“I Am Enough”

How Rosa Diaz cultivated her inner strength.

Clear mirror— Through encountering Buddhism, Rosa Diaz, of San Francisco, learns to cultivate the deep beauty in her own heart. Photo: Kingmond Young

by Rosa Diaz

I was 22 when I moved to San Francisco with my long-term boyfriend to escape an alcoholic parent. I knew I was running away, but had dreams of going to school and starting my own life.

In reality, I wound up the caregiver to my abusive alcoholic boyfriend. When I made the difficult decision to leave, we got into a fight. My boyfriend was drunk and splashed a toxic cleaning agent on me. I watched in horror as my clothes and skin began melting off.

I was taken to a local burn unit, where doctors told me the chemicals had penetrated my blood stream. They didn’t think I would survive and urged me to call my family. When I spoke to my mother, she said she’d be there the next day, but she never showed. I eventually asked the nurses to stop asking about my family. I didn’t have one.

The doctors didn’t know if I would ever see out of my left eye again, and they used skin from my scalp and right leg to reconstruct the left side of my face and neck. No amount of medication seemed to ease the pain, and I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming.

When I was stable enough to leave the hospital, I had nowhere to go. I was the worst candidate to rent to—unemployed and on disability. I had to wear a burn mask that covered my face and neck. One renter, looking at me with disgust, said, “What happened to you?” and told me bluntly to go away.

My friend took me to view another apartment, and when I gave the landlord a booklet with information about my accident, she actually read it.

Before I knew it, she gave me a tour and told me I could rent the place. That day, she also told me she was a Buddhist who chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

After my move, I started chanting with her; I felt like I had nothing to lose. The first thing I noticed was that I started to feel compassion for others. I was battling the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and was terrified of leaving my apartment. Eventually, I trusted my new friend, and she took me to chant in small-group settings with pioneer members.

My friend urged me to join young women’s meetings, but I hated them. I would compare myself to others and feel angry. I avoided district meetings, too, and never visited the local Buddhist center.

She never gave up on me, though, supporting and embracing me just as I was. Without her encouragement, I wouldn’t be here today.

After the accident, I faced legal issues related to my medical bills. I would go to court, where lawyers would ask questions that made me relive the incident. I realized that when I chanted before going to court, I felt more centered and less scared. That’s when I decided to receive the Gohonzon.

As I chanted to the Gohonzon, I could feel my heart open, and I began to feel compassion.

The members visited and encouraged me and, for the first time, I felt cared for. But I had a basic distrust for most people, and it took me a long time to come around. As I underwent surgery after surgery, I contemplated suicide to end the physical pain. But my friend would encourage me to keep chanting, declaring that I had a mission that I alone could fulfill.

Two years ago, I started to study Buddhism more seriously and attend some discussion meetings. This is when I started to feel a shift in my state of life. I remember reading the essay “Buddhism Is the Clear Mirror That Reflects Our Lives,” where SGI President Ikeda writes about perceiving the Buddha nature inherent in our lives: “Just as you look into a mirror when you make up your face, to beautify the face of the soul, you need a mirror that reflects the depths of your life. This mirror is none other than the Gohonzon of ‘observing one’s mind,’ or more precisely, observing one’s life” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 97). I chanted to get a job—any job—and, ironically, I was hired working the front desk at a skin care boutique. I had to face my fears, anger and sadness. I realized that it was a pain that could only be transformed from within.

In the process, I reconnected with my father after 15 years. He asked if he could spend my 30th birthday with me. As I chanted to the Gohonzon, I could feel my heart open, and I began to feel compassion for everything he had gone through. Now, little by little, we are building a relationship—something I had all but given up on.

I also shifted the way I prayed about my problems—rather than strategizing about why work was so difficult, for instance, I chanted sincerely about what I truly wanted. The more I chanted and studied, the more I raised my life condition, and my environment changed, too.

At work, I got a raise and weekends off, which enabled me to attend more SGI activities. When all of this happened, I determined to make SGI meetings a priority. This is when I joined Byakuren, a behind-the-scenes training group for young women.

At first, I was reluctant to do Byakuren activities, but my friends in faith shared the noble spirit to care for and support others in faith amid our own struggles. Taking part in SGI activities and leading many others to Buddhism have been the most profound causes I could make to transform my own destiny.

Today, I am getting certified to work in a burn unit to offer support to burn survivors in a hospital setting. My dream is to become a burn nurse.

While I still face many challenges, I now view my burns as my greatest source of pride, and I feel deep appreciation for this practice, because it allowed me to cultivate my true worth. It’s a challenge to be confident, just as you are, without makeup, special outfits or shiny jewels. But this experience has taught me—scars and all—that I am enough.