Featured Image: Photo: Max Louie.

Be the Change We Wish to See

How Jennifer K. Yoshioka found inner peace through a heart of appreciation.

by Jennifer K. Yoshioka

Photo: Max Louie.

Photo: Max Louie.

People would constantly tell me how happy and energetic I always seemed to be, but looks can be deceiving. Only a year ago, I tried to take my own life. The weight of my violent upbringing had finally taken a toll on my spirit.

My mother and father divorced when I was a baby, and I lived with a foster family until I was in fifth grade, when I moved back in with my mother. I lived a life of abuse and neglect for many years, where horrible things happened to me. At age 15, I started to use drugs to escape my pain. Three years later, my cousin was sexually assaulted and beaten so severely that she was left to die. I watched her life slip away as she was taken off life support. To honor her life, I stopped using drugs and, as soon as I graduated from high school, I moved to Maui to start over. I worked three part-time jobs and attended college, while I slept in my car or on friends’ couches.

But her death also awakened in me a desire to seek spirituality. After doing research on religions, I found that Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism resonated with me on a deep level, because it promotes nonviolence and the equality of all people’s inherent right to be happy. That same year, I received the Gohonzon.

I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to overcome my violent past and to end my family’s cycle of violence by doing my human revolution. The emotional weight of my struggles manifested as severe back pain, which eventually got so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed and started to grind my teeth at night from all the stress. While lying in bed and crying, I would chant to become the master of my mind in order to win over my body and my environment.

When my condition improved, I wholeheartedly dove into SGI activities. I visited members as a young women’s leader, became a Soka Spirit leader and joined the behind-the-scenes training group Byakuren. I also chanted, studied, sought guidance and participated in the annual May Contribution activity. I knew that all of these efforts I made for kosen-rufu were helping me get to the root of my sufferings so that I could reveal my Buddhahood.

I have come to the realization that everything starts with me taking full responsibility for my happiness.

But in the midst of this, my depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder became so bad that I attempted suicide in September 2015. When a friend reminded me of SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement about the preciousness of life, I realized that I was devaluing my own. I had taken the place of my abusers. I took to heart what Nichiren Daishonin had written in a letter, “Bail the seawater of slander and disbelief out of the ship of your life, and solidify the embankments of your faith” (The Embankments of Faith,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 626).

From that moment, I made the determination to strengthen my faith and to graduate from college. It seemed impossible, because I had many classes left to take and a year’s worth of research to conduct. However, once I chanted with the conviction that my life depended on this victory of winning over my own weakness, everything moved in the direction I needed it to. I was able to graduate this past May from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa with my baccalaureate in molecular biosciences and biotechnology, and a minor in business.

Then my prayers for a harmonious family were answered when I got a call in August that my mother was in the intensive care unit due to a stroke and bleeding in her brain. I had suffered tremendously in our relationship and hadn’t seen her in over 15 years, but because of my Buddhist practice and Sensei encouraging me to have appreciation for my parents, I always called her on Mother’s Day and her birthday to wish her well.

I summoned up my courage and went to see her in the hospital. She was awake and talking, but sometimes didn’t make sense. She kept thanking me, crying and saying positive things about me. I chanted and visited her every day for three weeks, and she is now improving bit by bit. Even though she has dementia, she remembers me, and we are able to talk and laugh together.

Sensei says: “A heart of appreciation enriches one’s life. Youth, excel at appreciating and caring for your parents! Let’s remember the debt we owe them, devoting our lives to their happiness as good sons and daughters.” (“To My Friends,” Aug. 20, 2016, Seikyo Shimbun). I can truly say that I have changed the poison of hate and anger toward my mother into the medicine of compassion that has healed my heart. I have immense gratitude for her for doing her best to raise me. I realize now with clear eyes and the wisdom of a Buddha how she herself was truly suffering.

The doctors found that she has lung cancer, liver cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis C. I am chanting that she lives and overcomes all of these health issues. As her power of attorney, I am also doing my best to ensure that my mom receives the best personal care. After trying different care homes, I have finally found one that she is happy at.

The greatest benefit I have received thus far is my intangible faith, compassion, inner peace and resolve to never give up. I have come to the realization that everything starts with me taking full responsibility for my happiness. I overcame the terror and fear in my own heart and have finally found inner peace for the first time in my life. People are seeking an ethos of peace and happiness, and I plan on introducing this humanistic, empowering practice to thousands of people around the world so that collectively, we can be the change that we wish to see in our world.

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