Experience

“This Is My Mission”

How I am using my illness to encourage every person I meet.

Tom Lauer with his wife, Rita. Photo by Justine Lauer.


by Tom Lauer
Detroit

Could not this illness of your husband’s be the Buddha’s design, because the Vimalakirti and Nirvana sutras both teach that sick people will surely attain Buddhahood? Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way. (“The Good Medicine for All Ills,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 937)

I have taken on an alter ego. I call myself the “60-T” man. You can call me simply “60-T.”

On New Year’s Day, I was admitted to the ICU with unbearable stomach pain and diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. As someone who has practiced Buddhism for nearly five decades, my honest reaction was This is my mission, a mission I feel privileged to take on.

I made the determination that I would encourage anyone I met. In those first few days, many people visited me in the hospital. We chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo vigorously and had joyful conversations. My room was a happy place filled with chanting, smiles and laughter.

While in the ICU, I read this encouragement from Ikeda Sensei about facing illness:

We need to pray with such determination as to cause all the cells in our bodies to renew themselves; we need to spur all 60 trillion of them into action.”[1]The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 23.

I thought then that I should become “60-T” man. Taking on this persona has been a great way to chant to the Gohonzon; it’s a great way to start the day. One benefit of chanting this way has been that I have overcome the sufferings of my disease and the serious side effects of the treatment. But an even greater benefit is that I have experienced great beauty in my daily life.

One aspect of Sensei’s character is that he continually encourages us to activate our innate sense of beauty, whether it is our poetic spirits, our love of music, our appreciation of the natural world around us or our relations and dialogue with others. I have done this since the onset of my illness.

In fact, I have experienced many benefits this year. When I entered the hospital, I was severely anemic with low hemoglobin levels. Now, they are approaching normal, and the rest of my blood-work is normal. As a consequence, my insurance was reclassified at a higher coverage level.

My brother who is a retired professional violinist in Portugal started chanting every day and is teaching my grandchildren the violin over the internet. My brother in Mexico, who is a pioneer member and SGI district leader in the state of Chihuahua, has gained recent recognition as a photographic artist by the state government of Chihuahua and in Mexico City. My brother in Australia and my brother-in-law in Berlin are also chanting toward my recovery.

My wife, Rita, and I are overwhelmed with appreciation for all the people (friends and family) who have chanted with me and for me. My deep appreciation extends to all four of my children, my friends in the SGI and, in particular, my mentor, Sensei.

Rita and I share tremendous joy in chanting and studying Nichiren Buddhism every day. Nichiren Daishonin says that “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys.”[2]The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 212. The key for us has been to use our practice to struggle together.

I’m not afraid of dying, and I haven’t been for a very long time because I’ve had a wonderful life. But I have future goals I want to accomplish, and health is about being able to do those things. Each morning when I chant, I spur all 60 trillion cells in my body into action as I engage in combat with the devil king of the sixth heaven and strive to win with self-reliant faith.

Some of my future goals are: to visit the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu in Japan; to participate in the celebrations of the Soka Gakkai’s 100th anniversary; to learn how to make a really good baguette; to round out my teaching career at Oakland University; and to create more wonderful golden memories with all of you.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 6, p. 23.
2. The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 212.