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Life Stories

Inner Dawn

Through mutually inspiring relations, I awaken my greater self. I’m Lynn Frazier from Los Angeles.

Lynn Fraizer in Los Angeles, November 2022. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

Living Buddhism: In Ikeda Sensei’s poem “The Sun of Jiyu Over a New Land,” he describes his impressions of the civil unrest that followed the Rodney King verdict in April 1992. As a youth raised in Los Angeles, what were your feelings then?

Lynn Frazier: I was stunned. In my community in south L.A., abuses of police authority were not uncommon, but in this instance, extreme abuse had been caught on camera and televised to the world. There was so much media attention given to this particular case that I began to hope for and even expect justice. When the verdict came, word flew from the breakroom at work, where my co-workers were listening to the news live. I remember feeling such painful frustration. Across the city, anger boiled over and within a few hours, the unrest broke out. As reports of fire starting and looting came in from locations not far from my work, our managers sent us home.

Driving home, I thought of my younger sister, Lucky, nine months pregnant, who would soon be making the drive home through this city that had been turned on its head.

Your thoughts went right away to your sister and unborn nephew.

Lynn: Yes. Our mother raised Lucky and I on her own. As the older sister in a home without a father, I’d always felt protective of Lucky, and only more so as her due date drew near. At 21, however, my concerns revolved around me. I wanted the trendiest clothes, to be at the most happening clubs, with the most popular crowds. I was someone who went wherever the wind blew, easily influenced by my environment. This began to change when our mother started practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI in 1988, and I saw in just a few days how she’d begun to change. In the wake of her divorce with my father, many of her former friends disappeared; it was just the three of us. But once she got involved in the SGI community, there seemed to always be someone calling, visiting, encouraging her. Her life and ours were made so much fuller.

Driving home the day the unrest broke out, my sole thought was for the safety of my sister. When I got home, I sat before the Gohonzon and chanted. As I did, calls came in from close friends around the city.

What were your friends experiencing?

Lynn: Anger and frustration. A few asked me to join them, but frankly, I sensed as soon I picked up the phone that they were acting out of either anger or opportunism, or a mixture of both. “Come on, let’s show them!” one said, while another bubbled, “Let’s go get free stuff!” In my three years of Buddhist practice, I had never felt so appreciative of the Gohonzon, which anchored me in the storm raging through L.A. I chanted single-mindedly that my sister would get home safely and that a deep and lasting peace would be realized in our city. When she did make it home a few hours later, I remember feeling this sense of certainty and wonder: She made it back. She’s OK. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo really works. I felt in that moment, for the first time, deep conviction in the power of daimoku.

Lucky came home safe and your nephew, Chai, was born healthy just a week later. But what about your prayer for meaningful change?

Lynn: There had been all this commotion. Promises were made and some changes were affected, but overall, I did not feel deep change resonating from the political sphere. When things died down, it felt like things returned to the way they were. And yet, leading up to Chai’s birth, I actually felt more hopeful. The reason, I’m sure, is how much I was chanting.

Lucky and I were on our own. After our mother moved out of our childhood home in 1991, my sister and I moved in there together. It would be just the two of us co-parenting my baby nephew. In a world that seemed undecided about whether or not it would respect his life, I decided that his best chance lay in me beginning to respect my own.

What a powerful realization. Sensei arrived in the U.S. in January 1993 and presented “Sun of Jiyu.” Did the poem spark further realizations for you?

Lynn: Yes. Like so many who heard the poem, I was deeply touched. In several stanzas, Sensei describes his visceral response to the images of L.A. broadcast around the world the year prior. The following struck me deeply.

Nor can I ever forget
the spring of 1992—
even now my heart is rent with pain
when I recall how the
tragic news of the civil unrest in Los Angeles
raced around the world.

Heartrending images
of the evening sky shrouded in black smoke,
of buildings collapsing in flames,
once peaceful streets shattered by riot,
the entire city gripped
by a battlefield tension.
People standing lost in confusion,
a woman holding an infant cried out
—What has become of the ideals of this country?
What are we supposed to teach our children?—
Her woe-filled words tore
like talons at my heart.

I received continuous reports,
extended prompt relief.
And, putting everything aside,
I sat before the Gohonzon and
single-mindedly prayed—
for the safety of my treasured friends,
for the immediate restoration of order,
for a world without violence and discrimination.

Hearing these stanzas for the first time, I remember thinking, How did he know?  I’d been alone the afternoon of the unrest, alone chanting to the Gohonzon. But reading Sensei’s words, it was as though he’d been there with me. It was then, on first hearing this poem that I felt deep within my life that Ikeda Sensei was my mentor in life.

Raising Chai with your sister, what did you teach him?

Lynn: I raised my nephew with my sister until he was 7, when Lucky married and moved in with her husband. Until that time and after, Chai was raised in the garden of Soka. We taught him to value his own life and respect the dignity of others. He doesn’t practice Buddhism, but has absolutely benefited from our efforts in faith. Watching him grow into the person he is today—capable, kind, intelligent—has taught me to appreciate the hardship surrounding his birth. There is significance in everything. Looking back, it was my Buddhist practice that allowed me to muster hope for Chai’s life to have value. When obstacles arise, Buddhists rejoice because we can transform suffering into a hopeful future. This is what Chai demonstrated for me.

Has the poem’s significance changed for you over time?

Lynn: Definitely. For me, the initial takeaway from the poem was that Sensei understood my heart; that he was someone I could trust. Over the years, other parts of the poem have resonated more and more deeply. For instance:

People can only live fully
by helping others to live.
When you give life to friends,
you truly live. …

Now is the time for you to realize
that through relations
mutually inspiring and harmonious,
the greater self is awakened to dynamic action,
the bonds of life are restored and healed.

In 1994, I accepted young women’s district leadership in the SGI. I didn’t know fully what this would entail, but because I felt a deep sense of responsbility to respond to Sensei, I took it on. In leadership, I was asked to care for many others, to get to know them, to understand what it was they were going through and learn how to encourage them to fight toward their dreams. I struggled many times—it’s not easy to reach out to those who may be suffering. There were times when I’d call a young woman and she wouldn’t answer; other times when she’d tell me flat out that she didn’t want to talk to me. Little by little, though, I developed harmonious relationships with the young women. If someone hung up on me, I was not so quick to dwell on what I may have done wrong. Instead, I was more prone to ponder what the other person might be going through that was causing them to shut down or lash out. I found that the harmonious relationships I built were, indeed, “mutually inspiring.” We inspired each other to grow.

Gradually, I accepted greater leadership responsibility. Lucky tells me that it was the changes that she saw me undergo as I practiced with the SGI that prompted her to sit down beside me one day as I was chanting and say, “OK, I’m ready to learn gongyo.” Eventually, she, too, took on leadership, which was so inspiring! By this time, she had four children, was managing the home with her husband and a full time career!

By practicing together, we deepened our trust in each other and in ourselves. We became resilient people and parents. As Sensei says in the poem, People can only live fully by helping others to live. By building bonds with these young women, restoring them when they were fraught, never giving up on anyone, I began to reflect on the bonds in my own life, in my family, in particular, that needed to heal.

How so?

Lynn: Our father was sporadically in our lives when we were young but then left for good to Thailand, his home country, when I was 7. Since then, I had always felt, Why had he left; how could he? As I began to practice Buddhism, I began to recognize this anger and resentment manifesting in my romantic relationships. It was only through repeatedly opening my life to the young women who I was supporting in SGI leadership that I began to envision opening my life to my father, without the expectation that he would do the same. This was a years’ long process, but eventually I was able to do so. Today, I have a great relationship with my father, my mother, my sister and my husband, K.C. At the heart of all of these is the relationship I have with my mentor.

The realization of true, lasting peace for our immediate community and the world will take time. But I feel deep conviction that its foundation has been laid in the depths of my life, in the life of my harmonious family and SGI community. I feel convinced, as Sensei says, that these mutually inspiring and harmonious relations awaken the greater self. This inner dawning of the greater self, together with my mentor, doubtless heralds a new day, in which the sun of jiyu rises over a new land.

(L-r) Lynn with her husband, K.C., dog, Nanjo and family members in Los Angeles, November 2022. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

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