Any Suffering Can be Transformed Into Joy


Through her Buddhist practice, says Gloria Smith, “I have developed into a person whose happiness cannot be broken by anyone or anything.” Photo by Joshua Thomas.

Gloria Smith
Portland, Oregon

Living Buddhism: Thank you, Gloria, for taking the time to share your experience with us today. How did you begin practicing Buddhism?

Gloria Smith: I was born in April 1950 in Osaka, Japan, to a Japanese mother and an American soldier, who was absent from my childhood due to the Korean War. When I was 5 years old, I experienced something that altered my life: My neighbor began sexually assaulting me and continued for several years. In September 1955, my grandparents and mother joined the Soka Gakkai. Even though I was a young girl, I listened to members share confidently how they changed their negative karma and became happy through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Believing in this, I began chanting every day and, as soon as I could read, I taught myself gongyo.

What changes did you see?

Gloria: I was among the first group of students to be part of the junior high school division after SGI President Ikeda established it. I would go to the lectures on Nichiren Daishonin’s writings every month on my own because it was the only place I felt secure. Through my practice, at the age of 11, and after years of abuse at the hands of my neighbor, I developed the courage to confront my abuser and demand that he never touch me again. Although I held on to deep shame and never told anyone about the abuse, I summoned the courage to stand up for my life. This was a huge turning point for me.

Gloria Smith (far right) dances at the SGI World Culture Festival at Hanshin Koshien Baseball Stadium, Osaka, Japan, September 1984. Photos Courtesy of Gloria Smith.

What other experiences shaped your youth?

Gloria: In 1968, when I was 18 years old, President Ikeda attended a young women’s division general meeting in Kansai, Japan. He encouraged us to practice hard and gain fortune in our youth. He also told us, in essence: “If you don’t have a brother, I am your brother. If you don’t have a father, I am your father.” From that point forward, I saw President Ikeda as a father figure who could help me develop into a strong person who would never be defeated by life’s trials.

I also longed to meet my real father as my practice progressed. All I knew was that he lived in Portland, Oregon. I began writing letters to him, and in 1965, I received a response that resulted in years’ of correspondence and an eventual invitation to live with him in America. I resolved to reunite with my father and vowed to work for kosen-rufu in America. I left Japan to live with my father in May 1972.

How were things after arriving in America?

Gloria: Challenging. Immediately after I moved to the U.S., I was sexually assaulted by my father. I couldn’t understand why the karma that I thought I had transformed long ago remained unchanged. All of my dreams were shattered. This would begin the long and dark journey of feeling as if I could never escape the grasp of hell.

Over the next three years, my father tried to take my life three times. He also opposed my Buddhist practice. If you asked me how I continued to move forward, the key was remaining true to my vow with President Ikeda to become happy and to do kosen-rufu in America. I repeated the following passage from Nichiren’s writings over and over again to strengthen my resolve:

Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. (“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 283)

“We will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood” was the phrase that I kept close to my heart as I continued to strive for a better life. I am certain that I was rescued by participating in SGI activities. It became the only place I felt safe. I vigorously participated in young women’s activities seven days a week. I challenged every campaign and introduced many friends to Buddhism as a way to transform my karma. That’s how I changed my life.

What happened after that?

Gloria: I finally moved out of the house when I met my first husband in 1975. Although our marriage ended, we were gifted with two wonderful sons. The divorce was painful, but I refused to give in to feeling that I was a victim of my circumstances. I decided to own my karma, chant to transform my life and do the human revolution necessary to transcend my struggles. Through chanting, I realized that because of my experiences, I did not trust others, and I lived with deep shame. I was determined to become happy no matter what. As I fought to challenge these tendencies in my life, I occupied my time with motherhood and actively sharing Buddhism with others in my community. Between 1983 and 1984, I introduced 11 people to the SGI.

Around that time, in 1984, I was given the opportunity to perform in front of President Ikeda at the Koshien Baseball Field in Kobe, Japan. Toward the festival, I made an impossible list of what I was looking for in a partner. When I returned from Japan, a handsome young man asked me to dinner. This man surpassed every expectation that I could have intended for myself and my children. We have been happily married for the past 34 years.

Although I found happiness at home, I had unresolved feelings about my own father. In February 2013, my oldest son learned that my father was ill. It had been 20 years since I last had contact with him and, while I chanted for his happiness, I had conflicting feelings about whether I should see him. After seeking guidance from a senior in faith, I realized that Nichiren Buddhism teaches us that true compassion has the power to root out the cause of misery in people’s lives. I chanted abundantly to transform my heart and feel true compassion toward my father, even though he had caused me to suffer.

When my oldest son was going to visit his grandfather, I asked him to take me as well. The feeling I had was nothing short of jumping into a demon’s mouth, but through my faith, I was able to uncover the inner strength I needed.

Coming face to face with my father revealed an appreciation and compassion toward him that I hadn’t expected. All the fear, hurt and resentment confined within my heart vanished. I had won over my inner darkness through continuously engaging in my practice and was able to change “karma into mission.” Now, I am completely free from the chains of suffering my father caused me and have developed into a person whose happiness cannot be broken by anyone or anything.

President Ikeda writes:

When we lessen our karmic retribution, it doesn’t mean merely zeroing out a minus balance but rather that we effect a momentous change in the direction of our very lives, shifting from a downward descent toward an infinite upward ascent, from a negative path to a positive one of genuine good. This is the power of the Mystic Law, which has the ability to transform the negative into the beneficial—to turn poison into medicine.

The doctrine of lessening one’s karmic retribution in Nichiren Buddhism is nothing other than the principle for redirecting our lives toward happiness right at this very moment—here, now, just as we are . . .

Therefore, the present moment in which we wage this struggle is vitally important. (The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 155)

The last time I saw my father was in November 2013. During this visit, he extended his admiration of me in the simple declaration, “You are my beautiful daughter.” He died shortly after, on December 2, 2013. I found happiness in knowing I could change our suffering into a source of joy in his final days. It may be hard for many to understand how I had the courage to see him after all that time, knowing the truth of what I held in my heart, but President Ikeda teaches us: “Everything that happens in our lives has meaning. Moreover, the way of life of practitioners of Nichiren Buddhism is to find and discover meaning in all things” (August 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 57). This experience taught me that any suffering can be transformed into joy.

Gloria Smith with her granddaughter, Maia Estes, husband, Richard Smith, and grandsons Steven Estes and Leo Estes. Photos Courtesy of Gloria Smith.

That’s an incredible victory. What would you like to share with the youth of today?

Gloria: I hope that everyone can have the kind of practice where you say, Yes, I want to go to a meeting! There is so much fortune you can build. Furthermore, Nichiren Buddhism has taught me that the greatest fulfillment in life is found in working for the happiness of myself and others. Instead of being ashamed of my story, I now use it to encourage others, sharing that whatever suffering you may be experiencing now, you can definitely become happy through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and striving to live as a disciple of President Ikeda.

I also engaged in the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival to change my negative tendencies that make me suffer. Last year, I was able to help my daughter-in-law receive the Gohonzon and start practicing. She also registered for the festival at the San Jose location! At the age of 68, I feel as if September 23, 2018, was the start of a new chapter in my life, and I will continue to fight and do my human revolution for the rest of my life!

(pp. 44-47)