There Is No Deadlock in Faith!

Bucky Katayama transforms an impasse by never giving up on his vow for kosen-rufu.

Bucky Katayama. Photo by Paul Lim.

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We understand you are originally from Japan. How did you make your way to America?

Bucky Katayama: I came to Hawaii as a foreign exchange student. After I graduated from college, I visited New York in 1981 and decided to stay. I remember it was autumn, and I didn’t have any warm clothes and couldn’t find a decent place to live. The only job I was able to find was as a dishwasher. I felt like I had no specific purpose, and my future seemed so bleak. I just wanted to make money and have a warm and happy family of my own.

LB: How did you encounter Buddhism?

Bucky: One day, I went into a Japanese bookstore in New York and came across a book, that was based on a dialogue between SGI President Ikeda and Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the Panasonic Corporation. I didn’t know who President Ikeda was, but I respected Mr. Matsushita, so I bought the book, hoping I could find some direction in life. I didn’t understand everything in the book, but I felt something so pure, vast and warm from what Sensei shared. I feel that Sensei introduced me to Buddhism through this book.

Then, I found out that both the owner and chef at my restaurant were SGI members. They gave me a copy of The Human Revolution and invited me to an SGI meeting. After reading Sensei’s novelized account of the Soka Gakkai rising from the ashes after World War II, I just knew that I needed the Gohonzon. I was 27 years old.

After I started practicing, I realized my childhood friend was a member. He would ask me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with him before our soccer matches. I had completely forgotten that.

What a connection you had with Buddhism! How did you develop your practice?

Bucky: The young men’s division members in New York began visiting me and encouraging me to participate in SGI activities, but I was very cynical and only interested in studying Sensei’s philosophy. After a while, I couldn’t ignore their persistent efforts, so I agreed to meet with a visiting young men’s leader.

When we met, I shared with him that I understood Buddhism already, and that I had read Nichiren Daishonin’s writings more than the other young men. He listened to me very patiently and then looked at me with very honest eyes. He encouraged me, saying: “You cannot read the writings of Nichiren in a warm, comfortable room. The Daishonin wrote in the midst of intense struggles. You need to fight and do activities in order to read his writings with your life. Please trust me; let’s do activities together.”

I was shocked by his words, because it was the first time we had met. He had embraced me like a brother, who deeply understood how lonely and miserable I was in America. I cried on the way home that day. The next morning, I started going to the New York Culture Center to participate in SGI activities.

What kind of changes did you see from that point?

Bucky: At the time, I was laid back and only daydreamed about making money without making any real effort. But I saw my friends in the SGI living the Soka Gakkai maxim “In faith, do the work of one; in your job, do the work of three.”[1]September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43. I felt that if I followed Sensei’s guidance like them and did my best at work, I could win too. Eventually, I found a great job working for the Japanese consulate.

I also dreamed of having a happy family. I had grown up in a broken family, and my mother struggled alone in Japan. I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with determination for my mother’s happiness and went back to Japan for two weeks. During that trip, both my mother and sister decided to join the SGI. Soon after, I got married to my wife, Masayo, and later we had a beautiful daughter, Ruiko. Through chanting and striving hard in SGI activities, the power of the Gohonzon became clearer, and I was happier than ever before.

Tell us about a time when your faith was tested.

Bucky: In 1998, I made the big decision to quit my job and move my family to Los Angeles to start a nursing home business with a relative.

Unfortunately, the project collapsed before completion. I hadn’t done enough research on the market, and it was more difficult than I thought getting licensed and finding clients. I felt the business had failed because I hadn’t taken the process seriously enough.

Our mortgage payments started coming in, but I didn’t have any income. Eventually, my condo was foreclosed and car was repossessed, my savings were emptied, and my family had no place to live. We had to pawn our possessions to survive, but I was brought to tears when we had to sell my wife’s wedding ring. We lost everything.

As a child, my parents’ marriage had been strained by my father’s business failures and health challenges. For 10 years, he remained in the hospital with tuberculosis. My parents argued frequently, and after he was discharged from the hospital, my parents divorced. I was 13. I saw myself heading down the same path. That’s when, as a family, we made a strong determination to change our karma into our mission through our Buddhist practice.

What action did you take from that point on?

Bucky: I began chanting seven hours every day and worked hard to find a job. I applied everywhere, from gas stations and fast food places to warehouses, but no one would hire me because of my age and prior experience. I was overqualified. I felt hopeless, and my pride was totally destroyed.

During this time, my wife had to support the family financially as a baby sitter. In the midst of it all, she still engaged in SGI activities as if everything were OK. She was convinced that we would overcome this obstacle. Her unwavering faith, together with the consistent support of my district men’s leader and fellow members, encouraged me to never give up. But two years had passed without any work.

Was there any specific guidance from President Ikeda that helped you persevere in your efforts?

Bucky: President Ikeda has stated: “Nothing is wasted in our struggle for kosen-rufu. All our efforts turn into great good fortune. Everything works to our benefit.

“As long as we conduct our activities based on the Gohonzon, we will essentially reach no deadlock nor experience contradiction . . . The Gohonzon enables all people of the Ten Worlds to function as Buddhas, their lives illuminated by the Mystic Law.”[2]The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 219

The phrase “There is no deadlock in faith!” constantly resonated in my mind, and there were times when I would actually scream it out loud. I determined to participate in the May commemorative contribution activity. And although it was a very small amount, I did so with deep appreciation for having encountered the Gohonzon, my mentor and the SGI.

In 2002, I finally found a job at a seafood canning factory in Mexico. The bad news was that I had to move to Mexico, while my family stayed behind in L.A.

Bucky Katayama (center) at his seafood processing facility in Mexico. Photo courtsey of Bucky Katayama.

What was your experience like in Mexico?

Bucky: The factory was located in a small village. The streets were unpaved, and half of the villagers lived without electricity. The job was extremely tough; I was surrounded by fish from early morning until late at night. I kept thinking back to my comfortable life in Manhattan and would constantly ask myself, How did this happen?

I was depressed and wanted to go back to my family, but Sensei’s words—“There is no deadlock in faith!”—resonated in my mind. I continued chanting, even during work and while walking the streets of the village. The villagers must have thought that I was a strange man, as I looked like I was constantly talking to myself! Without knowing it, though, I was developing important relationships in the seafood industry and experiencing the industry from the ground up.

My family and I still fought to contribute financially to kosen-rufu despite our challenging circumstances. We felt that by protecting and supporting the SGI, we were protecting and supporting our lives.

After a year, I decided to go back to L.A. That’s when a friend asked me if I was interested in starting a seafood import and export business together. I was very cautious at first, but I realized that this was my answer. This time, I understood the industry that I was pursuing and was able to draw on the knowledge and the business relationships that I had formed while I was in Mexico. Nearly 20 years later, I am still running this business.

What a journey! How are things now?

Bucky: The company has expanded globally, and we do business with several major seafood industries across Asia. Our trade volume for softshell crab is No. 1 in the U.S. Recently, we negotiated a contract with a major restaurant chain in Malaysia. And during the May contribution activity last year, I fulfilled my goal of successfully opening a seafood processing facility in Mexico with 100 employees. All of my struggles in Mexico now carry deep meaning, just as Sensei said they would.

Every day, we face new challenges as a business, but we have overcome each obstacle based on faith and by supporting the advancement of kosen-rufu in the U.S. My dream of having a warm family is now a reality, and we all actively take part in SGI-USA activities together. Having this difficult experience expanded my compassion and understanding of others who are suffering. We have truly changed our karma into mission.

Most of all, the greatest benefit of my practice is learning to live with deep appreciation at every moment, even in the face of obstacles.

What does it mean to you to support the expansion of the SGI-USA and the youth in this new era of worldwide kosen-rufu?

Bucky: It means contributing with deep appreciation to secure the foundation of the SGI. Words cannot express the appreciation I have for this practice, President Ikeda, the SGI and my fellow members. I am determined to wholeheartedly repay this debt of gratitude by supporting and protecting the SGI behind the scenes and showing actual proof of this practice in my work.

My daughter, Ruiko, is fighting hard in youth activities. Supporting the youth is my mission and responsibility. It means creating history together with them in order to reply to President Ikeda. I want to show them through my life how to have confidence in the Gohonzon and what it means to live out our lives with the SGI. Supporting the SGI means supporting the future of humankind, the environment and, ultimately, all life.

(pp. 32-35)

Notes   [ + ]

1. September 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 43.
2. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 219

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