A Rainbow of Happiness
Naoko Leslie shares her prime point in faith.
by Naoko Leslie
In the midst of World War II in Japan, my grandmother became the first in our family to practice Nichiren Buddhism. She had read a magazine article about Nichiren Daishonin, whose compassion for common people touched her so much that she began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on her own. With warplanes flying overhead, she and my mother chanted desperately for protection. Somehow, our family and home always came out of the air raids untouched. Through this actual proof, my grandmother gained absolute conviction in the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Years later, my mother became a member of the Soka Gakkai. One of her first benefits determined the course of our family’s life. My father, a banker, received a promotion that gave us the opportunity to live in cities around the world: Sydney; Tokyo and Kobe in Japan; London; and New York City.
On June 18, 1971, when I was 2 years old, my mother took me to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Tokyo to deliver a letter to SGI President Ikeda, informing him that we were moving to Australia. Suddenly, my mother found herself standing right in front of Sensei! He welcomed us warmly and said that the reason he had come to the same room as us was to take a break from writing his novel The Human Revolution.
Sensei held me in his arms, stroked my head and said to my mother: “This child will be a member of the young women’s division. The fact that she is traveling overseas at this young age means that she will definitely contribute to worldwide kosen-rufu. Make sure to raise her in good health.” This encounter became the prime point of our practice.
Because of my mother’s strong faith, our family enjoyed tremendous fortune. Growing up, I myself didn’t practice consistently. But when I was 19 years old and in college, I faced a serious deadlock. Even though I had everything I needed materially, studied hard at school, was a good daughter and a good friend, I felt empty inside.
I studied various philosophies in a quest to find happiness, but found no answers. As a last resort, I picked up a book of SGI members’ experiences that a young women’s leader had given me. Each story was so encouraging, particularly one about a woman who had suffered from a feeling of emptiness. Through Buddhist practice, she completely changed her situation and became happy.
As an experiment, I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. One day, great joy suddenly welled forth from my life. I learned the truth of Nichiren Daishonin’s declaration that “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 212). Through this experience, I awoke to my mission, regained hope and embraced a big dream.
Once I realized that I had taken the good fortune in my life for granted, my attitude in front of the Gohonzon changed.
As Sensei had envisioned, I was given the opportunity to contribute to global kosen-rufu as a Japanese-English interpreter and translator for the SGI Headquarters in Tokyo. I traveled the world and accomplished one of my wildest dreams—interpreting for President Ikeda. With each encounter, Sensei found ways to deepen my sense of confidence while at the same time inspiring me to constantly challenge my limitations.
President Ikeda often mentioned the crucial role the United States would play in the advancement of kosen-rufu. My cherished desire to return there was realized when I married my husband and moved to Los Angeles in 2003 where we lived for seven years. Today, we live in Maryland with our 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
The challenges my family and I overcame have given me absolute conviction in the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. For example, some years ago, I suffered a bad cold, which evolved into a more serious illness that led to coughing so severe that I could barely breathe. The doctor treated me with various antibiotics to no avail. My chest X-rays were perfectly normal, but the coughing continued for an entire year. I felt that I had entered a tunnel with no end in sight and that I might actually die from this illness.
I was encouraged to fight anew when I read this guidance from President Ikeda’s mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda: “You mustn’t ask, ‘Will I get better?’ You will recover without fail as long as you continue practicing in earnest” (The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 22). He also said: “If your condition improves even a little, you should feel appreciation from the depths of your heart. If, on the other hand, instead of feeling appreciation, you are disappointed because you have not improved more and treat the Gohonzon as though it owes you a debt—that will not do” (p. 23).
Once I realized that I had taken the good fortune in my life for granted, my attitude in front of the Gohonzon changed. Based on prayer with appreciation, and by sharing this teaching with many people, my cough gradually disappeared. More importantly, I felt that I had changed my karma and learned a valuable life lesson.
Every year on June 18, my mother and I write a letter of appreciation to Sensei. Twenty years after our initial encounter, Sensei presented my mother and me with his calligraphy, which reads in part: “Let there appear a rainbow in Naoko’s future,” and “Praying for the great happiness of your family.”
Since Nichiren Buddhism is about actual proof, my determination as the newly appointed East Territory Women’s Leader is for every member to experience abundant benefit through the steady practice of gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, sharing this Buddhism with others and helping them receive the Gohonzon, and promoting our wonderful publications—World Tribune and Living Buddhism.