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Stepping Into the Eye of the Storm

October

Featured in the October issue of SOKA magazine 

We all have challenges and sufferings as we go through life, and sometimes these experiences are life-changing. My experience is about one of those life-changing moments.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1974 by a close friend with whom I had gone to school. After attending my first Buddhist meeting, I decided to give it a three month try. What made more sense than anything and really anchored me to this philosophy was reading SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s lectures on the Ten Worlds[1], life and death, and much more. What he had to say is what I also believed to be true. It made sense, and at last I had found something that I didn’t even know I was looking for until I actually found it.

I told my parents about my Buddhist practice and asked if I could enshrine the Gohonzon in my bedroom. They agreed, as they noticed something very positive happening in my life. My parents were very supportive of my practice and my dad helped me build an altar for the Gohonzon even though he had no idea what I was talking about or how to build one. But together, we created the perfect one for me.  

In 1983, I married and had two children. My mother-in-law moved in with us. I was busy working, while participating in Buddhist activities and family activities. Then something started to change. My husband began disappearing, and so did the money in our joint account. I will never forget that day in September 1999 when I was going to pay for groceries at the store and finding out there was no money in our account. I was devastated, as I had just deposited my cheque into the bank.

My husband had encountered a new friend, and together they were both into drugs and cashing bogus cheques through our account. I had seen money go missing before, but it was little bits here and there, and he always had an excuse for what it was used for.  

A storm was brewing and I could feel it. I knew the year 2000 was going to be challenging. I started to chant more, because I knew I had to prepare for what I had no idea was to come.    

It was barely the first minute into the year 2000 and the challenges began. We received a threatening phone call against my son’s life. If there was anyone in the world that shouldn’t have an enemy, it would be my son. He was an athlete, and a mentor and teacher to younger children in the BMX community. All he thought about was riding his bike. He never touched alcohol or drugs.

Three days later was my birthday. We went out for dinner and came back to a ransacked house. We had been broken into. My son’s expensive bikes were gone, along with other household items. I witnessed my son’s life sink and disappear before me, and in seeing this, I felt my life empty too. It is so hard to witness the suffering of your children. Fortunately, even though the insurance company rarely covers high-end bikes, they covered his and much more. The only room left untouched was the room my Gohonzon was in and my daughter’s room. She is the only other in my family to have chanted.

Shortly after, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with bone cancer. My husband began stealing from her as well. He was becoming more violent and volatile. We had no idea when he would become angry, and where the next hole in the wall would appear, or even if we would survive. With my mother-in-law being very ill, I knew that if I left my husband at this time, she wouldn’t be able to cope with everything. I chanted and waited for the right time. 

Every morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to chant for two hours before getting ready to go to work, get the kids up, and make breakfast.

Spring came and the doctor discovered a mass in my breast. My mother had eight sisters, and they all had breast cancer so this was not a surprise to me. As I heard the news, I cried. I felt like I was in the middle of a battleground. Part of me wished I was in a sanctuary of peace with no worries or concerns. But I kept chanting. I couldn’t leave as my mother-in-law needed me. I thought, “What would happen to my children if I had cancer? Who would provide for my family? What about my fellow SGI practitioners?” I picked up the writings of Nichiren Daishonin and a page opened up in my lap. It was a letter Nichiren wrote called, “A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering.” As I read it, I was encouraged to chant not just about my family, but for my fellow SGI practitioners too. Suddenly there were no more tears.

With every daimoku,[2] I felt I was pushing against a fierce wind. I thought, “This is my storm; this is my karma, and I need to cross this sea of suffering. I need to get there to help others.” The harder I chanted, the stronger the wind became, till finally, it was as if I had stepped into the eye of the storm. There, everything was calm; I felt at peace, at last. I could see clearly what I had to do. It was almost like I could see the future. I just knew everything was going to be okay as long as I kept chanting and following my intuition. I asked myself, “What would have happened if I didn’t have this practice or been able to chant? Wave upon wave of joy emerged, and appreciation seemed to flow endlessly from my life. I felt so happy! I had never felt this kind of happiness before. My circumstances may have looked like a battleground, but certainly my life did not feel it. For me, it felt like spring—a moment within a moment of time while chanting. I will never forget this feeling and it has never left me.

I had my biopsy and there was no cancer. The threats toward my son stopped. My husband’s outbreaks became calmer, even though he continued to do drugs. I was able to take my first trip to the SGI Canada Caledon Centre for a conference, and experience this wonderful gift my mentor Mr. Ikeda had given us.  

In the spring of 2001, my mother-in-law died. Courage from the depths of my life emerged, or maybe it was love, but I was able to force the sale of the house, and tell my husband he could not come and live with us because he needed to get his life together first, and he could only do that on his own. By the time everything was said and done, I walked out with kids in hand and $500.00 in my pocket. We found the perfect place to live and hosted Buddhist meetings in peace. 

Now a new chapter has begun in my life. I am not a scholar at reading and understanding Nichiren’s writings, or even teaching them, but as he writes: “One who listens to even a sentence or phrase of the sutra and cherishes it deep in one’s heart may be likened to a ship that crosses the sea of the sufferings of birth and death” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 33). I crossed the sea of suffering with daimoku and the support of my SGI Family. This is definitely a wonderful ship—a ship I will keep ship-shaped and ready to sail, if ever need be again. Nichiren’s writings are about our lives, and I love listening to someone lecture on it. I may not remember everything, but surely my life does.

I don’t know how much time I have but I am determined to continue to work for kosen-rufu[3] as long as I can. In looking back, I realize that everything happens for a reason, and everything that happens is for the good of our growth. It’s all about our life condition and how we journey through our challenges. The other thing I realize is that everything I have done led me here today. I will be close to 80 by the time 2030, the 100th anniversary of the Soka Gakkai rolls around. I want to see a culture centre in Surrey. This is not just a dream or a determination; it is something that will happen and I will be there to make sure it does!

As for my husband, he died in 2010 due to an apparent heart attack. The paramedics said it looked like he died peacefully in his sleep. Fortunately, he had turned his life around before he passed away. Instead of just “taking,” he had started to “give back,” doing volunteer work and helping those who needed it. He also re-established a very good relationship with his children. My husband and I never got back together, but we became friends and allies for the happiness of our children. When I asked my children, “What do you think your dad left you? What was his legacy to you?” They answered, “Love and generosity.” What a victory we all shared, and in more ways than we ever knew.   

Marilyn Clarke lives in Surrey, British Columbia. She has two grown children, Tyler and April, and one grandchild, Collins. She is the Western Region women’s leader for SGI Canada.  

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[1] Ten Worlds: The Ten Worlds are the ten states of life: Hell, Hunger, Animality, Anger, Humanity, Heaven, Learning, Realization, Bodhisattva and Buddhahood. None of the Ten Worlds that appear in our lives at any given moment remain fixed or constant. They change instant by instant. Buddhism’s deep insight into this dynamic nature of life is expressed as the principle of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. The mutual possession of the Ten Worlds means that each of the Ten Worlds has all of the Ten Worlds inherent within it.

[2] Daimoku: Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.

[3] Kosen-rufu: Literally, it means "to widely declare and spread [the Lotus Sutra]"; to secure lasting peace and happiness for all humankind through the propogation of Nichiren Buddhism. More broudly, kosen-rufu refers to the process of establishing the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism in society. 

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