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My Practice Illuminates My Life

Though one might point at the earth and miss it, though one might bind up the sky, though the tides may cease to ebb and flow and the sun rise in the west, it could never come about that the prayers of the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra would go unanswered.
—On Prayer, Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 345

On February 5, 2005 I celebrated another year of practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism. When it was first explained to me 16 years ago, sincerely chanting for world peace and the happiness of others was a crucial part of the practice and still is. I was in Germany at the time, traveling, miserable and working at odd jobs to keep me going. I was also angry.

Compensating for the lack in my life became second nature to me. From lack of encouragement very early on, I learned to minimize and negate my abilities, which resulted in feigning confidence in what I could do.

Well, why wouldn't I be? I grew up in an angry household. I recall cowering in fear, as early as three years old, at the sound of the enraged voice of my mother. My father who was soft spoken, on the other hand, hardly lost his temper. In this atmosphere, I grew up the eldest of twelve children.

Growing up was not easy— my mother was busy with my younger siblings and my father worked. I took comfort in books and in school where I excelled. I was a consistent honor student, but my parents were never present when I received ribbons and awards recognizing my achievements. Even when my tuition fees were paid late or not paid at all, I made sure that I was at the top of the class. Compensating for the lack in my life became second nature to me. From lack of encouragement very early on, I learned to minimize and negate my abilities, which resulted in feigning confidence in what I could do. I was faking self-assurance long before I learned the adage, "Fake it, till you make it." As a result of my family background, I was either afraid or angry constantly.
For a long time, I was convinced that the only person I could rely on was myself. I was conscious of my absolute desire not to be like my mother in any way—whether in speech, thought or action.

When I started chanting in 1989 I had only one goal: to be financially secure. However, during the many study lectures and interactions I had with senior leaders, I learned that in chanting for my happiness, I was simultaneously chanting for the happiness of others. One member of a family who chants insures that family's happiness.

I scoffed at this idea, certain that nothing of the sort could occur in my family. Our dysfunction seemed to be our karma. My mother had favorites among her children, causing friction. She was constantly comparing us to each other and to other people. Making sure I was out of earshot, she would yell at my sisters, "Why can't you be self-reliant like Yolanda?" Trust was a foreign concept in our household. My siblings and I were capable of positive relationships outside our family but not with one another. Bickering started early in the morning and continued into days and weeks. We did not speak to one another when we were angry—we all retreated into silence. To me, anything in the media that said a positive family life could be achieved was fantasy, fiction.

I also learned from the Writings of Nichiren Daishonin that I could not resent my life; instead I must learn to appreciate it. Corollary to this, I needed to understand the principle of being responsible for my life and my environment. How could I not resent my life? Born to unappreciative parents, to a poor family, to a limited existence where I could not pursue my dreams of writing and traveling, I felt like the veritable misfit whose very existence was wrong for the universe.

Meanwhile, I discovered that I liked chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo so in February 1990, I decided to chant many hours of Daimuku—a total of 36 hours during two consecutive weekends. After that experience, I recall a feeling of serenity. I must have persuaded myself that I had achieved something but I was not sure what it was.

I can no longer recall what caused the disagreement but I still remember the hurt, asking myself why they want my opinion, and when I voice it, I am told I impose it on them.

However, benefits from practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism came into my life even before I undertook the long hours of chanting. My scholarship to study at the Sorbonne was extended and I found work as a nanny to supplement my stipend. In the meantime, I also sent job applications like buckshot. Then in March 1991, I was hired at an international research company in Washington, DC.

I was able to go home to the Philippines to visit my family and my mother in November of 1993. Surprisingly, during the two-week period I was at her house, my mother and I did not have any arguments. By then, she was aware that I had become a Buddhist and during one conversation, she asked me to chant for my siblings. So I returned to Washington, delighted that I was seeing proof of my practice in several aspects of my life. But on February 4, 1994, my mother passed away.

I had to return home as quickly as I could. I went directly to my mother's wake where my siblings had congregated. I had not been there long when I became involved in an argument with one of my brothers. I can no longer recall what caused the disagreement but I still remember the hurt, asking myself why they want my opinion, and when I voice it, I am told I impose it on them. I wanted to take the first flight back to DC immediately but the rest of my family prevailed upon me to stay.

I certainly did not consider my mother's passing a benefit but I was able to bring my three children to the US in April 1994 now that there was no one to object. Right after that I decided I was not going to endure fights with my siblings. I had no reason to and I was happy to communicate with them via e-mail and telephone if they needed to talk to me.

Having my three children with me after 15 years of separation deluded me into thinking they were now my focus. But challenges come when they are least expected. In June of 1996, B, my oldest daughter, was in a near-fatal accident. Although in a coma for a week, she fully recovered. As a consequence, however, she was unable to work for a time. I took over the payment of her bills on top of my own while supporting all four of us. My hope to be financially secure was dimming.

Then C became depressed. I would go to work not knowing what awaited me at home at the end of the day. Several months later, she slowly recovered. Just as I thought that the worst was over, I got a phone call from my son. He was in jail for taking some computer games at his place of work. By mid-2000, just after my son's trial where he was asked to pay a fine and do community service, I became severely depressed, suicidal and had to take a leave of absence from my job.

My relationship with my practice began to weaken—I was chanting through tears but I was also asking why I was having all these difficulties. I am, however, certain that because I kept chanting I was able to get through each day. At this point, I have to say that my district supported and chanted with me. I am so indebted to all of them.

By that time it had been six years since my mother died, since my children came to the USA from the Philippines, and since I had seen my siblings. Financially, I was ready to file bankruptcy. However, I had to be responsible for the actions/decisions I had made (referred to as "causes" in my practice) so I consulted a debt counselor. A few days after agreeing to a debt repayment plan, I was asked to help out in setting up procedures for checking in coats in a new business for which I was paid. To make sure I would not be delinquent in my debt repayment plan, I quit smoking to have sufficient cash. I have not had a cigarette since April 1997.

Slowly, the anger dissipated and in its place a profound appreciation grew. I am healthy, I am involved in my practice and I have numerous opportunities to contribute to world peace...

Then in October of 2000, shortly after I came back from my leave of absence, a former colleague called. She wanted me to apply for a job at her office because she remembered that I was a reliable employee. I was warned by my colleagues that working with her may not be a good career move as she was known to be an exacting manager. I am glad I took the risk because we got along famously and I would have missed an opportunity in getting to know a wonderful human being.

In early 2002, all my financial responsibilities were settled. On July 25, 2003, the 25th anniversary of my father's passing, my youngest sister and I, bought a four-bedroom house where we now live with our respective daughters. The best experience, however, if I can call it that, was seeing my siblings again during the 2004 holidays. It had been ten years and ten months since we were together as a family. We talked, laughed and hugged. There was no friction, arguments, or bickering. For the first time in my life, I am happy to be the eldest sister in this family.

In 1989, when I started my practice, I only wanted financial security, a miniscule goal. Instead, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo permeated all aspects of my life. Slowly, the anger dissipated and in its place a profound appreciation grew. I am healthy, I am involved in my practice and I have numerous opportunities to contribute to world peace and the happiness of others through my writing, painting and traveling.

Nichiren Daishonin's Letter to Niike, p.1027 says:

For example, the journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop on the twelfth, how can you admire the moon over the capital?

So I keep chanting (walking) so that I can feel (admire the moon) my practice illuminate my life. Every time I feel cornered, I chant to find the wisdom to get me out of the corner I created. It is so easy to succumb to negative thoughts, to feelings of failure because then I do not need to take action. I have instead adopted the attitude of "I have Gohonzon, my practice; I can win!"

More than ever, I am determined to follow President Ikeda's exemplary dedication to the Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism and his effort to achieve world peace.

© Yolanda Palis

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