Happiness in This World
How Susan Jacoby learned to value her life.
by Susan Jacoby
At my first SGI meeting in 1979, someone read these words from “Happiness in This World”: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens. How could this be anything other than the boundless joy of the Law?” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 681).
At the time, I was looking for a way out of my misery. “If I have to suffer in life, will I ever become happy?” I asked. I was assured that by practicing Buddhism, I would transform all my sufferings into great benefits.
I joined the practice right away and received many conspicuous benefits—a new car, house and job. On the outside, things were looking up, but inside, I was harboring deep pain.
I grew up with a mother who had a mental illness. The anger and abuse she exhibited toward my three sisters and me were frightening. My dad left us when I was 15, and around that time I was introduced to alcohol and drugs.
When I began practicing Buddhism, I thought that showing actual proof meant displaying how “together” I was. So I went to meetings, fulfilled my leadership responsibilities and maintained my career as an oboist. How I really felt about my life remained a dark secret.
Instead of trying to “fix” my family, I focused on doing my own human revolution.
By the time I was 26, I had three children and went through the motions of being a mom. Still, I felt empty. Because of the huge disconnect in my actions and heart, I drank and got high every day, which only intensified my emotional absence from my children. Addiction was a disease, and my whole family was ailing.
When my son Kass was a teenager, he became addicted to methamphetamines and eventually landed in federal prison for drug-related crimes. My beautiful daughter Tasha also became a crystal meth addict, and, in the pain of her loneliness, tried to commit suicide several times. My other son Shane attached himself to my best friend’s family. There, he experienced the family support and love he so desperately needed.
By 2000, my life was in complete shambles. My alcoholism had progressed, and I could no longer function in my career. My 25-year marriage ended, and my daughter eloped with her boyfriend, a man with a serious addiction. What happened to the happiness that I was promised? I thought.
After finally hitting rock bottom, I finally summoned the courage to face my reality. I checked into a recovery program and connected with my SGI-USA women’s leaders, telling them the truth of my life. Much to my surprise, they warmly embraced me.
Once I stopped self-medicating, I had to process my life in a new way. I was so grateful to have this practice, the Gohonzon and SGI President Ikeda’s guidance. Otherwise, I would not have been able to face myself head-on.
Agonizing over the pain I had caused my children, I sought guidance from a senior in faith, who told me that we are born into our family and circumstances because of shared karmic bonds. It was therefore our mission to experience this family revolution together as Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Instead of trying to “fix” my family, I focused on doing my own human revolution. I began to chant for my family’s happiness and made genuine efforts to engage with my children.
One day, my daughter said to me: “I forgive you for everything that happened because I see your behavior and who you are now. You’re taking responsibility.” In turn, I was able to forgive my own mother. When she was on her deathbed, my sisters and I flew to Texas to see her. It was the first time in about 20 years that we all came together. Looking up at us, she said, “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t a good mom.” We responded: “Look at us! You have raised four beautiful daughters.” We let go of the pain together. I chanted with appreciation as my mother passed away, realizing that because of her, I was able to embrace the Gohonzon and become happy.
Instead of living based on fear, I began to pray to bring out the courageous and joyful life condition of the Buddha.
I have come to fully embrace the person that I am, with strictness and compassion. While I recognize that my addictive personality is an inherent tendency deep in my life, I have used my Buddhist practice to transform it into an impetus for growth and development. I no longer suffer from this addiction because I have no desire to drink anymore. Instead, every day in front of the Gohonzon, I determine to refresh my life and fulfill my mission for kosen-rufu. This means that I must value and take good care of my beautiful self. Learning to love and honor myself, just as I am, has enabled me to love and respect everyone around me.
I remarried five years ago to a wonderful man who shares my love for this great practice. Kass overcame his meth addiction and became the lead journeyman in a hardwood floor business. He now has a beautiful daughter and wonderful partner. Tasha left her drug-addicted husband and returned home to Seattle with her two small children. She immediately got off crystal meth, devoted herself to being a good mom and worked hard to establish her career. She is now remarried to a caring husband and has a third child. Shane has become a successful businessman and recently married a great woman. As my family life is flourishing, so is my career.
I cherish a poem that President Ikeda once gave me: “The final victor / is the true victor / Faith means to achieve / ultimate victory.” I now share my struggles openly with absolute confidence that “From this, I shall grow! Watch me win! How wonderful it is to have a mission to become absolutely happy!” I will continue to advance alongside my mentor, demonstrating with my life the power of the Mystic Law to find true happiness in this world.