April is here. It is the time for plants to sprout and buds to blossom. In Japan, the most talked-about flower of the season is the cherry blossom. Many people go out to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom. On the other hand, as Buddhists, we are always reminded of the Birthday of the Buddha when we look at this scene. This celebration is commonly referred to as the "Flower Festival”. In fact, when I hear the word, I picture the image of the statue of the Buddha as a baby under a bright blue sky, with cherry petals fluttering in the air, sweet tea being poured over the statue, and sparkling all around it.
Here is a famous tradition. More than two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha was born as Siddhartha, a prince of a noble clan of the Sakya in northern India. It is said that as soon as he was born, the young prince took seven steps in all directions and proclaimed, “I am the only one in heaven and on earth.” Our president explains that this tradition is not merely a metaphorical story praising the Buddha, who was a man of great virtue, but also implies that each of us, like the Buddha, possesses the Buddha nature and that we all, without exception, have received the precious life. We can learn from this how important it is to know our own preciousness. We must also keep this in mind daily.
In this regard, the Founder said, “The Buddha's true wish, as mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, the life span of the Eternal tathagata is: 'How can I cause living beings to embark upon the Buddha Way, and quickly accomplish embodiment as buddhas.’” The most important thing is for each one of us to make the Buddha’s compassion our own and to possess within ourselves a personality that has been thoroughly awakened by the Dharma. The true compassion of the Buddha is to share the wisdom with as many people as possible. In fact, human beings are never satisfied if they are happy only with themselves, but you have experienced the joy of liberating others and feeling the greatest joy yourself.
As an illustration of this, let us look at Kazue Myers, who, through her honest practice of faith, has ended her life with unsurpassed joy. Her daughter, Jennifer Clark, gave a testimonial at the Spring Higan-e service on March 19. Through her testimonial, we learned that Jennifer's family, including her husband Richard, has been united for four generations, led by Mrs. Myers Kazue, and that they have supported and helped each other, respected, and encouraged one another, no matter what difficulties they have faced. Kazue has always had a warm heart for others and has been willing to provide social and financial support to her community and school.
When she first encountered and heard this teaching seven years ago, she immediately decided to join the Sangha community. She also started learning the teaching with Chieko Mancuso, former head of the Dallas district center, and her faith in this teaching of the Lotus Sutra deepened. She shared her appreciation of the teaching with many people and was awarded the certificate of the Dharma teacher last October. However, Kazue, who had been in poor health, passed away on December 9, shortly after becoming a Dharma teacher. She shared the preciousness of this teaching with her entire family, and I am sure that she herself felt immense joy in doing so and departed with peace of mind for the rest of her life. As those of you who have listened to Jennifer's testimonial already know, I would like to confirm how it is that Kazue's belief in and practice of this teaching has liberated her family, and now everyone in her family is able to listen to the teaching and continue to devote themselves to it.
(1) Honest Heart: Seven years ago, when I first visited the Dallas district center, I met Jennifer for the first time after listening to Kazue's request that she talk to me about the hardship her daughter, Jennifer, was having at work. Jennifer spoke earnestly about her own situation and her struggles with her boss at the workplace. In response to the situation where her boss was not talking to her properly, I gave this advice to her. “First, can you greet your boss in the morning with a smile and thank her for what he has done for you, even if it is a small thing? Can you continue to do this even if there is no response from the boss?” The answer was immediately, “Yes, I can.” In general, it is not an easy practice to warmly greet someone whose heart is cold, and conversation has stopped, but I was delighted when she honestly said, “I will do it.” She soon joined the Dallas center, and about six months later she contacted me. She told me that when she went to work on the morning of her birthday, her boss had left a bouquet of flowers on her desk with a message, wishing her a happy birthday. I was very relieved, as I had been wondering what had happened after that. Jennifer must have been able to honestly believe and practice the faith that her mother believed in. Her elder sister Maggie, who was present and listening that day, had already joined. I recognized once again that the foundation of the trust between parent and children was tightened.
(2) Power to believe: The episode of Jennifer's eldest son Kenny's miraculous recovery from leukemia is already known to those of you who heard the conversation between Kosho-sama and Kenny during the 2019 convention in Las Vegas. Since miraculous incidents occurred continuously, Kenny survived. In fact, before Kenny went on his mission, his grandmother, Kazue, told him, “Take these prayer beads with you because you will definitely be protected by the Buddha.” I am sure that this “power to believe" was the starting point of his miraculous return to life. As the Lotus Sutra teaches that the path to liberation is through “faith" and "practice," It is convinced that the most important causality was that he valued his grandmother's words and believed in them himself. Of course, Kenny had a mission to overcome those trials and tell many people about this experience and the importance of the teachings. I have heard that he continues to encourage people suffering from incurable diseases. In October 2018, there was the congratulate ceremony for completion of the new building and the installation of Gohonzon, the Statue of the Buddha at San Antonio Dharma center near the military hospital where Kenny was hospitalized. At that time, Mrs. Boss, the former branch leader of the Dharma center gave him a string that was used for wrapping the statue of the Buddha that was enshrined to San Antonio. The fact that he keeps and carries it with great care is also evident.
(3) Family bonds: Jennifer and other family members’ affection for their mother resonated with the affection of Kazue, who tried not to worry about her, even though she was close to death on her sickbed. And so, it was for all the family members who were present at the end. After Mrs. Kazue divorced his ex-husband, there were many hardships, but Jennifer and Maggie's real father, who participated in Mrs. Kazue's 100-day memorial service with present wife. I think this was the proof that Kazue had respected him even after the divorce. Each of them has been aware of their position and responsibilities and has devoted themselves to diligent practice among them together, which has brought harmony to this family. I strongly felt that the death of a person who had been doing good deeds proved how solemn and pure the death of a person can be. I am sure that Kazue must have felt relieved as she passed away surrounded by her whole family members; Kenny, her twin grandchildren (Robin and Rusty) who are serving in the military, and his oldest grandchild, Jessica, who is struggling to raise her three children.
(4) Gratitude and Merit (Here is a quote from Jennifer's gratitude from her testimonial) “I am currently participating in an English study group on the Lotus Sutra led by Rev. Hosoyama. I have learned a lot in this study group. As I mentioned earlier, I had been reciting the Lotus Sutra in Japanese for so long that I did not understand what was written. This class in English is very detailed and profound, but I am slowly gaining an understanding of it. It is a long road to learn, but I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn through zoom.” “From this, I have come to understand that my mother's acts of kindness and compassion towards others are not only due to her virtues in this life, but also from her past lives, and because of this, the things she has done for others have brought good karma to our family. I feel that somehow my whole family is protected by the Buddha. My mother is no longer with us, but I still go to the Dallas center for the monthly Memorial Day. My sister is also able to come if her work schedule allows. My district leader, Rie Houtby, is a wonderful person and always helps and encourages me. Since I cannot read Japanese very well, she keeps me up to date with the latest information in English. I also believe that I have changed more than a little since I joined Kosei-kai. I am a kinder and more compassionate person than before. In Kosei-kai, I not only learned about the Lotus Sutra, but I also learned a lot from the Sangha about the kind of person I want to be. And I would like to thank my wonderful teacher, Mother, for showing me the path of devotion to the kind of person I should become." (She concluded by expressing his gratitude for the merits and virtues that come from practicing the teachings.)
Now, as Jennifer mentioned in her testimonial, when you look back on your lives, you must have felt support from the unseen world through your mysterious connection with your ancestors, or you must have felt the presence of the spirit world. From there, naturally, the opportunity for aspiring for Buddhahood must have been born. I was impressed that Kazue's vow and practice of the Bodhisattva practice through her sermon has shown Jennifer's family the way to carry on their faith in the Lotus Sutra and has given rise to a grateful heart. I also believe that here we have the most important example of Seika (Harmony among a Family) for all of us. It taught me once again that faith is not about the number of years, but about how much we have awakened to the truth.