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Repaying Debts of Gratitude Is the Highest Virtue

Diana McCray of Long Island, N.Y., has transformed herself by becoming a person filled with appreciation. Her Buddhist practice has enabled her to change the destiny of her family and develop tremendous fortune. Photo by LINWOOD BOOKER.

by Diana McCray
Long Island, N.Y.

“To repay one’s debts of gratitude is the highest virtue. Neglecting gratitude is a reflection of a life controlled by innate negativity.

“As we each deepen our faith in the Mystic Law, break through our fundamental darkness and live true to our greater self, we will come to feel boundless appreciation for all those around us and for all who have nurtured and helped us become who we are. And we will confidently make our way along the invigorating path of recognizing and repaying our debts of gratitude.” (Ikeda Sensei, Learning from the Writings: The Hope-filled Teachings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 222)

Before I began practicing Buddhism, I never had a smile on my face, and people don’t believe me now, but I could clear out a room in five minutes with my scowl. I didn’t get along with my mother either, and growing up I blamed her for everything that went wrong in my life, from being too tall to not having a boyfriend.

When I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I saw my resentment and tendency to be mean to mother much more clearly. One time, she even asked me, “Aren’t you a Buddhist?”

Twelve years ago, when my younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack, I saw how much my mother was suffering. I realized then that I didn’t have appreciation for too many things in my life, including my mother. As I chanted to appreciate her, I began to see her as a human being with her own difficulties, and our relationship transformed.

In 2014, my mother had a stroke, and I was left to take care of her affairs. When she moved into a nursing home, I found out that she had $400,000 in debt. My mother was an avid American Civil Rights leader on Long Island, who was instrumental in integrating our area. Her spirit to fight for justice was fueled by a desire to help all people have equal access to education. I didn’t want a potential bankruptcy to overshadow her accomplishments, and I determined to eliminate her debt to show my deep appreciation to her.

When I was a new member, my district leader encouraged me to subscribe to the SGI-USA publications and participate in contribution, and she told me that contributing financially was a profound cause to transform my karma.

As I tackled my mother’s debt, I learned that her house wasn’t fit to sell for the amount we needed, and many told me to walk away. Instead, I chanted and made causes in my Buddhist practice for victory.

In the process, many people came to our aid, including an attorney who offered her services gratis. It took two years, but we sold the house for an amount that enabled me to wipe out my mother’s debt completely.

This year, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, my siblings and I were no longer able to visit our mother at her nursing home. Soon, we learned that she had pneumonia, and I prayed that she would be protected.

Shortly thereafter, my sister, niece and two grandnephews tested positive for the coronavirus. Both my sister and niece had serious symptoms and became very weak. I was in pain knowing how much they were struggling. 

Thanks to Sensei, I have developed a boundless sense of appreciation, which now extends to everything and everyone.

I determined to transform this karma of illness for my family. I threw myself into the A-B-C Campaign[1] full force, encouraging three to four members a day. Many of them were facing their own challenges, and encouraging them gave me the strength to continue fighting for my family. I engraved Nichiren Daishonin’s words “The stronger one’s faith, the greater the protection of the gods” (“General Stone Tiger,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 953) in my heart and determined to win over my doubt through strong prayer.

As my sisters, niece and grandnephews started to recover, I chanted with deep gratitude for the Gohonzon, Ikeda Sensei and the SGI-USA for enabling me to pull forth the courage to persevere through everything.

In mid-April, my 92-year-old mom took a turn for the worse, and we were allowed to visit her. I chanted while holding her hand, and I told her what a great mom she was and how much I loved her. The following day, my younger sister, Janine, visited, and within minutes of her departure, my mom passed away peacefully with a beautiful countenance.

Without my Buddhist practice, I know my family situation would have been totally different at the time of my mom’s passing. Thanks to Sensei, I have developed a boundless sense of appreciation, which now extends to everything and everyone. Despite the current economic situation, new opportunities are appearing in my career, and I’m determined to greet Nov. 18, Soka Gakkai Founding Day, with a business that is flourishing beyond my wildest dreams!

This year’s May Contribution activity is very special to me. I am chanting deeply to repay my debt of gratitude to my wonderful mother, as I have discovered this is truly “the highest virtue.”

To learn more on how you can participate in May Commemorative Contribution click here!


  1. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SGIUSA initiated the A-B-C Campaign: A: Abundant chanting; B: Buddhist study; C: Connect life-to-life with members, guests and family (by phone or videoconferencing). ↩︎

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