Bessie Kay 01-001Forty years ago, I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism. I was 50 years old at the time. I hadn’t experienced any dramatic suffering, but I was nonetheless plagued by basic questions regarding life. I wondered, for instance, why some people were born into harsh circumstances and why people had to suffer, in general. I was also concerned with what awaited me after death. Ultimately, I was seeking a resolution to what we refer to in Buddhism as the “four sufferings.” 1

One day in 1969, my older son, Paul II, was out with friends when two lovely young ladies invited them to a Buddhist meeting. Intrigued by the attractive young women more than with an Eastern religion, Paul II attended the meeting.

Soon after, Paul II received the Gohonzon and became a dedicated SGI-USA member. Whenever he came to our home, he would give us a copy of the World Tribune and encourage the family to try chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Quite honestly, my husband and I thought Paul II was losing his mind. Nevertheless, Paul II convinced our younger son, Phillip, and daughter, Mimi, to begin practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI-USA.

Whenever I read the World Tribune, I would learn things about myself and about life in general that just made sense. Ultimately, the concept of karma resolved my questions about life and death, and I decided to receive the Gohonzon in 1973.

I really enjoyed participating in my district discussion meetings; my kids were grown, and I didn’t want to sit at home watching TV. I liked SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement that “there is no such thing as ‘retiring’ in life. This is all the more true in the world of faith” (June 13, 2003, World Tribune, p. 3). My husband, Paul, on the other hand, was not happy with my Buddhist practice.

But I pressed on and kept chanting. Everything changed in 1978 when Paul realized he would need to undergo a serious procedure and possibly a heart transplant. I chanted to find a surgeon who could save my husband’s life. Soon after, I found a doctor at Stanford University who is now recognized for his work pioneering heart surgery. After discussing the situation with this doctor, we decided Paul should receive triple bypass surgery.
During this time of uncertainty, Paul was determined to make every possible effort to stay alive. He decided to become an SGI member. He even started to sit next to me when I chanted.

Paul’s determination to survive grew stronger and stronger, and as a result, his surgery was a total success. From this experience, he really warmed up to our Buddhist practice and would even chant and do gongyo with me from time to time. As a result, Paul extended his life by 13 years. He died peacefully in 1991.

The questions about life and death that had plagued me early on came into sharper focus when my son Paul II began his battle with cancer of the neck. I was devastated. As the cancer spread through his neck, throat and upper body, he slowly lost his ability to speak.

Paul II loved to chant. In the moments when he struggled to voice Nam-myohorenge-kyo, I would sit with him and chant on his behalf. Paul II also loved to share Buddhism with others. So when he couldn’t talk, I started sharing Buddhism every day on his behalf.

While the cancer spread quickly, Paul II’s spirit was indomitable. He passed away peacefully in 1994, supported by many local SGI-USA members and friends.

In The New Human Revolution, President Ikeda shares the story of a dedicated member of the Gajokai (a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group), who dies in his 20s. Just as was the case with Paul II, this young man fought to the very end.

President Ikeda writes: “The value of one’s life is not necessarily decided by its length. Through dedicating oneself to the noble purpose of kosenrufu, one’s life comes to shine” (vol. 24, p. 96). This was definitely Paul II.

Of course, as a mother, losing Paul II was extremely painful. I knew, however, that my only option was to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, read SGI President Ikeda’s guidance and press forward. The incredible strength I summoned within my life could only be explained by my Buddhist practice.

Through losing my husband and elder son, I learned that no one can avoid the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. I also learned not to let those sufferings defeat me. I persevered in faith, sharing Buddhism with others because it was the most selfless thing I could do, and it relieved my pain.

This past spring, my daughter and I went to Arizona and visited Paul II’s widow, Donna. She is a district women’s leader. It was so wonderful to see her; there is no sadness left.

Today, I have complete conviction in Nichiren Daishonin’s words: “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412.)

Through maintaining a consistent Buddhist practice, I have been greatly protected. In early 2012, shortly after my 88th birthday, I fell down my basement stairs. When I’m at home, I never carry my cellphone with me. For some reason, while on the floor after the fall, I noticed my cellphone right in front of my hand!

It must have been in my pocket and fallen out to the perfect spot where I could grab it. I was able to immediately call for help, even though I couldn’t get up. My only injury was a broken wrist, and I came out of the hospital with flying colors!
As I approached the end of my eighth decade of life, I began chanting to share this hope-filled practice with young people. Recently, a young man named Vincent rented out my basement. He is a pleasant young man, and I chanted to teach him about Nichiren Buddhism.

Because we hold district discussion meetings in our home, Vincent would hear the members chanting and joyfully participating in the discussions. I invited him to join us, and he eventually began to participate. The two of us then started to chant together whenever he was available. After witnessing clear proof in his daily life, Vincent decided to receive the Gohonzon on August 2, 2013!

One dream I hold dear to my heart is to one day be reunited with my beloved husband, Paul, and elder son, Paul II, so that we can once again strive together for kosen-rufu.

I am proud to say that I feel like a youth at heart. Several days a week, I drive myself to water aerobics! I am determined to keep myself healthy and active so that I can continue spreading the Mystic Law to as many people as possible, together with my mentor, President Ikeda.

1. The four universal sufferings: birth, aging, sickness and death. Various sutras describe Shakyamuni’s quest for enlightenment as motivated by a desire to find a solution to these four sufferings.