Faith Like the Sun
Living Buddhism: Thank you, Evelyn, for sharing your experience with us. How did you begin your Buddhist practice?
Evelyn Carr: Thank you for the opportunity. In 1983, I moved to Southern California as a student, leaving behind the comfort of my home in Taiwan. This was a big change, and I struggled with the language barrier and new culture. I was filled with uncertainty.
The following year, a young man invited me to an SGI meeting. I was familiar with Buddhism, and I figured religion could help me find inner peace. But the meeting was nothing like what I thought I knew about Buddhism. The gathering was so diverse and, although I had a hard time following what everyone was saying, I could tell they were happy. I knew little about the practice, but the next day I received the Gohonzon.
What were the early days of your practice like?
Evelyn: I started off enthusiastically, but I struggled to develop a consistent practice. It was difficult to find the time in my busy school schedule to learn and do gongyo. On top of that, the meetings were far, and I felt uncomfortable driving at night.
After two years, I was better adjusted to life here, but I still wasn’t practicing. The Gohonzon was enshrined in my home and I knew it was something I should respect, so I seriously considered whether I should keep it.
What did you do from there?
Evelyn: I felt I needed to learn more about the practice before deciding. Fortunately, a Chinese-language study meeting was happening nearby. There I asked the most basic question: What does Nam-myoho-renge-kyo mean? The senior leader explained its meaning and concluded by sharing, “Ultimately, with this faith and Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you can decide your own destiny.”
That was exactly what I needed to hear. I thought religion meant to rely on something beyond me to determine my fate. The idea that I could be the master of my destiny was powerful.
How did your practice develop from there?
Evelyn: I was determined to do whatever it took to learn more about the practice, so I started participating in SGI activities.
My district women’s leader took me to visit different members, and I was struck by the very real difficulties they faced. I admired how my district leader always had a smile on her face and warmly supported these members, regardless of her own struggles. I wanted to become bighearted like her.
I continued seeking and challenging myself to develop my practice and, through the support of my seniors in faith, I started to better understand things. The only question that remained was about the significance of the mentor-and-disciple relationship in Buddhism, and I prayed to better understand this principle.
During one of President Ikeda’s visits to Los Angeles, I supported a meeting behind the scenes as a Byakuren Group member. I thought, Well, I’m not a leader, so I’ll never get to meet Sensei.
After the meeting, however, President Ikeda asked to meet with those working behind the scenes. I expected to encounter a professional religious leader. What I found was a deeply warm human being who cared profoundly for each person and was trying to teach us how to do the same. I instinctively knew I could trust him, and without quite understanding it then, I made a vow to advance kosen-rufu, side by side with him, as mentor and disciple.
Would you say that establishing your practice as a youth enabled you to overcome difficulties in the future?
Evelyn: Yes, looking back, my youth was fairly smooth. I met my husband, Wayne, we got married, had two sons and bought a home. My real test of faith would come much later.
In 2004, my husband and I were struggling financially, and our relationship was suffering. On top of it all, my younger brother passed away. My life was crumbling, and I felt exhausted and incapable.
During this low point, my seniors in faith encouraged me to attend a women’s conference at the SGI-USA Florida and Nature Culture Center in Weston, Florida. I didn’t understand why, but I decided to go. There I heard many women share their faith experiences. I realized their situations were much worse than mine, but they were all so strong.
President Ikeda writes of the power of women:
The women’s division is the sun of Soka. When the sun shines brilliantly, all surroundings are illuminated by the light of hope, the sad darkness is dispelled, and flowers of happiness and smiles bloom fragrantly in one’s family and the community.(The New Human Revolution, vol. 10, p. 124)
I felt I could do it. I felt I have to win. This became my prime point in faith—one that I returned to, especially during our life-or-death battle with our son Kelvin.
Can you share what happened?
Evelyn: On December 22, 2012, we found Kelvin in his room, unconscious and not breathing. He had overdosed on heroin.
My husband frantically performed CPR on him until the paramedics arrived, and fortunately, Kelvin regained consciousness. After this traumatic experience, he stopped using heroin.
But after a lengthy recovery and rehab period, Kelvin relapsed and overdosed again on October 3, 2014. This time he went into a coma, and his kidneys failed. The doctor told us that he would certainly die. We were asked to decide whether to disconnect the machines that kept him alive. He was only 23 years old.
My husband and I united in front of the Gohonzon, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo “earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (“Rebuking Slander of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444). With the support of our SGI family, we prayed and prayed for our son to live and to fulfill his mission for kosen-rufu.
How did you persevere during this difficult time?
Evelyn: I went back to the “Five Eternal Guidelines for the Women’s Division,”The “Five Eternal Guidelines for the Women’s Division” are: 1. Everything begins with prayer. 2. Advancing harmoniously with our families. 3. Fostering young successors. 4. Cherishing our communities and societies. 5. Joyfully sharing our experiences in faith.resolving to be the sun and to create a harmonious family.
When I visited Kelvin in the hospital, I had to battle my own hopelessness. I did gongyo next to him and fought to raise my life condition so that he could feel Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with his very life. I determined he was going to live, and I tried to brighten the atmosphere by playing music, as I massaged his arms and legs. I would come home exhausted, but determined to care for my other son, Tristan. Every morning, I chanted to exert myself in what was most important that day.
Then, on the 12th day, Kelvin unexpectedly woke up from his coma. Our journey together to change our family karma began from that point.
How amazing! How did things go from there?
Evelyn: The recovery process was incredibly slow, and I had to constantly battle my own doubts in front of the Gohonzon.
Little by little, Kelvin relearned how to breathe, swallow, talk and then walk on his own. Throughout the process, he experienced tremendous mental and physical fatigue, and the various treatments and medications caused auditory hallucinations and difficulty focusing. This sabotaged his self-esteem and led him to harm himself.
Together, my husband and I increased the amount we chanted. Although everything on the surface appeared impossible, I began developing a deeper confidence that the right treatment for Kelvin was out there.
While trying various treatments, we also began taking him to intro-to-Buddhism meetings every week at our local center so he could be in a positive environment. At first, he kept to himself, but slowly, he began smiling and participating more. I was so moved to see the youth supporting him and to see Kelvin developing genuine friendships.
How did he develop from there?
Evelyn: Well, in January 2018, his condition worsened and he was admitted to a mental health ward. This time again, my husband and I mustered up the spirit, “But still I am not discouraged” (“The Essentials for Attaining Buddhahood,” WND-1, p. 748). The two of us, as well as SGI members and his young men’s leaders, all visited him to encourage him.
Over the next four months, we supported him with his outpatient program every day. Shortly after his release from the hospital, we found out he interviewed for and was accepted into Soka Group, a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group! We were blown away, and we determined to support him all the way, driving him to each activity.
Eventually, Kelvin relearned how to drive and started working, while participating in every Soka Group shift toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival held in September 2018. We also found an expert therapist who was willing to provide two sessions as a test. After the second session, Kelvin’s auditory hallucinations stopped, and he gradually became more alert and filled with energy! I was so shocked, but this was absolutely a benefit of dedicating ourselves to kosen-rufu.
You and your family made the impossible possible!
Evelyn: Yes, we’re so appreciative. However, our challenges continued. Just about six weeks before 50K, while I was supporting our local center, I received a message that my house was on fire. I couldn’t believe it.
I couldn’t get a hold of my sons or husband, so I rushed home. My heart raced when I saw four firetrucks block the street in front of my house. But I was so relieved to find my two sons and their friend sitting in the front yard. Apparently, our neighbor had noticed smoke coming from our garage, and rushed over to alert the kids.
We were protected again. It was as if our karma went up in smoke. In fact, it all turned out to be a benefit.
Evelyn: We weren’t swayed in the least. My son’s friend who was there came up to me to ask what he could do to help. My immediate response was, “Yes, you can register for 50K!” He registered and attended the festival!
No one was hurt from the fire, and our much-needed home repairs and our belongings were all covered by insurance. And, instead of arranging for alternate living, my brother invited us to stay at his home in Hawaii, which turned into a two-week family vacation! On top of that, we had a tenant in our back house who was causing tremendous disunity in our SGI organization, and we were praying for that person to leave peacefully. After the fire, they immediately moved out.
What would you say is the greatest benefit of your experience?
Evelyn: I think our experience is actual proof of the SGI’s five eternal guidelines: Faith for a harmonious family; for each person to become happy; for surmounting obstacles; for health and long life; and for absolute victory.
Through his experiences, Kelvin connected to the practice and awakened to his mission. And through Kelvin, Wayne and I deepened our faith. We are more united as a family, heading in the same direction for kosen-rufu. That’s the greatest benefit.
Congratulations! What are your determinations in this Year of Advancement and Capable People?
Evelyn: As a mother, I want to continue supporting my children in achieving their goals, engraving Sensei’s guidance into my life:
Parents need to have faith in their children’s potential. Their children are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have promised to carry out worldwide kosen-rufu in the Latter Day of the Law. The time is certain to come when they will arise, awakened to that mission.(October 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 48)
As a family, we are determined to continue fighting for the sake of the members’ happiness and victory. I want to gain the trust of our youth so they can feel safe and grow into capable leaders. This is the way we will repay our debt of gratitude to Sensei and our SGI family.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||The “Five Eternal Guidelines for the Women’s Division” are: 1. Everything begins with prayer. 2. Advancing harmoniously with our families. 3. Fostering young successors. 4. Cherishing our communities and societies. 5. Joyfully sharing our experiences in faith.|