Ryosuke Kuroki, of New York, overcomes the grief of losing his parents by fighting for kosen-rufu in their stead.

by Ryosuke Kuroki
NEW YORK

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Can you tell us about your upbringing?

Ryosuke Kuroki: I was born in Tokyo, Japan, but when I was 3 years old, my parents divorced, and my mother and I moved to Hawaii because she wanted me to have more opportunities. Our home was on beachfront property with a large pool, tennis court and three luxury cars.

While I had every material comfort, I wasn’t happy. I was bullied at school, and I drove my friends away with my self-centered behavior. I began to detest the mansion I lived in and blamed my mother for my parents’ divorce and all my problems.

My mother eventually remarried, but having a stepfather did not fill the void I felt inside. Our circumstances took a turn for the worse when, in 1997, my grandfather’s business collapsed during the Asian financial crisis. My mother and I moved from our waterfront mansion into a two-bedroom apartment with my stepfather, who turned out to be violent. Over time, my mother and my stepfather could not settle their differences and they separated. But for me, the damage was done.

How did your mother face these hardships?

Ryo: While I didn’t appreciate her efforts to raise me amid our challenging circumstances, I knew deep down that she was a wonderful mother. Not only did she come to America for my sake without speaking English, she faced every obstacle with a quiet strength and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a lot. My mother also dragged me to many SGI meetings, which I couldn’t stand at the time, but I understood that she loved me and was fighting to transform our family. And ultimately, she is the reason I was able to grow up in the U.S.

How did your mother start practicing Buddhism?

Ryo: My mother joined the Soka Gakkai when she was a child, together with her mother, who was introduced by a friend. My grandmother embraced the practice because she was impressed by the concept of worldwide kosen-rufu—developing a peaceful world by helping many people awaken to their greatest potential through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

How did you develop your Buddhist practice?

Ryo: I moved to the East Coast to attend a boarding school in Connecticut and then a college in New Jersey. At first, I felt free from my mother’s watch, but over time my struggles caught up with me. Immediately after college, I got connected to a local SGI-USA district and began attending meetings based on my own initiative. This is when my life started to transform. I will never forget how my district men’s leader would talk to me after the meetings, asking me about my life. He made me feel like I could be completely open, and I would share my thoughts and struggles freely with him.

After our talks, I felt refreshed and energized, as if I could do anything! I eventually got a job with a major stock exchange in the corporate strategy group.

How did your life develop?

Ryo: I learned to take responsibility for my life, and I began chanting to transform my relationship with my parents. I was tired of holding on to the resentment I felt toward them. My father lived in Japan, and I visited him once a year. However, each time we parted, I was plagued with sadness. He had been diagnosed with cancer when I was 14, and every time we said our goodbyes, I felt it would be our last.

Ryosuke with his mother, Keiko, and father, Eisuke, in June 2015, Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Courtesy of Ryosuke Kuroki.
Ryosuke with his mother, Keiko, and father, Eisuke, in June 2015, Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Courtesy of Ryosuke Kuroki.

In 2015, my father’s health deteriorated. Despite my intense work schedule, I visited him in Japan six times that year in order to re-establish a relationship with him. Each time, I would go to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Shinanomachi, Tokyo, to deliver a memo to SGI President Ikeda, sharing an update on my father’s health. Each time, he replied to my memo, saying that he was chanting for my father’s health. He also continued to encourage me to do my best as a young men’s leader.

In November 2015, my father passed away peacefully in my arms as I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his ear. He happened to be in a hospital near the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu. Chanting as he took his last breath was the most beautiful experience of my life, and I let go of all the regret I harbored for not being a better son. On the day of my father’s passing, I remember feeling so moved that my efforts to establish a strong relationship with my mentor, President Ikeda, is what gave me the courage to re-establish my connection with my father.

What a moving experience. How did your life change in the process?

Ryo: I was overcome with grief after my father’s passing, and my own feelings of worthlessness intensified. My darkest moments came during the May Commemorative Contribution activity last year.

As the New York Zone young men’s leader, I was responsible for encouraging many young men to break through in their lives by challenging themselves to give financial offerings for the advancement of our world peace movement.

I was fed up with my sense of worthlessness and decided to make a cause like never before for my happiness. I gave a contribution to the SGI-USA that was beyond anything I had ever given. By challenging myself to give selflessly to such a noble cause, I glimpsed the nobility of my own life. I realized that I had been basing the value and success of my life on my bank account, not my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.

Losing my parents in close succession shook my life to the core, but Sensei’s encouragement to move forward for kosen-rufu on my mother’s behalf inspired me to decide how I want to live the rest of my life.

That day, I had a profound experience. I suddenly felt free from the fetters I had put on myself, and I had the greatest sense of fulfillment. I felt empowered to inspire the young men of New York Zone to challenge themselves to use the May Contribution activity to break through their limitations, as well. This experience helped me develop into a person who truly appreciates my life and feels great pride in living my life for kosen-rufu.

That’s wonderful! How did you improve your relationship with your mother?

Ryo: Despite my recent breakthrough, I still could not shake the deep sense of resentment I held toward my mother. Over time, I began opening up to her about the tremendous suffering I experienced due to my parent’s divorce and her marrying my stepfather. My mother’s heart was so expansive, and she apologized profusely, sharing her determination with me that she would like to be a great mother from this moment forward.

Ryosuke attends a friend’s wedding with his mother, September 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Ryosuke Kuroki.
Ryosuke attends a friend’s wedding with his mother, September 2013. Photo: Courtesy of Ryosuke Kuroki.

From then on, our relationship improved greatly, and it felt as though we were genuinely moving forward in life as mother and son. We also began exchanging text messages about our efforts to tell friends about Buddhism, which made our relationship more joyful and fun. In Hawaii, my mother was always referred to as a “shakubuku queen,” meaning she was a master of introducing others to Buddhism. She kept a notebook with 250 names of people she was having dialogue with about Buddhism. We had lively talks on the phone almost every day, where I felt I could be myself. In early November 2016, she even visited me in New York, and we created the most cherished memories together.

On November 16, 2016, shortly after my mother returned to Hawaii, I received a call from the local police that my mother had died in a helicopter crash the day before, November 15. I was in a state of shock. For the next several months, I waged a desperate, internal battle to persevere in my Buddhist practice and not give in to my grief and loneliness.

Our deepest condolences on your loss. How did you persevere during this most difficult time?

Ryo: I received tremendous support and guidance from my men’s and young men’s leaders. I immediately went to seek guidance from a senior in faith who said to me that many people in the world allow some tragic event in their lives to never let them feel whole again. But we must be the ones to show them that we can. I also sent a memo to President Ikeda about my mother’s passing and flew to Hawaii to make her funeral arrangements.

While I was in Hawaii, tremendous sadness and loneliness washed over me. Many times, I questioned whether I could become hopeful or optimistic again. During this period, I received a message from Sensei. He said:

Thank you for your letter. With high spirits, please persevere. I have chanted daimoku for your mother. I am sure you will feel lonely, but please move forward for kosen-rufu on your mother’s behalf.

This became my lifeline. When I went to my mother’s home, I opened her Buddhist altar and found applications inside from two people who wanted to receive the Gohonzon. With renewed hope, I met with my mother’s friends on her behalf and was able to help them to receive the Gohonzon!

During my last days in Hawaii, with the tremendous support of the Hawaii members, we held my mother’s memorial service, with more than 350 people in attendance. As a final ode to my mother, I joined the young men’s leaders of Hawaii in leading the audience in the song “Forever Sensei.”

I learned later that a woman my mother had introduced to the practice was so moved by this that she decided to receive the Gohonzon on New Year’s Day. A childhood friend of mine who also attended the memorial service decided to join the SGI in February and began fighting for his own happiness.

How deeply moving. What have you learned from your experiences?

Ryo: During a visit to Japan to see my mother’s family, I visited the Soka Gakkai Headquarters to deliver a letter to Sensei and gifts expressing my appreciation for his encouragement. He again replied:

Thank you for coming all the way to Japan to share your report. I have continued to chant for your mother. I have placed the fruits, flowers and paperweight gifts you brought me on the altar. Please accept my best regards. Please be well.

I felt happier, stronger and more certain about my life than ever before.

Losing my parents in close succession shook my life to the core, but Sensei’s encouragement to move forward for kosen-rufu on my mother’s behalf inspired me to decide how I want to live the rest of my life.

I have decided to become a capable person who can advance Sensei’s great movement for kosen-rufu throughout my life. I am also determined to inspire all the young men of New York Zone to make a great vow to reply to our mentor during these most crucial two years toward November 18, 2018, and our great movement to gather 50,000 youth in America!