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Just Keep Chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo

Simon Webb (left) with his friend Michi Camarena, who helped re-establish his relationship with his mother. Photo by DAN GRAHAM.

by Simon Webb and Michi Camarena

How a mystic encounter between strangers helped connect a son and mother living across the world.

World Tribune: Congratulations, Simon, on being a one-year SGI member! We heard you have a unique story about your connection to the practice. Can you tell us about that?

Simon Webb (Camp Pendleton, Calif.): Thank you. It’s incredible how much my life has changed since I was first introduced to Nichiren Buddhism. At the end of 2017, I went to a ramen restaurant, where I was a regular. Michi, who worked there, was always enthusiastic and happy. On that particular day, she asked me to follow the restaurant’s Instagram account.

Michi Camarena (Oceanside, Calif.): A few days later, when I opened the Instagram app, Simon’s page popped up, and a photo that he had posted caught my eye; it was of a Japanese lady and a baby with Japanese text written on the photo.

WT: So what was that picture about?

Simon: It was a photo of me and my mother, Yoko, whom I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I was born in Okinawa, Japan, to a Japanese mother and an African American father, who was in the U.S. Marine Corps. My parents split when I was 4, and my dad moved me to the U.S. with him. I lost touch with my mom, and although I really wanted to know her, we had a hard time communicating, because I didn’t speak Japanese, and she didn’t know English. When we talked, on occasional birthdays and holidays, she would always say: “Simon, I love you. Don’t forget me.” But over time, she became a person I didn’t know too much about.

After seeing my post, Michi reached out to me on Instagram and asked me if I was an SGI member. I didn’t know what she was talking about. She explained to me what was written on the photo, which I never knew because I can’t read Japanese. It said: “Simon, please chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and we will meet again.”

She told me about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and invited me to an SGI meeting. Two weeks later, I attended my first introductory Buddhist meeting on base at Camp Pendleton, where I’m stationed in the Marine Corps, in San Diego County.

WT: How did you feel after attending your first SGI meeting?

Simon: Initially, I went in hopes of understanding my mother more. I continued attending meetings because the SGI members I met seemed to be genuinely good people. Over time, I developed a friendship with Michi and the members, and I started opening up about my own life.

Michi: In the beginning, I was just chanting to find youth who could attend the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival (held in September 2018), but when I found out that Simon hadn’t seen his mother for over 20 years, my determination shifted. I started praying for Simon and his mom to be together, and for Simon to receive the Gohonzon. In my heart, I felt this was the best way for him to connect to his mother.

WT: What happened next?

Simon: The first time I talked to my mom after attending SGI meetings, she was just so excited. Although she knew I couldn’t fully understand her, she kept telling me, in Japanese, to keep chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and that she loves me.

Michi: Her strong determination was that her son would chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, so hearing this was her
dream come true.

Simon: Yes, because of my mother and the warm support of the SGI community, I received the Gohonzon on May 27, 2018, on my 28th birthday!

WT: What has your experience been like since you began practicing?

Simon: I have connected to a wonderful, diverse district, where there is a genuine spirit of care for each individual. I’m a group young men’s leader and also participate in the young men’s Soka Group, supporting my local SGI-USA center behind the scenes.

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