This Dharma Journey talk was presented on 28 October 2018, during the enshrinement ceremony of the Gohonzon (the focus of devotion) at the Rissho Kosei-kai San Antonio Buddhist Center.
Ms Torres delivers her Dharma Journey talk during the enshrinement ceremony of the Gohonzon.
Hello, hola, onegai itashimasu. I am so honoured to have this opportunity to share with you my Dharma Journey on such an especially auspicious day such as this. I am humbled before this amazing audience, my treasure, my sangha.
I’m a fourth–generation Texan of Hispanic descent, so it’s unsurprising that I was raised with a strong Catholic background. When I was in kindergarten, my dad told me that the purpose of going to Catholic service was to worship God. He also explained that since God is everywhere, you don’t necessarily need to go to church to worship. From that point, nature became my church. As I continued my primary schooling at a private Catholic school, I struggled with my faith because I couldn’t believe certain basic tenets. I shared my disbeliefs with my parents and I was told that faith is a gift.
Throughout my childhood my disbelief would cause family arguments, particularly when I was expected to publicly affirm my faith. Because I was still a child, I was strongly urged to participate in rituals and practices that I felt had no value to my spiritual growth. At these times I felt false and untrue to myself. I felt like I was missing something in my spiritual life, yet I had almost unshakeable hope and faith that my life was protected by something greater than me.
In high school, I earned good grades but I was a deviant. I was not attending school and I began breaking the law and committing minor crimes. I had a rebellious and irreverent attitude about the norms of society. I was arrested for stealing at a department store when I was fifteen years old and my dad had to arrange for my release from the detention center the day before our Thanksgiving holiday.
Oftentimes, my dad would remark that the reason I had trouble in my life was because I lacked faith. He would emphasise the importance of believing in something bigger than myself. Although I yearned for that faith, I continued to act selfishly and do as I pleased.
At university, I was introduced to the ideas of Buddhism in a world religions course. When I learned about Buddhism, I felt it most closely aligned to the beliefs I had cultivated by that time. Particularly the idea of a universal consciousness, which I have come to understand as the interconnectedness of all things. This would later prove to be my liberation.
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path made sense to me on an intellectual level,but I was not ready to cultivate the teachings into faith and apply it to my life. My life was still self-centred, and tended toward the hedonistic.
During my time at university I worked at Starbucks, where I would meet my future husband. It was a happy time. We bought a house together, and five years after getting married, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Zoe. But I grew bored and unappreciative of the life I’d been given; I wanted adventure no matter the cost. I abused the trust others placed in me, and I neglected to make time with my daughter a priority. I abused my body, my temple. I made choices I was deeply ashamed of, which led to my divorce after almost 15 years of marriage. Following the divorce, I entered a very dark period in my life, and turned to alcohol and drugs for comfort.
What I didn’t fully understand at the time was that my daughter sensed the instability of my character. Our relationship deteriorated, yet I continued living a lifestyle that was seemingly out of my control. My parents would tell me how my daughter would cry because she didn’t know where I was when I hadn’t returned home in time to take her to school.
In December 2015 I was arrested for a DWI. After I was convicted in the summer of 2016, I continued to drink to the point where I had difficulty successfully completing my probation. As a result of that, I was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and it was at this time that I discovered that I needed the support of others. I came to realise the importance of belonging to a community with common beliefs and values.
It was around this time that I decided to visit Rissho Kosei-kai in San Antonio. Despite living in this neighborhood for almost my entire life and often driving by daily, it took me nearly 15 years to finally visit my local Buddhist centre. Once I attended a service, I regretted taking so long to visit. But someone much wiser than me reminded me, that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. From those early days at Rissho Kosei-kai, my sangha comforted me.
I was warmly welcomed during my first visit, and moved by the spirit and energy of the sutra recitation. I felt like I had arrived home. Over the course of several months I deepened my understanding by attending our basic Buddhism and Lotus Sutra study classes.
Soon after I started attending, I was invited to participate in the first annual Matoi Camp in Hawaii. [The matoi is a flag used by firemen during the Edo period in Japan. For Rissho Kosei-kai members, it symbolises enthusiasm to disseminate the Dharma.] At the time, I felt like I didn’t deserve this honour, but the sangha members reminded me of the precious state of my buddha–nature. I started to accept this truth and believe it.
The event was a tremendous fusion of our cultures in such a very special and meaningful place. Although I had initially expected Matoi Camp to be a learning experience, I was not prepared for the emotional bonding and personal growth that I would experience there. It was at this time that I knew without a doubt that I had found my spiritual home. I cannot express to you how my heart was filled with joy and love for my brothers and sisters of Rissho Kosei-kai as I embraced this experience of interconnectivity and mindful practice.
In spite of the new perspective I gained at Matoi Camp, I still had to face the sufferings of my life at home. I still struggled with my relationship with my daughter. I saw her close relationship with her dad, and as a result I became resentful and created distance between my daughter and me. By this time I had stopped abusing alcohol, and I felt in touch with my emotions and engaged with my surroundings. Due to this clarity of mind, the fullness of our distance was even more apparent to me.
It took several months of self-reflection and meditation to realise that my suffering was caused from focusing on myself. Losing my ego never became so paramount. Through the teachings of the bodhisattva way, I realised it was her suffering that I should try to alleviate, and that I should be compassionate and understanding toward her life and be present to support her.
What a discovery! Once I started internalising that truth and being present for her, our relationship took a turn for the better. I’m so happy I found this faith and my sangha as my daughter enters the challenging years ahead. As I think of her life, I’m reminded of the disruption and instability she experienced due to my actions. Contemplating her path, I realise that compassionately supporting my daughter liberates me from my suffering.
I am so very grateful for the intimate relationship I now have with my daughter as a result of the changes I’ve made in my life since awakening to the Dharma. I’ve experienced the merit of forgetting my ego for the sake of helping someone else. My heart has never been so grateful.
One of my favorite quotes from Founder Nikkyo Niwano is, “Everything is as you see it; true deliverance lies in our mental attitude to accept willingly what we are and to receive obediently what we are given”. Everything is at it should be. I am profoundly grateful.
One of the most beautiful experiences I have had on my Dharma Journey is my reconnection to the faith in which I was raised. It’s a special blessing to me that now, on Sundays, I exchange with my parents the seeds of wisdom we discover in our respective services. When I learned of Founder Niwano’s wish to unite the world religions in harmony, I was overjoyed in this affirmation of my choice and felt even more confident in placing my faith in Rissho Kosei-kai.
Finally, I want to share something that I learned in the advanced seminar this year in Chicago: “ichi-go, ichi-e”. I’m not confident in my understanding, but I believe this saying to mean through this one moment, and in this one encounter never to happen again, I experience a taste of the connection to eternity.
I am deeply grateful to the Eternal Buddha Shakyamuni, to Rissho Kosei-kai, Founder Niwano, President Niwano, and my beloved sangha. Thank you, muchas gracias, domo arigato gozaimasu.
Ms Torres (right) participates in the ritual of offering candles to the altar at the beginning of the enshrinement ceremony.