marry. They did not say a word of opposition against my marriage, and said, “You will be a good mother. We are always with you. Don’t worry.” They trusted me and gave me a push. However, having become a parent myself, I am now able to understand the agony that my parents must have felt about my marrying a widower with two small children, to which they actually wanted to oppose but suppressed their opposition out of their compassion for me. Their gentle and encouraging words were a tearful cry in disguise from my parents, who had raised me dreaming of a bright future for me. These words of my parents have always been my support. My parents always guided me with deep compassion. Mom and dad, thank you very much.
In 1995, soon after I graduated from university, we got married. I started living with my husband, the thirteen-year-old son, and the five-year-old daughter. The son seemed delighted with our marriage, because I had often met him before the marriage. The former wife of my husband, who had a chronic disease, was struck by a subarachnoid hemorrhage just before giving birth to her daughter. The baby was delivered by caesarean section, but as her mother passed away two weeks later, she had never been held in her mother’s arms. She was raised by her maternal grandparents with warm care, and became a child with fine sensibility. On the occasion of our marriage, she came back home to live with us, saying delightedly, “I’ve got a mom!” She was an amiable child and came to love me immediately. However, it must be very hard for a little girl to live apart from her grandparents who had cared for her in place of her parents. She often cried in the night. I always hugged her, saying “Don’t worry. You will be all right,” but she did not stop crying. I thought that she would be happier if she went back to live with her grandparents, and sometimes tears came into my eyes.
I was blessed with two children of my own with my husband. After her younger brother and sister were born, our elder daughter, who had quickly become attached to me, started to pick on her younger siblings, as she now felt unable to depend on me. I consulted our chapter leader and members of the women’s group at the Dharma center about the problem. I became invited to attend seminars about family education at the Dharma center. However, at first, I could not talk about my participation in Rissho Kosei-kai’s activities to my husband as I knew that he did not like religion. When I was invited to participate in a group pilgrimage to the Tokyo headquarters with the women’s group and in a training session at the Ome Retreat Center, I prepared his favorite foods for my husband and conducted Rissho Kosei-kai’s three basic practices, namely exchanging morning greetings, responding clearly when someone calls us, and arranging our shoes and chairs neatly. Then gradually I began to be able to talk to him about my faith, and he came to understand me.
When our elder daughter became an adolescent, I began to suffer from her behavior. Meanwhile, I was made the head of children’s group at my chapter of the Dharma center, and then the head of women’s group of my chapter. I had opportunities to participate in the first- to the third-level courses in the study of the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai for the women’s group, where I shared my joys and my sorrows with other members of the women’s group, and I became capable of considering that the Buddha must be teaching me something through the seemingly unpleasant phenomena. Whenever I had worries about the behavior of my elder daughter, I received guidance from our chapter and area leaders, and pulled myself together. Even though my suffering continued, I became capable of thinking that I was extremely blessed with the precious moments that I can use for my husband and children, and I began to cherish each and every member of my family. I came to have the mindset that I should repay the compassion of the parents of my husband’s former wife, who had entrusted to me their beloved granddaughter, whom they had cared for as if she were a reincarnation of their deceased daughter. I determined that I would grow into a true mother for my step-children.
I had been in good health without any particular illnesses until March 2012, when I hemorrhaged profusely while I was taking a shower at home. The whole floor of the bathroom turned red. I was diagnosed to have cervical cancer by a gynecologist. As the cancer could spread to my womb, ovaries, and lymph glands, I needed to have surgery to remove the cancer as soon as possible. The prospect of death crossed my mind and I was shocked so deeply that I couldn’t think of anything. If I died, what would happen to my family? I could not but think of the sorrow of my husband’s former wife, who had died leaving her husband and two small children without being able to do anything for them. I was overwhelmed by anxiety until the date of surgery was fixed. I asked our chapter leader to listen to my worries. I realized that I could control nothing myself, neither my disease nor my family’s future, and I determined to entrust everything to the Buddha. When I thought that way, I came to feel secure. I quit my job and tried to accumulate merit by practicing the teachings. I spent much peaceful time by cherishing my family until the day of the surgery, so that I would not regret anything afterward. My parents, with their warm affection, said that they wanted to take my place. My husband and children were totally overwhelmed by worrying about my disease. The only thing that I could do to make them feel secure was to live my days positively and cheerfully. Fortunately, so far, my cancer has never come back or spread after the surgery.
When I saw the statue of the Eternal Buddha in the Dharma center for the first time after being released from the hospital, I was very deeply filled with gratitude for the life that was given to me by the Buddha, my ancestors, and many people around me, I could not stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I realized that I had received plenty of happiness through the experience of the disease. In addition, I felt the deep compassion of the Buddha, who had given me the opportunity to cultivate the heart to sympathize with others who are suffering from diseases, and I was sure that it was my mission to use my life to help others.
In June 2014, our elder daughter was blessed with her second child. However, as her husband changed his job often and did not bring home a stable income, she had to work in order to support the family while taking care of two small children. That made her mentally unstable. At that time, I was serving as a Dharma instructor at the Dharma center, and helped my daughter to take care of her children. Our daughter’s frustration continued to build up for a long time until one day she finally snapped. Her anger was directed toward me. She railed against me, and we got into a scuffle. She raged furiously and attacked me violently, even though her baby was in my arms. Even my husband could not stop her, and a neighbor called the police. A police officer was finally able to stop her.
I was shocked to hear her screaming, “I have never thought of you as my mother” and “Don’t act like my mother! You’re no relation of mine!” I thought, “What have I been doing to my daughter for the last twenty years to have made her feel that way? Was it impossible for me to be a true mother for her from the beginning?” I lost all confidence and was injured mentally more than physically. Tears welled up in my eyes when I thought about her, and I spent many sleepless nights. I had taken several days off from the Dharma center to rest until my injuries were healed, and my parents as well as the chapter leader and the head of educational affairs group of the Dharma center kindly visited my house to see me. I came to think that I should move forward somehow, and so I received guidance from the minister of the Dharma center. He said to me, “What happened to you took place not because your efforts were not satisfactory, but because the Buddha thought you have made such good efforts that you are able to accept it now.” He showed warm concern over my suffering. He told me that even though I worried about my elder daughter I should leave the matter of her to her husband until I was healed spiritually. I felt relieved slightly to hear his words as I had thought I was responsible for the violent behavior of my daughter and my relationship with her. At that time, my heart palpitated whenever I even glimpsed a car of the same type as my daughter’s while I was driving. It took almost a year before I was able to meet her and her children again. In the course of that period, my eighteen-year-old second son and sixteen-year-old second daughter discussed the problem of their elder sister and had opportunities to talk about the problems with her. They kept in touch with their sister and on occasion let me know how she was doing.
One day when I talked with my younger daughter about the elder daughter, she said, “If my sister had not been born to have to go through her hardship, my brother and I would not have been born.” Her words grasped my heart. Our elder daughter lost her biological mother, yet she was born into this world, even though hardship and sadness might await her. The former wife of my husband gave birth to her daughter by sacrificing her life. Thanks to them, I was able to meet my husband and was blessed with four children and this worthwhile life. I was finally able to realize after twenty years after my marriage that the happiness of our elder daughter is my own happiness.
Now, our elder daughter is doing her best to raise her three children and she sometimes comes to visit our home. My husband and I feel great joy whenever we see our four children, who are now grown up and are supporting each other whenever problems arise.
In November last year, the minister of our Dharma center asked me to serve as the head of the women’s group of the Dharma center. I was very anxious because I was unsure if the unstable financial situation of our household would allow me to quit my job and concentrate on my role at the Dharma center and if I would be able to fulfill my responsibility. I spent many sleepless nights because of the anxiety. In the meantime, however, I began to realize that I was not feeling any joy for the happiness of the present moment from the bottom of my heart because I was obsessed with anxiety for the future. I realized that I would not be able to cherish the present moment if I kept worrying about the future that is yet to come. I decided to accept the role as the head of the women’s group, thinking that whenever any problems, which were too difficult to deal with, might arise, I would face them by receiving guidance from branch leaders.
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the Kumamoto Dharma Center. I sense the deep compassion of the Buddha, who in this auspicious year, arranged for me to receive a role in the women’s group that is crucial to bringing up the next generation of leaders. I pledge to practice the teachings myself by cherishing the present moment with other members of the women’s group, by making it my goal to find many hearts of gratitude in the interactions in the sangha and to share them with other members. Thank you very much.