Skip to main content

Life Stories

The Answer in My Daimoku

Buddhism opens my life to a love transcending time.

Photo by Yvonne Ng.

by Barbara Efnor
Los Angeles

I waited expectantly, fuming, for an answer to my question, one of the first I ever put to an SGI leader. I remember the intense, contemplative look on the gentleman’s face as he waited for me to go on. When I didn’t, he cleared his throat. “Erm, why what?”

“Why am I so tall, why are my feet so big?”

He nodded, thinking. “Perhaps,” he ventured, “was your father tall?”

 “Ugh, that’s not what I mean!” I shouted. “I mean why do I feel this way?”

“Ah! Well, the fact that you have this question means that your life contains the answer. Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the answer will arise, not from someone else, but from your own life.”

This was in the summer of 1967. I’d stumbled on my first Buddhist meeting just a few weeks earlier, on a sunny day in mid-June, with my friend Steve. We’d been driving through a suburb on his little Honda 90 motorbike, when we passed the strangest scene. “Would you look at that,” I muttered. 

“What’s up?” 

“Oil and water, look.”

Across the street, businessmen and hippies, two sorts that, as far as I knew, never mixed, were mixing, jostling through the same front door of a house. A perfect mystery.

“Hey, what’s going on here?” Steve called.

Someone on the curb replied: “A meeting for the Value-Creation Society!” 

“Oh god,” I said. But not Steve. “They seem happy. Let’s check it out.” 

Inside, everyone was chanting to a grapefruit. Or at least it looked that way to me; I sat behind Steve, in such a far corner of the room that I couldn’t see that there was a mandala enshrined within the altar at the front and that the grapefruit was simply an offering for the ceremony. When the daimoku concluded, the person leading turned around and called, “Who wants to try?”

I wasn’t particularly hungry, and thought the whole thing was cuckoo, besides. Not Steve, whose hand shot straight into the air. 

“No!” I hissed. “I’ll buy you a whole bag of grapefruit!”

He looked confused; apparently, from where he sat he could see that we’d been chanting to a mandala.  

“What about you?” someone asked me. 

Looking back, I can say that “pessimist” comes closest to describing me at that time. Back then, though, I prided myself on the term “realist.” I straightened my back.

“You want me to chant words I don’t understand and expect my life to change?” 

Steve had none of my hang-ups; he jumped in with both feet. Dragging mine, I growled that I’d try chanting for 100 days, prove to Steve and all the rest what bologna it was, and quit. But actually, within a month, my co-workers were pestering me about who it was that had me so smitten with life, convinced I’d fallen in love. 

“Nobody!” I fumed, and meant it. No, truth be told it was the daimoku; it was opening up my life in mysterious ways. I found that I was less quick to judge what I didn’t immediately understand. Things that I had always judged about myself—my long legs and huge feet among them—I judged less. I began to suspect that, in the grand scheme of things, they really didn’t loom so large after all. As I continued coming to Buddhist meetings, I felt my life begin to open to new feelings, one of them being a sense of deep connection with Steve. One day, riding the 90 around town, he brought us to a stop at an intersection. “I think I love you,” I said. The words just came flying from my mouth. Steve didn’t say anything, but after that our conversations grew longer, more serious. 

A feeling, fleeting but certain, coursed through me: I’ve known this person for lifetimes.

In November 1967, five months after our first SGI meeting, we were married. Chanting daimoku during the ceremony, a feeling, fleeting but certain, coursed through me: I’ve known this person for lifetimes. Barbara the realist would have scoffed, but I’d begun to accept that life held certain mysteries that were beyond the power of hardheaded reasoning to explain. But life would soon pose a question that seemed to have no answer, that seemed bent on destroying me. 

In 1987, Steve was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He battled the illness for over a decade before taking his life in 1998. I’d lost my best friend and husband. What’s more, we’d just purchased the home we’d rented for 11 years, and I had no way to pay the mortgage on my own. I wanted to crawl under a rock and never come out, but is this what my mentor would do? 

Daimoku was like oxygen for me then. The Gohonzon room that Steve and I had opened for years to the members filled up, wall to wall with those sending daimoku to him and our family. I looked around at the faces of these people, this family, with whom Steve and I had shared so much of our lives, who had shared so much of their lives with us. 

What has brought us together now and over all these years? I thought. And I didn’t have to answer, not with words. The answer was in my daimoku and my daimoku told me: You’ll be with each other again and again and again

Looking around me today, I see my beautiful, exceptional children and grandchildren. I look at the work that I do and that I love. I am whole again.

My granddaughter just began practicing Buddhism wholeheartedly. She asks better questions than I did at her age. 

“Grammy, life throws things at you but never knocks you down. How do you do it?” Choosing my words carefully, I told her, “Honey, I chant daimoku!”

As for the young, realist Barbara, interrogating SGI leaders about the size of her feet, I’d answer her question by saying, with deep joy and conviction, “So that you can overcome your suffering and encourage others.”

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

Barbara Efnor: Don’t quit. Many times I struggled to chant daimoku, to go to meetings, to see eye to eye with certain people in the organization. That’s only human. But I never gave up. As Nichiren says, “A blue fly, if it clings to the tail of a thoroughbred horse, can travel ten thousand miles” (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching,”The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 17). Faith is my “thoroughbred horse.”

Read more