Walking the Path of Transforming Myself

Tess Robinson creates a new destiny for her family.

Healing— Tess Robinson (center) with her (l-r) son Maasai; husband, Earl; son Dylan; and daughter, Aliyah. Photo: George Nakamura.

by Tess Robinson

Life wasn’t easy on the Navajo reservation. My parents were just children when they were forcibly removed from their families to attend boarding schools in a misguided attempt to assimilate them.

As an adult, my father turned to alcohol and physically abused my mother and sometimes his own children. His anger left a deep imprint on me, and I struggled to see the value of my own life. When I was 8, my father passed away, and as the oldest of five children at the time, I became the “adult child.” My mother worked two jobs to support us, while I cooked, took care of my siblings and even managed the household finances.

School became my respite, and I excelled in academics, played volleyball and was the captain of the color guard. But at the end of each day, I had to return home, where my siblings and I constantly fought, and where my resentment toward my mother grew over time.

Our family held western religious beliefs, which were extreme. By 16, I often prayed to die and tried several times to take my own life. By my late 20s, I completely disassociated with this way of life and focused on embracing my native ways while building my own family in Phoenix.

In 2007, my younger brother Michael became a Buddhist. He invited me, my three kids, Dylan, Maasai and Aliyah, and my husband, Earl, to the enshrinement ceremony at his home nearby. This was our first introduction to SGI Nichiren Buddhism. It was a profound experience that connected with each of us, and the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo felt so good to be around.

Soon, my mother joined the SGI, followed by my own family. Together with my children and husband, I received the Gohonzon on Jan. 1, 2008.

Due to mistrust from my past experiences with religion, however, I became doubtful of my Buddhist practice. Without seeking guidance, I couldn’t overcome my negativity, and I ultimately chose to stop practicing.

During the four years that I was away from the practice, an SGI women’s leader continued to be my friend, even though I expressed no interest in practicing Buddhism. She showed me that genuine friendship and trust are at the heart of the SGI.

Our relationship would prove crucial in 2012, when I hit a low point. My husband and I were faced with the threat of losing our home amid an economic recession, causing an overall toxic environment at home. My suicidal thoughts returned full force, and I was scared that I would see them through this time.

I reached out to my friend in the SGI and began attending every activity that I could. These meetings became the only place where I could go to be encouraged. I also chanted and studied to understand the oneness of mentor and disciple. Reading A Youthful Diary awakened a commitment within me to walk the same path of human revolution as SGI President Ikeda.

Although I attended activities alone, I would return home rejuvenated, and my family could see the changes in me. It wasn’t long before they all started their Buddhist practice again and felt the same joy from their own lives.

With encouragement from a senior in faith, Earl and I decided to open our home for SGI meetings as a cause to create tremendous fortune for our family. In the process, we saved our home from foreclosure and, with a loan modification, now owe less than before.

Today, Earl is the Arrowhead District men’s leader, my son Dylan, 27, is the district young men’s leader, and I am the women’s leader. My son Maasai, 19, and daughter, Aliyah, 15, are very active youth division members. They all love sharing Buddhism with their friends, and Maasai even helped his school bus driver receive the Gohonzon! I, too, have personally helped nine people begin their practice.

Supporting the young women in Arrowhead District has also been a turning point for me to feel invigorated and confident in my contribution to next year’s gathering of “50,000 Lions of Justice.” Growing up deeply depressed and suicidal, I see the value in helping young people embrace this practice and overcome their feelings of hopelessness. Nothing brings me greater joy than to see youth taking responsibility for their own lives and happiness.

My Buddhist practice has also helped me continue my process of healing from the trauma of my childhood. Chanting to transform my lack of compassion was the starting point. I realized through my practice how difficult it was for my mother to provide for seven children on her own without ever giving up on us. My parents had been broken by their experiences in their childhood, when they were separated from the nurturing care of their own parents. They tried to raise their children without an example to follow. When I saw my parents in this light, my heart opened, and I gained gratitude for the two people I once resented the most. This inner transformation changed the future of my own family. It is just as Nichiren Daishonin promised: “Winter always turns to spring” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 536).

Today, my husband is my best friend, and our children are very happy and outgoing. When people see us together, they are curious as to what we are doing to create such a harmonious family. From the depths of our hearts, we share Buddhism with absolute joy.

Just last month, a few SGI members and I enshrined the Gohonzon for the first time in our family home on the Navajo reservation in Page, Arizona, where my mother now lives. As we chanted, I noticed the hallway where I used to cry as a young girl, feeling powerless as I watched my parents fight. As I glanced back at the Gohonzon, I was reassured that the destiny of my family had changed and that we could all finally heal.