My Direct Route to Happiness
Paromita Ray transforms her struggles through action based on resolute prayer.
Living Buddhism: Thank you for talking with us, Paromita. What motivated you to start practicing Buddhism?
Paromita Ray: In 2009, I moved to Houston after my husband lost his job and work visa, and was forced to return to India. Despite having a master’s degree in engineering—a field that I loved—I took a job as a high school math teacher, which allowed me to get a work visa and stay in the U.S.
That first year teaching was just horrible. The teachers and students hated me. Being away from my husband and family simply added to the stress. I fell into a very dark place.
A friend in India suggested I try a spiritual practice to help me cope with my problems. One of her suggestions was to try chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—something she remembered a junior high classmate talk about in school.
Several months later, she connected me with that classmate, an SGI member, who also happened to be living in Houston! I soon attended an introductory Buddhist meeting.
What was your first impression?
Paromita: Buddhism was so new to me that I honestly don’t remember anything that was shared at my first meeting. What I do remember is the genuinely warm and welcoming smiles of the people I met. I thought, I want that same smile.
I started chanting in September 2010. I didn’t understand the concept of human revolution, but from the beginning of my practice, members told me: “It’s all about you. You have to make a change yourself to see a change in your situation.” So, I decided to just “get in there” and start working to make a change.
What changes did you see?
Paromita: The first thing I chanted about was to become a better teacher, to have a productive day and for my students to behave. I quickly transformed from a struggling teacher to one of the best teachers in the school. And I became extremely hopeful when my husband landed a dream job in the U.S.
With this new development, I quit teaching in Houston to join him in Wisconsin. This meant going from a work visa to a spousal visa. As I was finalizing my big move, I found out that he was not interested in a relationship with me. What I believed to be a real marriage had simply been a delusion.
When I talked to my mother, she told me to make the marriage work no matter what. To her, a divorce was equivalent to disregarding my cultural values and ruining my family name. She told me a woman who is a divorcee would have no place in Indian society or within the family. If I left my husband, I would be on my own and could not expect help, even from my siblings. I was so devastated by our conversation that I could not chant for several weeks. Every time I tried, I broke down into tears.
What became your turning point?
Paromita: In The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, I read about the dragon girl’s enlightenmentAlso, the dragon king’s daughter. The 8-year-old daughter of Sagara, one of the eight great dragon kings. According to “Devadatta,” the 12th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, she attained enlightenment when she heard Bodhisattva Manjushri preach the Lotus Sutra, illustrating the revolutionary concept that women can attain enlightenment. and was inspired by her deep determination: “Everyone might ridicule me, but that does not concern me in the least. The Buddha knows the truth. I will simply devote myself to helping people become happy through the power of the Mystic Law that has saved me” (vol. 3, p. 97).
Despite everything, I was determined to not give up, to become like the dragon girl! I chanted for several hours a day and exerted myself diligently in faith, practice and study.
I soon learned that my husband had taken all the money from our joint bank account and left the country without informing me. I was here alone on a spousal visa, which meant, by law, I was unable to work. I had to survive on one meal a day, while struggling to find a way forward. My own family had no clue of my struggles, but my SGI family in Houston was there, embracing me warmly.
I called my previous employer, and he hired me back right away, saying he was extremely happy to have one of his best teachers back. I continued chanting for the money to apply for my work visa. While completing the hiring process, I was told that due to changes in U.S. law, it became the school’s responsibility to sponsor my visa. This meant I only had to provide the necessary documents for the visa filing.
The only hurdle left was locating my husband in India to get a copy of his visa papers. I desperately contacted everyone I could think of, to no avail. Finally, I realized that I was using my own strategy instead of the strategy of the Lotus Sutra. For two days, I chanted fiercely to the Gohonzon. On the third day, I got an email from my husband’s employer with all of the necessary documents. It would take two months to process my visa application.
Just when I felt close to victory, my mom was hospitalized. When I called home, I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. I took my frustration to the Gohonzon, and chanted for my mother’s well-being and for her to call me instead. In a week, my mother was discharged from the hospital and she called me! We spoke at length, and she said that she no longer supported the idea of me staying married.
I soon learned that my husband was trying to get a divorce by declaring me missing. Though I needed to return to India to disprove his claim, I was still finalizing my visa and couldn’t leave the country. To my surprise, my mother decided to represent me in court.
What happened next?
Paromita: After three months, I still had no work visa. The school year had already begun when the U.S. government experienced a shutdown on October 1, 2013. When I checked my status online the following day, I learned my visa process had been suspended.
I made one final appeal and chanted to the Gohonzon with unshakable conviction that I would win without fail, and chanted for everyone else affected by the shutdown. I recalled these words from second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda:
You truly are a person of strong faith if you have the deep-seated conviction that everything will be fine because you have the Gohonzon, that you will be OK because you chant to the Gohonzon. You know you don’t need to worry about having to do this or that, or how things are going to turn out. You pray to the Gohonzon. You chanted to it this morning, you are chanting to it now. If you have the conviction that your life will be all right, then it will. (October 2013 Living Buddhism, p. 25)
The next morning, on October 3, I learned my visa was approved, and I could start teaching the following day! Despite the shutdown, someone at the immigration office had decided to work, without pay, to finalize the approval of my visa. I was full of appreciation for my Buddhist practice. I had full control of my life.
Congratulations! How have your family circumstances changed since then?
Paromita: In summer 2014, I was finally able to travel to India, and appeared in court, representing myself and proving that I was alive and well. My physical presence in front of the judge made it impossible for anyone to declare me missing.
I also reunited with my mother after three years. Despite her support, the family didn’t know I was in the country, and she asked me to be discreet about my visits to court.
Somehow, this time around my mother’s words didn’t bother me at all. In fact, a genuine smile just appeared on my face, and I said I would respect her wishes. I continued chanting, recalling that same determination of the dragon girl that had previously guided me.
Interestingly, everyone from the police to the lawyers started acting in my favor. My mother’s attitude also changed. Instead of hiding my presence, she invited my aunt over for a weekend, during which I encouraged her to chant. To my surprise, my aunt began chanting 45 minutes every day. She confided in me that chanting gave her a sense of confidence she had never experienced before. As she neared 70, she felt a new zest for life.
SGI President Ikeda writes: “Nichiren teaches the means for transforming our karma in the present and offers a direct route to building a state of absolute happiness. It teaches that our karma is our noble mission.”
On the last day of my stay, my mom said, “Teach me how to chant.” I almost fell off my chair. Though things seemed extremely chaotic with the court case, she acknowledged how the whole universe seemed to be protecting me and how everything seemed to fall in place in just the right way. She also saw a huge change in me, especially because of how composed I was through the ordeal, which made her appreciate my Buddhist practice all the more.
After returning to the U.S., my mom got my sister to chant, too. Now my sister, mom and aunt are all chanting!
What did you learn from your struggles?
Paromita: There is still much to challenge in my life, but I’m determined to always put prayer first and to focus on my own inner transformation.
SGI President Ikeda writes: “Nichiren Buddhism teaches the means for transforming our karma in the present and offers a direct route to building a state of absolute happiness. It teaches that our karma is our noble mission, in the sense that by overcoming it and demonstrating proof of attaining happiness, we impart hope and courage to others” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 285).
More than anything, the challenges I’ve faced in these last few years have made me even more resolved to become a shining example for all women—a dragon girl of the new era.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Also, the dragon king’s daughter. The 8-year-old daughter of Sagara, one of the eight great dragon kings. According to “Devadatta,” the 12th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, she attained enlightenment when she heard Bodhisattva Manjushri preach the Lotus Sutra, illustrating the revolutionary concept that women can attain enlightenment.|