Transforming All Hardships to Create a Harmonious Family
How I transformed all of my childhood suffering into joy and created a harmonious family. I’m Rena Takushi, from Honolulu.
Living Buddhism: Aloha, Rena! You have a wonderful experience of creating a harmonious family.
Rena Takushi: Aloha! Yes, through my Buddhist practice, I have transformed all my suffering into joy.
What was your childhood like?
Rena: Growing up, I never felt like I belonged to anyone. When I was 2 years old, my parents divorced. A few years later, my dad remarried, and my biological mother stopped visiting me. I learned later that this was not by choice, but because another family member had asked her to not see me anymore. Not knowing this, I felt like a piece of my heart had been ripped out.
My new mother was young and lacked the patience to raise a child. Whenever she became frustrated, she would lash out at me. I didn’t tell my father about the abuse because I thought this would make the situation worse. She told me that the reason why my mother didn’t call or write on birthdays and holidays was because she didn’t love me. Hearing this over and over again, I developed a lack of self-worth.
How did you cope?
Rena: Shortly after my parents divorced, my father was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism by a friend and took faith right away. After six months of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, he developed confidence that he could raise a family on his own.
At around 6, I started chanting on my own and attending SGI activities. Even though I had deep challenges at home with my stepmother and felt abandoned by my biological mother, my SGI family was the one constant source of love and belonging in my life. At a young age, I learned about the practice from my father and my district members, who were like my aunties and uncles (or my second ohana). I didn’t realize at the time how my practice could transform this situation.
How did this prayer manifest in your life?
Rena: I constantly yearned for my mother, but as I grew older, I forgot what she looked like. I had no photo of her. All I had was her first name. When I went to the grocery store, I would search for her, approaching women who slightly resembled her and asking them for their name.
Finally, at age 13, I found her in the phone book under my father’s last name. When we met, we ran into each other’s arms, crying. The feeling was overwhelming, as if two stars had collided. I finally saw my mother’s lovely face; my prayer had come true.
When we met, we ran into each other’s arms, crying. The feeling was overwhelming, as if two stars had collided. I finally saw my mother’s lovely face; my prayer had come true.
What a beautiful story. How did your relationship with your stepmother evolve over time?
Rena: Due to my low self-esteem, I developed suicidal thoughts and started to self-harm.
When I was 13, my stepmother and father got a divorce. It was then that I told my father about the abuse. As the family’s pillar, my father had brought Buddhism to our family and made sure that we attended as many SGI activities as possible. He also worked long hours to provide for us. When I finally told my father about the reality of my childhood, he was devastated and truly regretted that he didn’t notice and do something. Over time, that fueled his determination to be an even better, more caring father. I have so much appreciation for him.
Several years later, my sisters reintroduced my stepmother to Nichiren Buddhism and, over time, our relationship changed and healed. Today, I am truly proud to be her daughter, and I’d like for her to share some of her own experience here in her own words.
Hello, Ms. Divine, thank you so much for joining us. Can you share your experience of suddenly becoming a mother at a young age?
Pam Divine: Thank you for this opportunity. Looking back, I was 22 years old when I married Rena’s father and not prepared for motherhood. When I thought of parenthood, I had certain expectations of what I should do and how the children would follow. But this was not what happened at all, so each day my frustration grew. I just couldn’t keep my patience and reacted out of my own insecurities.
But when I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, sharing Buddhism with others and participating in SGI activities, I started to transform my karma. I realized that my mother, who had to live with strangers after her parents died young, didn’t know how to show me love and affection. I didn’t have an example of how to be a good mother. I reflected on how I treated my oldest two daughters and have spent most of my adult life trying to repair our relationship, and show them that I do love them.
That’s very courageous to confront past mistakes. What would you say to mothers who are facing similar challenges?
Pam: None of us is perfect, and we all make mistakes. I feel what’s important is the desire to want to become a better person for your children, despite past mistakes. For much of my life, I was miserable and insecure, which reflected in my behavior toward my two oldest daughters. But through my Buddhist practice, I have become so happy. My children and I all practice this Buddhism together and can freely discuss anything, with nothing to hide.
Rena: Personally, I can say that I have zero feelings of resentment toward my stepmother. In fact, I’m in awe of how much she chants every day and how she is always thinking about how to share Nichiren Buddhism with others. She has become one of the most compassionate women I know. In fact, when we attend meetings at the SGI-USA Hawaii Culture Center, our family takes up two rows! I feel so happy when I look to my left and right, seeing my family members seeking this Buddhism together.
What is your relationship like with your birth mother today?
Rena: Over the years, it was hard to maintain a solid mother-daughter relationship as we both had our own lives. Last winter, my eldest son and I decided to increase the amount we gave monthly to the SGI-USA’s Sustaining Contribution plan. I had experienced many financial hardships as a single mom, and it was my Buddhist practice that enabled me to overcome every challenge. I believe that making this offering with deep appreciation enabled me to experience another family breakthrough.
Around this time, I struggled with some health issues that prompted me to seek out my mother. As we talked, I finally shared about the past abuse I endured. My mother was filled with sorrow, and I learned that she had yearned to see me as much as I wanted to see her. She also looked for me at the grocery store in our neighborhood. I thanked her for loving me all this time and finally spoke the words I had held on to for so long: “I’m so happy to be your daughter.” In that moment, I transformed any lingering negativity in my heart.
What a hopeful experience! How have your family experiences shaped your sense of mission?
Rena: Without these painful experiences, I wouldn’t have chosen my career path as a social worker. Not only because I experienced trauma and psychological challenges, but also because I overcame these hardships, I feel a sense of mission to empower others in society who may feel broken from abuse.
My greatest benefit, though, has been to win over my perceived limitations. I have been deeply inspired by this passage from Ikeda Sensei, where he writes:
“Faith for harmonious family” is the most fundamental of the Soka Gakkai’s five eternal guidelines. Efforts to embody this kind of faith constitute the very essence of Buddhist practice and a sure way for achieving kosen-rufu. (The Five Eternal Guidelines, p. 15)
My Buddhist practice has taught me that one can take all of their sadness, anger and mistrust and transform it into determination, hope and joy, and completely transform any relationship. I genuinely feel proud to be the daughter of my father and both mothers.
What are your future goals?
Rena: I am determined to continue to deepen my bond with my parents and become an even better mother to my two wonderful sons! I also have two dear friends who started chanting in 2020 and would love for them to receive the Gohonzon as soon as possible! Finally, I’m determined to reach out to as many mothers as possible in the SGI and encourage them to take bold action for kosen-rufu and experience actual proof of developing a harmonious family. Mahalo!