This Is My Vow!
How I’m opening the Buddha way for my deceased loved ones.
by Aspen Clark
I was 24 when I lost my mother suddenly from complications following brain surgery. A few hours later, my aunt died waiting for a liver transplant. I lost all desire to live and began coping with my pain with drugs and alcohol. Another low point came in spring 2013, when my eldest sister learned that I was gay and informed me that my family—the same people who held me as I wept at my mother’s grave—could not support me or my lifestyle. Over the next few years, my father and sister ceased all communication with me. I felt like an orphan.
Witnessing my intense struggles, a friend invited me to an SGI Buddhist meeting. I was inspired by the members and decided to receive the Gohonzon on Oct. 3, 2015. That same day, my dad texted me to see whether we could meet. He apologized for the way he had handled things. He told me that he loved me and that I would always be his daughter, no matter what.
Not long after, I came across a poem by SGI President Ikeda, which in and of itself provided the next huge step of my journey: “I have learned / that the energy of happiness / exists in the process of living today / roots sunk firmly / in reality’s soil” (Journey of Life, p. 21).
I set tangible goals that I had always thought were out of my control. After earnestly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I started a new job at a major studio, my dream job, after years of deadlock. And on top of that, I helped two friends receive the Gohonzon!
Although I was still experiencing obstacles, my outlook on life had changed. Instead of internalizing my struggles and thinking that I was incapable of overcoming them, I was now facing everything head-on with a determination to win.
As I dove headfirst into doing my human revolution, I began to consider how much it would hurt my mother to see her daughters fighting. I realized that my sister was deeply suffering herself, and so I chanted for opportunities to rebuild our relationship.
Unexpectedly, my sister called me to commiserate about a shared disappointment. Instead of holding on to resentment, I listened to and encouraged her. We’ve since begun speaking regularly and are continuously building a relationship of respect and love. She even speaks up now for LGBTQ rights!
During the period following my mother’s death, I befriended a young woman named Jess. We became close and continued to develop our friendship for seven years. In 2014, Jess was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 30. I shared my Buddhist practice with her, and she said the minute she was fully healthy, she would attend a meeting. Unfortunately, she was never able to do so.
I realized that I wasn’t powerless—Nam-myohorenge-kyo was more powerful than I could imagine.
Early last year, her cancer metastasized to the point that there was nothing more doctors could do. I began to sink into a dark place, resentful that Jess had to physically suffer in her final days. The night before she died, I sat at her bedside, holding her hand and stroking her forehead. Although she could barely speak, I knew she was in pain. Jess passed away on Nov. 14, 2017.
Drowning in anguish, I begrudgingly attended a district discussion meeting a few days later, intent on announcing that I was going to quit practicing. I thought my prayers for Jess’ life proved ineffective.
At the meeting, a young man shared his experience about losing a friend the night before. He was pained but spoke with hope. His words penetrated my anger and spoke to my heart. He reminded me of the vow that I had made to win over my suffering and become absolutely happy. In that pivotal moment, I renewed my vow to dedicate my life to kosen-rufu and turn all poison into medicine for the happiness of myself and others. In retrospect, I had been swayed by the hindrance of death, one of the “three obstacles and four devils”Three obstacles and four devils: various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism. taught in Buddhism.
This year on April 7, the eighth anniversary of my mother’s passing, I refused to hide in pain. With the support and encouragement of the amazing women of Soka, I spent the day visiting four young women and attended a district meeting, all before spending the evening with my family. I realized that I wasn’t powerless—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo was more powerful than I could imagine. Every cause I made wasn’t just for me and the women we visited—it was for my mom and Jess. I’m confident that through my life, I can open the Buddha way for my deceased loved ones.
Sensei writes: “Illuminated by the Mystic Law, both life and death are filled with joy, and both are expressions of the great process of eternal life. This perspective is the essence of Nichiren Buddhism” (April 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 37).
For me, my mother’s mission in life and death was to guide me to the Gohonzon. Jess’ mission in life and death was to awaken me to my vow.
In less than three years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I’ve manifested benefits in every aspect of my life. It’s a day-to-day decision to dedicate myself to my human revolution so that I elevate my life condition and contribute to a truly peaceful and just society.
Toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I am determined to help many young women do the same, based on them awakening to their vow and true capability. Together, we will joyfully show others that we can overcome all challenges and attain Buddhahood, our roots sunk firmly in reality’s soil.
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|1.||↑||Three obstacles and four devils: various obstacles and hindrances to the practice of Buddhism.|