Experience

Accumulating Eternal Fortune

How Alexis “Bunny” Byfuglin changed her life by living the bodhisattva way.

True cause—Alexis "Bunny" Byfuglin and her husband, Max. Through overcoming every hurdle based on faith, Mrs. Byfuglin says it has taught her to "trust the causes I was making to advance the noble cause of kosen-rufu." Photo: Debra Williams.


by Alexis “Bunny” Byfuglin
MALIBU, CALIF.

Today, my husband, Max, and I have fortune that is beyond anything we could have ever imagined. When we first met, I was in my early 20s with three little boys. My first husband had been killed in Vietnam.

Max was a rock ’n’ roll musician. We fell in love and moved to California with nothing except three mattresses and a truck. It was the 1960s and everyone seemed to be doing it.

By 1970, and after years of struggling, I was extremely disillusioned, almost suicidal. I had begun cutting myself when, in 1972, I was invited to my first Buddhist meeting. I said to the leader: “I really need to know if this works. Because if it doesn’t, I don’t want to live.” I must have scared him, because he blurted out, “Yes, it works!” Although some of the experiences at the meeting seemed insignificant—people were praying for parking spaces and green lights—the chanting reached my heart. Immediately, I felt differently. Max saw the difference in me, and he started practicing, too.

I was having such bad fortune early on that I thought I was a bad person. So I would go and get guidance. I had these amazing Japanese women’s leaders who, in their limited English, would deliver powerful one-liners. I now feel such a sense of gratitude for those precious pioneers who raised me, pounding into my DNA a foundation of faith. When life was hell, they never backed down. “Don’t miss gongyo!” “Quit complaining!” “You must chant!” “Who did you bring to the meeting?” “Where is your publication?” Little did I know, all this would enable me to become someone who could support the appearance of successors for kosen-rufu.

All these experiences have reinforced for me the power that one’s determination holds. Over the years, I have learned and re-learned that I shouldn’t let my reality limit my determination or my ability to break through those limits.

My first experiences participating in contribution activities came soon after I started chanting and, at the time, seemed almost miraculous. One time, my bank account was empty; I had only $10 in my pocket and that was it. When I got to the meeting, they were collecting contributions, and I was encouraged to make a cause. I didn’t really understand, but with resolute faith, I made an offering and chanted.

A few days later, I got a letter and a check from the bank saying they had made an error—can you believe it? The bank was sending me money. This taught me to trust the causes I was making to advance the noble cause of kosen-rufu. It wasn’t until much later that I began to understand that these were not miracles at all but the reflection of profound currents of change taking place in the depths of my life.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” said the British author and futurist Arthur C. Clark. Buddhist practice is such an advanced technology of spiritual development. So much so that to my unopened eyes, it seemed like magic at first. As my practice developed and I continued to make causes with an increasing sense of appreciation and generosity, this expanding spiritual self manifested everywhere as tangible and eternal good fortune.

By 1974, Max and I wanted to buy a house—one with a huge great room that we could use, truly for kosen-rufu. We wanted to be close to the freeway, with plenty of parking, so we could host meetings for the members. We had a great realtor. Not only did we tell her all about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we also had her subscribe to the World Tribune as well! We found it, but it was a bit beyond our budget, and Max and I didn’t know where we would find the money needed. We had only known the realtor for three days, and without us even asking, she loaned us the down payment. She said she had never done that before for any of her clients. It was the most amazing thing. That house eventually became our local de facto SGI-USA center. Amazing, yes, but not a miracle. She had come to trust us, which I can only conclude was the result of the life condition we had developed through our practice.

We faced more obstacles. In 1982, I was working three jobs and could not afford not to work when I got really sick. Our house was in foreclosure. Shortly after overcoming an illness, I went back to my part-time job at the Cheesecake Factory. It turned out that one of the drivers had quit. My husband, who was a determined musician and not looking for a new career, started delivering cheesecakes for them, simply to help out in a pinch.

Max was a hardworking, trustworthy and indispensable person at work, no matter what he was asked to do—always returning to the Gohonzon to polish and advance his life. It was this growth that propelled him along the path from deliveryman to president of the Cheesecake Factory Bakery Incorporated.

This has been us all along—chanting and fighting, and learning and fighting, and chanting some more. Chanting as practitioners, not just believers. Our life was so difficult; we had to fight for every victory.

I decided, as our lives continued to improve, to make sustaining contributions for the cause of kosen-rufu. Max contributes, but I also wanted to contribute a certain amount with my own money. I pictured a figure in my head, a fairly large figure, and made it my absolute determination to contribute that amount every year. And I’ve been able to reach my goal, even when I didn’t know how. Whether it was from a small inheritance, or an insurance policy or a tax refund, every year I’ve been able to attain my goal.

All these experiences have reinforced for me the power that one’s determination holds. Over the years, I have learned and re-learned that I shouldn’t let my reality limit my determination or my ability to break through those limits.

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi declared: “There is no such thing as a self-centered Buddha who simply accumulates personal benefit and does not work for the well-being of others. Unless we carry out bodhisattva practice, we cannot attain Buddhahood. Working for the welfare of others with the heart of a parent is the mark of both the true believer and the true practitioner” (March 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 35).

Over time, my vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth has evolved based on the gratitude I’ve felt for all of my many benefits and the lessons I’ve learned from determining and striving together with the Soka Gakkai to make the impossible possible. Every so often, I’ll look around and think, How did this happen? And my vow becomes: What more can I give? What legacy can I leave to future generations?

Mai ji sa ze nen. I ga ryo shujo. Toku nyu mu-jo do. Soku joju busshin. (At all times I think to myself: How can I cause living beings to gain entry into the unsurpassed way and quickly acquire the body of a Buddha?)  It’s my favorite part of gongyo. I didn’t start out with such a lofty intention, but these words resonate in my heart now. They are my absolute joy; my legacy. And I get to reaffirm this great vow two times a day, every single day, for the rest of my life! What greater joy could one live by? It is one we will carry with us as we hit the runway into the next life singing and dancing. Now that is real, eternal good fortune.