Generously shared with us by Sandi Mather from Camden HQ
May 3rd. 2021 Camden HQ experience
In the April 19th entry of Buddhism Day by Day, Sensei says:
“Grass and trees cannot grow without soil. The ‘soil’ that fosters our growth includes our parents, seniors, teachers, or homeland, alma mater, community or company. In any case, everyone has some place where they grew up or someone who nurtured them. Human beings grow as a result of nurturing ‘soil’ in which they express their ability and make the flowers of their lives blossom, just as the spirit of the rice plant returns to the soil and the stalk sprouts to flower and bear grain once again. We should pay our debts of gratitude to this soil in which we developed. This cycle of gratitude will envelop one whole existence. Your humanity will never blossom if you seek only to develop yourself.”
Growing up as an only child in a Toronto suburb,I was surrounded by a strong family and community, including a church with choirs, youth activities and wonderful friendships which survive to this day.
I loved it and joyfully participated.
Enter University and a course in Philosophy of Religion, taught by an enigmatic Professor Peter Angeles, who opened a pandora’s box of alternative ways of thinking – much to my parents chagrin.
I couldn’t get enough of Kant, Descartes, Leibnitz, Spinoza, Shopenhauer, Dewey. I read and studied them all with great zeal.
When I left Canada in my early 20s for abroad – again to my parents great sadness- I knew that although I was and still am so proud of my Canadian heritage that I would never return permanently.
That chapter was finished.
Living in the UK, I continued my journey of discovery, investigating other religions- Judaism, Unitarianism, spiritualism, astrology – of course! and a plethora of self-help gurus – Susan Jeffers, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra.
I was searching for that missing piece, yet when Nichiren Buddhism appeared, I was incredibly sceptical!
At my first big NSUK event , as it was then, I was so suspicious of all of the happy smiling faces and when one of the members – Cathy West – subsequently visited me at home and invited me to chant with her – which I did reluctantly to humour her- for 5 minutes – I imagined that she must have a sad little life to be so excited about it. She gave me a little blue book – gongyo – which I glanced at, then put aside!
Fast forward and Margie Finchell, whom I already knew through macrobiotics took me on. Her ichinen was very strong and when my dear father in Canada died, I was lost in grief in a long dark tunnel with no light at the end.
What did I have to lose? Nothing else had worked.
I started to practise with the same commitment as I had with everything else, even though with great resentment at the beginning
and no belief or faith in it. (It was 4 years later that I realized i had experienced a profound experience of the eternity of life.)
Having taught and studied English, phonetics and a number of other languages, I was going to make a proper job of it, if I was going to do it at all.
Training was strict and rigorous. Gongyo was long – 5 and 3 prayers morning and evening respectively. There were no tapes, emails or mobiles so we had to teach ourselves or slowly with another practitioner who had the patience to teach us. Meetings always started and finished dead on time. daily guidance and monthly schedules arrived in the post and phone.
As hard as this sounds, it was superb training, not only for our Buddhist practice, but for our daily lives as well. We had no time to waste, so we learnt to prioritize and focus. And we grew quickly!
Monthly kosenrufu meetings from 9.30am-1pm at the other side of London meant that I was up for hours beforehand, preparing tiny children who had to come with us
I remember occasionally falling asleep at the back of the butsuma during chanting, only to be reassured that I shouldn’t worry because others would chant for me instead!
I once remember Akemi Baynes encouraging us to go ahead with evening gongyo without her if she was late, since the members mustn’t be kept waiting.
What are the highlights, you ask?!
The World Peace Exposition at The Kensington Town Hall?
The 1985 tozan with over 2,000 international members and the first ever Educational conference with Robert Samuels and myself, teachers then, as UK representatives of an event including 17 nationalities?
Trets and Taplow keibi residential courses, aptly named by one member as “karmic washing machines”? (and they really were!)
Huge annual summer courses at Bulmersh and Warwick?
Alice the Musical – 7 performances over two years at The Hammersmith Apollo?
Sensei’s 3 visits to Taplow in 1989, 1991 and 1994 so exciting and such joy seeing my two, Kemi and Deji, making personal connections with him as small children, and then as teenagers in the Future Group?
The Rome European Course in 2011 with all 5,000 of us shouting, “One Europe with Sensei”?
All so wonderful, but
I have to say that the highlights for me are the unforgettable support
from my fellow members – especially during my personal crises.
Geraldine – yes, Geraldine! – arriving at my house at 7.30am for a four hour tozo for my daughter who had broken her back tombstoning in Ibitha and in an urgent operation (She recovered and healed).
Dick Causton, our first general Director, whom I had nervously approached about an organisational issue with which I did not agree. He was army through and through in those early days and seeing him privately wasn’t something I relished. When I told him that I was obliged to speak since otherwise, I would onshitsu, he pounded his fist on his desk, shouting, “Say it! Say it!
Such passion, such commitment, such compassion for my life and for our precious organisation.
Well, I learnt from the best, as far as I’m concerned.
As a human reflection of our society, SGI isn’t perfect.
Through the years, there have been indiscretions, errors in judgement ,inappropriate behaviour and less than kindness and disrespect towards each other.
But as Nichiren says, “People have varied tastes. Some prefer good and some prefer evil, There are many kinds of people. But though they differ from one another in such ways, once they enter into the Lotus Sutra, they all become like a single person in body and a single person in mind.”WND vol 1 p1042
At the beginning I had two very clear determinations – to become an international person and to heal the planet.
I had no idea of how or what strategies to use – just a burning desire for both.
To date, I have practised in 13 different countries – several of them a number of times -and a strong connection to Africa, Particularly Nigeria.
I’m also now a holistic practitioner in massage, fitness and nutrition.
Both are ongoing!
In a recent lecture, Sensei quotes Kevin Clements, director of the Toda peace institute. He says, “While this pandemic is creating fear, chaos and anxiety…it is a unique opportunity to create new visions and new opportunities to build a world that is more empathic, more equal, less fearful and more in tune with, rather than opposed ro nature. This is a moment of creative possibilities. Let’s work to ensure that what emerges from this crisis is a world fit for the rest of this challenging century.” NL 10772
We will do this on June 6 the 100,000 of us in 20 European countries
sing Ode to Joy in German, as a tribute to Sensei and his victory on our behalf against the corruption of the priesthood.
He will be so thrilled.
I can’t wait to join!
I hope you are excited too.