Happiness Lies in Winning Over Myself
Bibi Potts efforts to share Buddhism with others opened the path to reconnecting with her son.
by Bibi Potts
I’ve had many accomplishments throughout my 44 years of Buddhist practice. I overcame alcohol and drug addictions stemming from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse; went from barely graduating high school to obtaining a doctorate; and today I serve as an executive director for a nonprofit organization that focuses on one of the most poverty- and crime-ridden neighborhoods of Cleveland.
Although my journey had taught me to trust my prayer and overcome all doubt based on the power of the Gohonzon, there always remained one area in my life that I hadn’t been able to change—my relationship with my only child, Rasheed. I became pregnant with my son when I was 18 and his father, Larry, like me, abused drugs and alcohol. When Rasheed was an infant, Larry became abusive and nearly took my life on one occasion. I left him shortly thereafter.
Although the two never had a relationship (Larry passed away 14 years ago), their similarities were glaring. As Rasheed grew, he began to look like his father, held his shoulders like him, and walked and talked like him.
Because of my drug abuse, my love for my son was filtered. Of course, I always chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that Rasheed would become absolutely happy and realize his potential, but in reality my prayer was weak, because it had been affected by this subconscious filter. As a result, I never felt as close to him as I could have been.
In April 2017, I received an unexpected phone call from Rasheed’s childhood friend, who lived in Las Vegas. In over 30 years, he had never called me before. He sounded on edge, and I was genuinely afraid he was considering suicide. Within days, I dropped everything and flew to Las Vegas to encourage him and share with him the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Little did I know at the time that supporting him would open the door for me to reconnect with my son.
While there, I realized that I had never made the same effort to encourage my own son like I had for his friend. Looking at myself with brutal honesty, I knew that I had taken Rasheed and our relationship for granted over the past four decades. Several weeks later, I traveled to Denver to visit Rasheed, now 46 years old. My goal was to understand what I needed to change to deepen our relationship and resolve my concerns. We spent quality time together, watching movies, having breakfast and dinner, playing with his dog, and chanting and attending SGI meetings. In those few days, we captured something so beautiful that we were never able to do while Rasheed was growing up.
One night while chanting at the SGI-USA Denver Buddhist Center, I realized the perverse lens through which I had been seeing my son. A light bulb immediately went off! I realized that Rasheed was not his father, the man I had resented so deeply, and digging even deeper, I felt appreciation for his late father because I was able to have this wonderful son to love and cherish.
Now whenever I chant for my son’s happiness, my prayer is very pure, strong and crystal clear! I no longer see my son through a filter but as the man he truly is. My resolve to change my relationship with Rasheed is just as SGI President Ikeda writes: “A powerful wish fosters the determination to actualize that wish, rouses the courage to fear no difficulties and brings forth the wisdom to change reality . . . The key is to win over yourself” (November 2017 Living Buddhism, p. 44).
Once I changed, Rasheed changed. He soon decided to begin his Buddhist practice in earnest with the support of his local leaders, and I traveled to Denver again to celebrate Rasheed receiving the Gohonzon. On Sept. 26, 2017, Rasheed and I, with two other SGI members, visited the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu in Tokyo! He’s experiencing benefits and wants to support others’ practice too!
Because of the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I have also reawakened to my mission to introduce youth to Buddhism to secure the foundation of the SGI for future generations. I realized that without this practice, I wouldn’t have accomplished the many great things in my life. I needed to take responsibility to help people in society, especially young people, encounter this wonderful practice, so that they too can accomplish things they could never have imagined. I’m now determined to introduce five lions of justice to SGI Nichiren Buddhism!
Sensei says: “The human heart is sensitive, multifaceted and rich, and has the capacity to achieve incredible feats. But for that very reason, it often also undergoes great suffering and torment. Likewise, the human heart can become trapped in an endless, negative downward spiral. Will our lives transmigrate forever in the paths of evil, or can we succeed in moving them into an orbit of good?’’ (On Attaining Buddhahood in This Lifetime: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 5).
I’m filled with great appreciation to fellow SGI members who’ve supported me through every step of this journey, and to President Ikeda for his great resolve to accomplish worldwide kosen-rufu. Due to their support, I’ve been able to transcend many negative downward spirals and move my life into a new joyful orbit, together with my family.