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Friday, March 8, 2013

From Sleeping in the street to donating a kaikan

[Excerpted from the August, 2000, Living Buddhism, pp. 36-38]
Chieko Yamashita was married after WWII. Her husband failed in business and became obsessed with drinking and gambling.
Her family of four had no place to live, but were given shelter in the corner of a friend's kitchen. During the day, they would stay in a small park, with her infant child crawling around on the ground.
With help they were able to find a tiny one-room apartment; but they were still destitute.
To make dinner, she would go out with two ten-yen coins and buy sardines and spinach. She searched the streets of the outdoor market for dropped coins.
At one point, she had to leave her husband and children. The children were put into childcare. Overcome with anguish at the thought of this, she decided to gather her children and return to her husband. What followed were days of living in fear of physical abuse.
Ms. Yamashita joined the Soka Gakkai in 1965. At the time her husband was unemployed and she was supporting him by selling insurance door-to-door. Her husband also joined, but it was in name only. He would go to great lengths to keep his wife from practicing.
Each night he would beat her and demand that she quit the SGI. On one occasion he destroyed her altar with an ax, doused the wood with kerosene and set it on fire.  She ran out of the house barefoot, clutching the Gohonzon to her chest. She spent the night locked outdoors chanting daimoku until dawn.
Eventually her husband found work. But he was reckless with money and they continued to live in poverty.
Throughout this time, Mrs. Yamashita scrimped and saved with the dream of one day having a house. When she had saved four million yen, she showed her savings passbook to her husband. He snatched it away. When she located it two days later, her account had a balance of zero. He had lost it all at the race track.
A senior in faith told her that she must take ultimate responsibility for her happiness. She was told "Unless you change, you will not be able to accumulate good fortune."
When she heard this, she made up her mind not to give up. She said
"The Daishonin says, 'Buddhism is like the body, and society like the shadow. When the body bends, so does the shadow' (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 1039). I determined to stop swinging between joy and sorrow because of the chaos in my life and to stop complaining about what my husband was or wasn't doing. I decided since this was my karma, I would take responsibility for overcoming it. I realized it was not about anyone else; everything depended on my life condition. I gained a profound conviction in the principle of oneness of life and environment."
Mrs. Yamashita exerted herself wholeheartedly in Gakkai activities. In the process, she was unexpectedly approached about managing some land in front of the train station. In the seventh year of her practice (1972), she was able to open her bicycle parking lot. More than anything else, her attitude began to change. She came to have sympathy for her husband. She came to view her husband as a "good friend' for enabling her to deepen her faith.
She explains, 
"It's amazing. As soon as my resentment toward my husband turned into appreciation, he suddenly lost his infatuation with gambling. And he began to pray to the Gohonzon. For the first time we became a true married couple, able to talk openly and honestly about anything. Through all the negative and positive experiences, my husband taught me about faith. I have grown into a person who can feel incredible appreciation, knowing that I owe everything to the terrible hardship I experienced."  
In addition to transforming her state of life, Mrs. Yamashita has transformed her financial fortune and she was able to realize her longstanding dream of building a private community center.  Daisaku Ikeda gave the center the name "Yamashita Glory Community Center." When she received Mr. Ikeda's calligraphy of these words, she took the characters for community center to mean "Treasure House." 
Although she is the president of a company that operates a bicycle parking lot of approximately 4,000 yards, when asked what she does she says, "I'm just the bicycle lot grandma." 

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