Cynthia King, of San Diego, overcomes deep family karma and develops a life beyond her wildest dreams.
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Cynthia! Can you describe what life was like for you growing up?
Cynthia King: I grew up in a segregated New Orleans community with whites on one side and blacks on the other, separated by railroad tracks. My father was an alcoholic, womanizer and irresponsible. We rarely saw him and when we did, he was drunk.
My mom had her 11th child when she was 29 years old, and, after giving me away for the fifth time, she committed suicide at the age of 34.
My aunt and uncle assumed full responsibility for my younger brothers and sister. At an early age, I promised myself I would never marry a man like my father. When I was 19, I met a man in college, and soon after we were married. He seemed different, and I thought we were going to have a happy life.
How did things progress?
Cynthia: I soon gave birth to our first son. He was stillborn. Because of the torment, pain and suffering I experienced, I could not return to college. At the same time, I found out that my new husband was a drug addict, alcoholic and womanizer, just like my father.
While my husband continued school, I worked. I became pregnant again but lost another son who was also born premature. Three years later, I finally gave birth to two daughters, Shawnette and R’Quoia. They were premature as well, but they lived.
When were you introduced to Nichiren Buddhism?
Cynthia: My aunt brought me to my first SGI meeting in 1976. There, I was told that I could overcome anything, change my destiny, and that my children would be happy, guaranteed. I received the Gohonzon on November 14 that same year. Feeling that this was my last chance at life, I took my practice very seriously.
What changes did you see when you began your practice?
Cynthia: In 1978, I became pregnant again. This time I was armed with the Gohonzon, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and Buddhist study. I chanted abundantly several hours each day, and studied Nichiren Daishonin and President Ikeda’s writings, reading passages to my unborn son daily. Tousant was born three months premature and weighed a little over three pounds. But he was a fighter, he was strong, and he lived.
After the birth of our son, my husband quit his job, and we became a family of five living on a single income—mine. Then, in 1987 my husband moved in with his girlfriend. We divorced, and I became a single parent making $200 per week with two teenage daughters and a young son.
How did you deal with this difficult situation?
Cynthia: My back was up against the wall. Once, I waited until my children went to bed, then took two buckets to the gas station and filled them up with water so that my kids could wash themselves the next day.
Despite everything, I was determined to raise my children in faith. When I sought guidance from seniors in faith, I was encouraged to let my children see how I practice instead of telling them how to practice. At times, they would see me openly cry in front of the Gohonzon. But they saw where to go when they have problems—to the Gohonzon.
I also decided to never disrespect my ex-husband around my children. And I made sure that they were connected with local youth leaders who would visit them. I was determined that each child would have their own experiences in faith.
I woke up every day at 3:45 a.m. to chant before work, and, in the evenings, I supported district activities. As a group leader, I put my whole heart and soul into helping the members practice. As my group grew from a few members to 30 and then 40-members strong, I took on district leadership.
I communicated with my leaders on a daily basis. Day by day, I felt more hope, confidence and courage. Through helping others create value, I felt a deep sense of happiness for the first time in my life.
How did your life transform through these efforts?
Cynthia: In 1990, I was offered a job that paid considerably more than I had been making. Three years later, my salary tripled. My family moved to a great neighborhood near the beach in Long Beach, California. We could now host meetings in our fantastic home.
In 1993, I met my husband, Maurice, and we married two years later. Between the two of us, we have 5 children and 18 grandchildren.
Congratulations! You mentioned that 1992 was an impactful year. Can you talk about that?
Cynthia: In 1992, the Los Angeles riots broke out, sparked by the acquittal of four police officers, whose videotaped arrest and brutal beating of Rodney King had been widely viewed by the public.
The events deeply affected me. As a single parent raising a young black man, I was thrown into anguish thinking, What kind of society am I raising my son in? I prayed and poured my heart into a letter to SGI President Ikeda. He responded right away, telling me that he is always supporting me with prayer. Deciding to use faith to transform poison into medicine, I threw myself into prayer and study.
I began studying President Ikeda’s Harvard University speech “The Age of Soft Power” (see September 2016 Living Buddhism, pp. 10–19). In this speech, he assures us that any change based on force and violence will only cause more misery. Cowardice is contagious, but so is courage.
He also says:
From the Buddhist perspective, it is impossible to build personal happiness on the suffering of others. Such situations sometimes require painful reflection and forbearance. But through that pain, one can strengthen and discipline the internal workings of the conscience . . . Our society today urgently needs the kind of inwardly directed spirituality to strengthen self-control and restraint. It is a quality that deepens our respect for the dignity of life. (September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 19)
How did you put this into practice?
Cynthia: It was during this intense time that I began to develop my relationship with President Ikeda as my mentor. I was part of the Sophia Group, a women’s division study group centered on study of President Ikeda’s novelized series The New Human Revolution. As I got to know who he is as a person, I was also able to have deep discussions with many other women who were going through painful times just like me.
I was experiencing a lot of challenges with Tousant, who had gotten into drugs and partying. Studying President Ikeda’s writings, I knew the change would have to come from me. Before every serious conversation with Tousant, I first chanted to reach his heart. When we spoke, he would express, with tears in his eyes, how moved he was.
Having a mentor in life is like having the answer to every question or every doubt that you’ve ever had. I can always pick up the publications and find the answer to my struggles. Armed with this, I determined that through my prayer, my son would transform the fundamental darkness in his life.
How did things work out?
Cynthia: Tousant transformed his life. He got a job and went on to have two daughters and a wonderful family of his own. One day in 2006, we went to lunch and had such a great dialogue. He said, “Mom, all I want is for you to be proud of me.” I was so appreciative of everything we went through together.
A few weeks later, he was killed by gun violence. He was on the way to pick up his daughters and stopped to get gas. As he backed out of the pumping station, he tapped another car and got out to say sorry. The people in the car were gang members who opened fire on him.
We’re very sorry for your loss. What helped you through this extremely difficult time?
Cynthia: The grief was indescribable. All I could do as tears poured down my face was chant in front of the Gohonzon. It took me six months to write a letter to President Ikeda. He responded, saying: “Thank you very much for your letter. I am praying in memory of your son. I am also chanting for you and your husband’s good health, peace and security.”
I vowed that only by living for kosen-rufu would my son’s life continue and determined that his death would never be in vain. I decided to give my all to support the youth. I opened my home for youth meetings and worked behind the scenes to support youth activities. This is my lifelong vow on behalf of my son.
Thank you for sharing this. How have you and your family been able to heal from this?
Cynthia: We have found solace through our faith in Nichiren Buddhism.
My two daughters are happily married. In 2014, two of my grandchildren received the Gohonzon. And today, five generations of my family practice Nichiren Buddhism.
In May 2015, my ex-husband passed away. I can say that I have so much gratitude for him. He gave me opportunities to grow and polish my life to the extent that I otherwise would not have had.
Today, Maurice and I live a life beyond our wildest dreams. Every morning, he wakes up early to cook us breakfast. And when I go to SGI activities, he makes sure that there is gas in my car and dinner on the table when I return home. When it rains, he waits outside with an umbrella to walk me from my car. I know why he supports me so diligently: It’s because of my commitment to help people become happy. And I am committed to changing myself. I know that all the actions I take on behalf of the SGI and the members’ happiness also all become causes for my victory.
Do you have any determinations toward 2018 and the gathering of 50,000 youth?
Cynthia: Yes! I’ll be the one driving the bus to take the youth to the gathering!
I would like to set an example for the youth and for my family, by living the best possible life and fulfilling my mission with Sensei every day. As a chapter women’s leader, this means helping each district win, visiting the members, maintaining great communication and helping members receive personal guidance to resolve all issues that may come up. And of course, to approach everything with abundant prayer!
We have the most amazing youth, and our organization is the hope for humanity. It just takes one individual to change the world. And with the gathering in 2018, there will be 50,000 individuals who will transform the world into a more dignified, respectful and peaceful world—a world that we all deserve.