Living Buddhism: Thank you for meeting with us, Barbie. Can you tell us a little about your upbringing?
Barbie Traynor: My parents divorced when I was very young, and my mother did everything she could to keep us afloat. It was not easy. We moved constantly and scraped by day after day. I was left feeling that I didn’t deserve certain things, including a life of financial stability.
When I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism in 1994, I made the goal to completely transform my life, including my financial karma. I was taught early on that making heartfelt financial offerings to support our kosen-rufu movement was an essential part of my Buddhist practice that would enable me to develop indestructible fortune for my family and myself.
Can you describe some of your experiences on this journey?
Barbie: On the surface, my husband and I did all the right things to be financially successful, including getting a higher education and going into the IT industry. But in 2001, my husband was laid off suddenly, and I became the sole breadwinner for our family. Although I worked in IT at a local hospital, my husband struggled to find meaningful employment for the next several years, despite his best efforts. As we struggled to make ends meet with two young children, our household became locked in a state of constant tension. In addition, our older son needed specialized therapy that was expensive and not covered by insurance.
I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo deeply to develop a harmonious family and to achieve financial freedom from our debts and the constant stress of living paycheck to paycheck. As the IT sector collapsed, my husband and a former colleague started a dry-cleaning business, but it produced virtually no income for us.
In 2007, I decided to make every cause possible to turn our situation around. Buddhism teaches that benefit comes from appreciation. And although our circumstances were far from ideal, I knew how much our family had been protected during our difficulties because of my Buddhist practice. My husband is not an SGI member but is very supportive of my practice. I told him that May was a time to set a goal for our family and that taking part in the May Commemorative Contribution activity was a powerful cause toward our happiness. He simply responded, “OK, I get it.” I am so appreciative of his unconditional love and support.
What happened after you made this shared determination?
Barbie: Well, it’s as if we got on a roller coaster of challenges and victories, which led us to deeply transform our family karma. That same year, my husband sold his dry-cleaning business at a price beyond our imagination. And while we were celebrating this news, we learned that we owed the IRS nearly $60,000! With my humble income, the figure seemed overwhelming, and we were on the precipice of being completely broken financially. I chanted, studied Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and connected with the members more than ever. One passage from Nichiren shook me to the core:
You must be firmly resolved. Do not begrudge your fief; do not think of your wife and children. And do not depend on others. You must simply make up your mind. Look at the world this year as a mirror. The reason that you have survived until now when so many have died was so that you would meet with this affair. This is where you will cross the Uji river. This is where you will ford the Seta. This will determine whether you win honor or disgrace your name. This is what is meant when it is said that it is difficult to be born as a human being, and that it is difficult to believe in the Lotus Sutra. You should pray intently that Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the Buddhas of the ten directions will all gather and take possession of your body to assist you. (“Reply to Yasaburo,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 829)
I felt as if Nichiren were telling me: It’s up to you to be victorious! Decide now to win no matter what! Over the next 10 months, my husband and I went back and forth over how we got into this situation, arguing about the best way to deal with the debt. The tension between us became so severe that I took our kids to a friend’s house each weekend to have time apart.
I felt as if Nichiren were telling me: It’s up to you to be victorious! Decide now to win no matter what!
What was your turning point?
Barbie: When the May Contribution activity came around the following year, in 2008, I determined to do my best to both participate and encourage other members as well to make a profound cause for their happiness. I also decided that by the end of the campaign, my family would successfully resolve our IRS debt. In April, we found the right attorney, and in June, he helped to reduce our debt tenfold.
Since this time, May Contribution has become the way my husband contributes to the SGI and my Buddhist practice. He had a stable job at a small company. Then, in 2011, he obtained a job with a 90% increase in salary. At the end of that same year, I was also offered a new job with a 50% salary increase. Within the next two years, we completely erased our debt. Since 2013, we have remained debt free and have purchased a wonderful home that we open for SGI activities.
That is fantastic. Congratulations! We understand your family has successfully navigated some other difficult challenges in recent years.
Barbie: Yes. In 2015, I was diagnosed with uterine polyps, which caused such severe blood loss that many days I couldn’t stand. My husband and I decided once again to have a family breakthrough using the May Contribution activity as our cause for victory. Upon reflection, we realized that we had not really challenged ourselves since our financial victories several years prior, and we decided to create a tradition by increasing our goal by 10% each year. In the process of challenging a new goal, I secured first-class medical care, and I underwent a successful surgery and fully recovered from my condition.
Through participating in contribution, I’ve developed confidence in my mission for kosen-rufu, which has dispelled any feelings of being unworthy or undeserving of financial stability and happiness. I feel deep down that I am repaying my debt of gratitude to Nichiren Daishonin and the three founding presidents of the Soka Gakkai for spreading this Buddhism throughout the world. I’ve come to internalize this passage from Nichiren’s writings: “Fortune comes from one’s heart and makes one worthy of respect” (“New Year’s Gosho,” WND-1, 1137).
What are some of your goals for the future?
Barbie: Over the past two years, I’ve started to feel a calling for education. In 2019, the high school both my children attended had a school shooting. Fortunately, neither of them was physically harmed, even though one of them was only 50 feet from the gunfire. They were both protected by teachers and family friends during the shooting. While waiting to reunite with my children, I reached out to other parents and did my best to encourage them by passing out water and hugging complete strangers to provide them comfort. This event has changed us as a family, and over the course of these two years, we have become closer and even more harmonious.
In 2020, I was accepted to DePaul University for the Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship master’s program. Throughout the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been striving to embody these words from Ikeda Sensei:
Hope … is a decision. It is the most important decision we can make. Hope changes everything, starting with our lives. Hope is the force that enables us to take action to make our dreams come true. It has the power to change winter into summer, barrenness to creativity, agony to joy. As long as we have hope, there is nothing we cannot achieve.” (Hope Is a Decision, p. 5)
I’m determined to create an environment of respect, healing and value creation through education. I also want to show my children that, regardless of your age or circumstances, you can make your dreams a reality. Toward 2030, I look forward to continuing my financial sponsorship of the SGI-USA, and, in doing so, expand our network of hope. Also, since August 2020, I have been chanting to share Buddhism with three people each week, and I vow to continue this effort. My mother began chanting in October 2020. She is now receiving publications and joining meetings through Zoom from the small town where she lives in Texas. I will do my best to repay my debt of gratitude to Sensei, all the SGI members who have supported me and my wonderful husband and kids.