Good morning. My name is Yuichiro Ogino and I am a Men’s Division district leader in Regent’s Park district. I moved to the UK together with my family in August 2017 and we are practicing this Buddhism in the Swiss Cottage area.
It is my great pleasure to be able to share with you my faith experience on this very important occasion of the 3rd of May 2020.
I was born in the northernmost island of Hokkaido in Japan in March 1962 and joined the Soka Gakkai with my mother in Tokyo in July 1963. It was during the time of a series of Shakubuku campaign (which means a campaign to introduce your friends and families to the Buddhist practice). From day 1, my mother was drawn into lots of activities that kept her extremely busy. The local Soka Gakkai leaders continuously encouraged her with guidance and she was joyfully participating in the discussion meetings, study meetings, Shakubuku dialogues and Q and A encouragement sessions day and night. She was filled with hope.
Three months had passed since then, and one day, while I was out with my mother, I suddenly developed a seizure. The symptoms got worse and worse and two months later, it became almost non-stop, continuous seizures, with my whole body turning purple. While waiting for a week for detailed diagnostic testing, my mother then, sat in front of the Gohonzon and prayed seriously for my recovery.
The local Women’s division chapter and district leaders came see us at that time. They encouraged my mother wholeheartedly, quoting the Nichiren Daishonin’s letter to Kyo’o, in which he said, “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle. Kyo’o’s misfortune will change into fortune. Muster your faith, and pray to the Gohonzon. Then what is there that cannot be achieved?” Then, they emphasized that “However, it depends on your faith.” and further told her that by strengthening the faith, my disease will be cured for sure.
A week later, I was admitted to the hospital. After several testing, I was diagnosed as having a childhood status epilepticus, a very severe form of continuous epilepsy, in simple words. It was so severe that the doctor told my mother that I may not survive. He also said that if I am lucky, I may survive, but there will be a permanent damage on the brain and I will suffer from the complication for the rest of my life.
My mother was devastated. She could not understand why she and I must suffer; as she began practicing this Buddhism, believing that this practice will bring happiness to the family. The reality in front of her was quite opposite. But soon, she recalled the local leaders’ guidance and the Nichiren Daishonin’s words of encouragement, and determined that she would overcome and turn around the destiny/ karma of the family based on the faith in the Gohonzon.
Soon after, my conditions got slightly better and I was discharged from the hospital, but the brain wave was still showing some anomalies.
In the succeeding seven years, my mother wholeheartedly devoted herself to the Kosenrufu activities. There were discussion meetings, study meetings, Shakubuku dialogues and Q & A sessions. These were the days that the Shakubuku campaigns were led by Ikeda Sensei. Despite lack of correct understanding of the true Soka Gakkai by the general public, the Soka Gakkai members’ faces were brimming with joy, with a conviction that the destiny/ karma can be turned around and the actual proof of human revolution can be achieved. In 1966, my mother participated in the Headquarters Leaders’ meeting in Hokkaido with Ikeda Sensei, and she was able to create a life-time unforgettable memory of the day.
One day in the summer of 1970, I was taken to a hospital and was put in a dark room. I was there for testing of the brain wave. After the two rounds of the test, the doctor told my mother that my disease was cured completely. It was the actual proof of the faith in changing destiny/ karma into happiness and victory after 7 years of sincere practice.
As for myself, as I was seeing how my mother practices this Buddhism, I began doing Gongyo at age 7. I also began chanting daimoku for at least 45 minutes a day since age 10 and participated in many future division activities. After attending public schools at elementary and middle school levels, I went to Soka High School that was founded by Ikeda Sensei. The school provided general curriculum that was not very different from the other high schools, but the difference was that, on important occasions such as graduation ceremonies and cultural events, Ikeda Sensei was there.
In one summer, the students composed a song with a message that we must win no matter what. Listening to the song, Ikeda Sensei told us; it is very important that you win, but it is even more important that you will never give up or lose; as in the long journey of life, there are times that you cannot win, nonetheless you must endure and must not give in. I have never forgotten this “never give up spirit” since then.
On another occasion, Ikeda Sensei emphasized a stand-alone spirit. Even if nobody is around you watching, nobody praises you or everyone is against you, if you must defend justice, you must stand up even if you are alone. This is another guidance that I engraved deep in my life.
I attended the Soka High School from April 1977 to March 1980. None of the students those days were aware of what was happening to the Soka Gakkai and Ikeda Sensei in those days. Decades later, we realized that these were the days Ikeda Sensei was fighting alone to protect millions of Gakkai members from the coordinated attacks by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood and a lawyer who were attempting to expel Ikeda Sensei from the Soka Gakkai, take over the Gakkai and put it under their controls. Ikeda Sensei never argued against the priesthood at loud; rather, he was fighting alone behind the scenes, with Toda Sensei in mind, protecting justice and faith of millions of members.
In 1987, three years after I graduated from the university, I did my first Shakubuku and introduced one YMD to this practice. Soon after that, I obtained a scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in the U. S., and I flew to New York in June 1987. I stayed in the U.S. for nine and a half years thereafter.
In 1991, SGI was excommunicated unilaterally by the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. For the next three years, we endured numerous attacks and allegations against the SGI. It was a time of confusion. In the U.S., even the then top leader was attempting to sever the ties with Ikeda Sensei and the Soka Gakkai, and merge with the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood.
This was the leader who created a militaristic culture in the organization and exhausted the American members by imposing extreme and unrealistic targets one after another with drive-through like Shakubuku, which means you attend just one meeting and you receive the Gohonzon on the spot. Eventually, he had to leave the organization himself, as Ikeda Sensei protected the members.
As a YMD, I was feeling that I also needed to stand up to prove the justice of and protect SGI. So, together with another YMD in New York, we both began a research to clarify wrongful nature of the priesthood allegations and their interpretation of the Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings. We started the research in a small pantry of the New York Culture Center. We met every night after work and researched until mid-night for nearly six months. Other youth division members joined one after another. We received support from the New York territory youth division leader and the then four division leaders. We issued in total three open letters to the priest of Myosetsu-ji temple in New York and received two responses. Their responses failed to provide rebuttals to the points we raised and as a result, the New York youth division held a victory meeting in June 1994 in mid-town Manhattan, as advised by the then Soka Gakkai top leader. After the victory meeting, we signed a victory declaration and sent it to Ikeda Sensei. We later received a message that he put the declaration in front of the Gohonzon of the Shitei Kaikan (Gohonzon room with Mentor and Disciple in its name) and did a Gongyo and a prayer. It was a total victory in the spirit of oneness of Mentor and Disciple as against an authoritarian distortion of the Nichiren Buddhism that says, one can attain enlightenment, only through the prayer by the priests.
In September 1995, one year after the victory, I passed the competitive recruitment examination at the United Nations headquarters and was offered a position in the Department of Peace-keeping Operations, and in June 1996, we were able to welcome Ikeda Sensei in New York. During his stay, I was able to support his immediate office and staff for 10 days. Every morning, guidance was given by the head of Ikeda Sensei’s immediate office. One of the guidance that I engraved in my heart was that the Soka Gakkai is an organization of pure faith. One’s pure heart, honesty and ichinen is important. One must assess whether one’s actions and words are out of one’s ego seeking praise by others or out of a selfless dedication for Kosenrufu. One must protect the Soka Gakkai that is a gathering of people with pure heart. The guidance that I received in the 10 days solidified the foundation of my faith.
Since then, I and my family have lived in Thailand, the Netherlands, Philippines, France, again in the U.S. and the U.K. It is truly wonderful to meet Gakkai members everywhere you go in the world.
In Thailand, we regularly had bilingual youth division meetings in English and Thai, and we offered our place for monthly district planning meetings. We met members who had amazing experiences of survival during the neighborhood fire that burnt down almost all the houses right next to the propane gas station. Her house was totally intact.
In the Netherlands, I and my wife were both district leaders and offered our place for monthly discussion meetings. I began doing one hour daimoku every morning before going to work in the Netherlands and am continuing to do so since then. In 2004, my wife was diagnosed as having a cancer and we needed to abruptly end our stay in the Netherlands, but she was able to find an excellent surgeon and oncologist in the Philippines and received the most advance experimental treatment that became the global standard treatment later, at a minimum cost. In the Netherlands, we bought a house, but we had to sell only after one year of possession. The agent said I may suffer a loss up to around 50,000 euros, but in fact I was able to sell it at a very good price to somebody who came on the first day of the open house. The house was on the market for just one day. Out of my gratitude, I donated all the profit to the SGI Netherlands.
In the Philippines, my wife was able to recover from the cancer. The cost of the treatment was initially estimated to be around 50,000 US dollars, but it was covered by the insurance in the end and I only paid a minimum amount. While my wife was hospitalized, I was able to hire nannies, house maids and drivers at very reasonable costs, so, I could continue working professionally. In 2006, I and my wife were again appointed as the district leaders at SGI. In the two years that follow, we were able to double the membership, with weekly daimoku tozo, encouragement meetings and visits to members’ homes in both the provinces and in the city. Again, out of my gratitude, I did a large amount of yearly contributions for four years, and made a determination to achieve a target contribution amount in lifetime.
Then, after one year in Provence, in Southern France, where we also met wonderful SGI members in small villages, we moved to the U.S. in 2009.
In the U.S., again, I and my wife served as district leaders for four years. My daughters finished elementary school, middle schools, and the elder one finished the high school in New Jersey. In 2016, after completing one million daimoku, she was admitted into an Ivy League University, from which she will graduate this year. The cost of education in the U.S. is astronomical and I had to pay 70,000 to 80,000 US dollars a year for four years. It was like buying a Mercedes or BMW every year for four years. Despite the financial challenge in earlier years, we are able to let her graduate debt-free this June. This is partly as a result of the sale of the house that we bought in New Jersey which we offered to monthly discussion meetings year after year. The price of the house rose sharply right before we sold the house, and again, it was sold on the first day in the market.
In August 2017, we moved to the U.K. The district in which we are practicing had ups and downs, but with the support of many leaders and with so many capable women, men and youths of pure faith, I am optimistic that we can all progress and grow.
Looking back my Buddhist practice of 57 years, I can confidently say that this Buddhism is not a mere philosophy. If you practice sincerely in exact accord with Nichiren Daishonin’s teaching and Ikeda Sensei’s guidance, you will see actual proof and protection in life at the time you need it. I and my family could have ended up in catastrophe many times, but each and every time, we could overcome it based on the faith. The faith in this Buddhism is a great source of hope for oneself, for the family and the society.
On this important occasion of the 3rd of May 2020, and looking ahead towards the centennial anniversary of Soka Gakkai, 70th anniversary of Sensei’s inauguration, 777th year of declaration of Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo by the Nichiren Daishonin, and the final year of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2030, I am determined to take my practice of human revolution to the next level, work seriously to repay the debt of gratitude and produce positive value in my district, at my work place and society.
Thank you for listening.