Building a Castle in the Desert
After leaving the big city, Shitomi Porter learns to share Buddhist
humanism in small-town America.
by Shitomi Porter
When I first moved to the United States in 1957, I was only 24 years old. I had been born in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, and knew very little about American culture before being courted and marrying Kay Porter, a private in the Army, and my husband for the past 60 years. A lot of “war brides,” as we were called, were homesick, but I loved my new adopted country. I received the Gohonzon in 1963 in Los Angeles, and have been chanting ever since.
I was still young then, and joined in singing and dancing with the young women’s division whenever I could, also holding positions like group leader, and eventually district leader. I particularly loved the parades in Little Tokyo. I was grateful to be able to attend many early SGI conventions in places like Chicago, New York City and Hawaii, and I was lucky enough to hear SGI President Ikeda speak during those conventions, too. I would go anywhere, do anything to engage in Nichiren Buddhism while striving for kosen-rufu.
I suppose I thought that everyone was this lucky—to be surrounded by friends in faith, to have lots of activities to participate in nearby and so on. But after 30 years in California, my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s worsened, and my husband and I moved to the Gila Valley in Arizona to care for her. It was far removed from anything familiar—even the move from Japan to the United States was easier than this. It seemed as if I were the only Buddhist in the whole state! Even though it was an arduous undertaking, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as much as I could to gain the patience and compassion I needed to be my mother-in-law’s caretaker. Because of my background as a former member of the Byakuren (an SGI young women’s training group), and because of my raised life condition from my assiduous practice, I was able to treat her care as a labor of love. My father-in-law passed away of cancer, and soon after that, my mother-in-law also passed. I don’t think I could have maintained my inner happiness without taking all of my concerns and dreams to the Gohonzon.
My husband and I stayed in the desert, and without his parents to care for, I grew even lonelier. Our tiny town, Thatcher, was part of an area that had been settled by Mormons in the 1880s, and that was still the dominant religion when we moved there in 1988. But I continued to chant, by myself, for kosen-rufu, and kept in my heart those memories of laughter with the women of the SGI. It was so very different than Los Angeles, where I had been surrounded and supported by other members and was able to seek guidance from leaders. I often felt sorry for myself. But I kept chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the singular belief that Buddhism would come to our little town in Arizona.
“My purpose, all along and today, is to do human revolution and become truly happy, and to bring as many others to this happiness as I can.”
When I found out that there was a newly opened SGI-USA community center in Tucson, I drove there alone—a five-hour round trip—on almost a weekly basis to participate in the available activities, to offer encouragement to the youth and to bring any new members along for the ride. I was so glad that I had paid attention to Sensei’s advice for the Japanese women who had moved to America: learn to drive! My husband taught me in empty parking lots, or at night. No matter what, I chanted to maintain my fierce spirit to help others by sharing and to create unity in the footsteps of Nichiren Daishonin.
After a full year of chanting by myself, a young American woman walked into the dry cleaners where I worked and started speaking to me in Japanese. Immediately I saw an opportunity to tell this young lady about the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism. But, to my great surprise, she already was a member, and had the Gohonzon. Now there were two of us! We continued to chant to grow our two-person group, and then one of my daughters, who was a member, moved to Thatcher with her little girl. Now we were four!
Another SGI Buddhist practitioner and her family moved to the next town over, making us a group of five plus (her children came to our meetings, as well). It was like all of my dreams were coming true. I had a Buddhist family again! But we wouldn’t stop there. We began knocking on doors and distributing literature and the World Tribune at a small mall nearby. I would take the publications to the members and encourage them, saying, “If you read the pubs and continue in your faith, then all of your prayers will be answered.” And always, I was the one who ended up being encouraged through my own efforts.
We are now the Gila Valley District, with more than a dozen new members in just a few years. All of the members are very sincere about their practice and the struggle for kosen-rufu. Since I came from California in 1988, there have been 35 members who have either moved here or joined our district on their own.
My purpose, all along and today, is to do human revolution and become truly happy, and to bring as many others to this happiness as I can. Even when I was chanting alone in the desert, I remembered in my heart a quote from Nichiren: “Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken in your resolve even a bit, devils will take advantage” (“On Persecutions Befalling the Sage,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 997).
I’m in my 80s now, and have had several health challenges over the past few years, but I believe it is most important to remain happy and undefeated no matter what. According to President Ikeda: “Someone whose last four or five years are happy and filled with joy can be described a winner in life . . . we must never grow discouraged or allow ourselves to be defeated. This is vital. As long as our spirits are undefeated, we are victors” (For Today and Tomorrow, p. 176).
Today my husband, Kay, who still enjoys many of his hobbies at 86 years old, happily supports me and our grand- daughter, Corina (vice district YWD leader), as we offer our home for many meetings. Both of my daughters are members, and two of my sisters. I still do as many home visits as possible, to encourage members to come to meetings and engage in activities. I never let my age or concerns about health interfere with telling others about this Buddhism and how they can become truly happy, like me.
I have developed such compassion for other people’s happiness, and tell them: “Never give up! The place you are right now can become a castle for kosen-rufu!”