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In the Moment

Basing my life on winning daimoku, I give my all to motherhood, leadership and a long-held dream.

Irene Ishii in Sammamish, Wash., November 2023. Photo by Melika Lynd.

by Irene Ishii
Sammamish, Wash.

The problem was time—not enough in the day. Between work, motherhood, SGI leadership and so much more, I felt myself stretched, like a rubber band, in ten different directions, each demanding daily another inch. Amid my jam-packed schedule, I squeezed in morning and evening gongyo, my mind skipping nervously ahead, fretting over the day’s many to-dos—a distracted, slightly frantic prayer, a gongyo that was almost just another box to check.

If I was suffering, though, it was my well-kept secret. No one knew I was reaching my limit. No one, that is, but my husband.

We were having our usual, somewhat chaotic dinner with our two children, when he told me. I don’t remember my exact words, or what prompted them, but I remember that they were biting. He stopped what he was doing to look me in the eye and say, without a trace of bitterness, “You’ve changed.”

He’d seen what I’d hoped was hidden: the negativity eating away at my life. Painful as it was to admit, I’d felt it for some time—powerfully enough to have registered for that summer’s Women’s Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center (FNCC) months in advance. Unlike other “spiritual retreats,” the FNCC is the place to make a spiritual advance.

After that dinner, my eldest began playing with his toy cars. “Vroom!” he said, shoving a turquoise one to my feet. I sat down and pushed it back. “Vroom!” I said. But my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was on a mountain of legal work. I knew as much, and as the weeks passed, a berating inner voice grew louder: You’re not doing enough as a wife, mother, chapter leader. All these roles were indispensable, and yet day by day the feeling grew that I couldn’t do it all without sacrificing something.

Three weeks ahead of the conference, my employer posted a job listing that took me aback. Never in my career had I seen such a listing—seeking candidates with highly untraditional backgrounds for a senior attorney position. The background sought corresponded strongly, in fact, with my own. A word—actually a Japanese character—flashed in my mind. It was the character for “justice,” from a poem by Ikeda Sensei that I’d read in my youth, as an exchange student to Soka University in Japan. Laboring over the original Japanese, I’d wrestled with one word in particular before it leaped from the page, full of meaning. Justice.

Raised in the SGI, I’d grasped at an early age that Buddhism and human rights are deeply related. Reading that poem, I vowed in my heart to accomplish a childhood dream: to advance kosen-rufu in America and become an attorney supporting the advancement of human rights.

Reading the listing, I understood two things at once: 1) The job, if I got it, would entail even greater responsibility than the one I already had; and 2) it presented the long-awaited opportunity for me to fulfill my youthful vow to my mentor.

Joyfully, I submitted my application and was scheduled for an interview to take place just a few days after the FNCC conference.

At the FNCC, one session in particular felt personally addressed to me. Titled “The True Meaning of Balance,” it was full of revelations, first among them that I was not alone among working mothers who’d struggled throughout the pandemic to balance their lives. The answer, as the session testified, lay in chanting abundant, quality daimoku.

Sensei says: “[Josei] Toda said with great conviction: ‘[The benefit of the Gohonzon] is that it supercharges our life force.’ …

“When you are suffering, chant daimoku. When you are stuck, chant daimoku. If you do, life force and courage will emerge, and you will be able to change your situation. Our Buddhist practice is the engine for victory in all things” (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, revised edition, p. 255).

Sensei explains that when our life state is low, encountering even small challenges makes us feel powerless. But from a high life condition, even large obstacles, appear to us as opportunities to grow.

The key to a winning life is life force. And this life force flows from chanting daimoku to the Gohonzon. And not distracted, penciled-into-the-calendar-margins daimoku, but strong daimoku, full of praise for the vast capacity of our lives. How did Sensei accomplish all that he did? Intellectually, I’d understood that he was always 100% in the present moment. But I’d never experienced what this might feel like for myself.

After that session, for the first time in years, I faced the Gohonzon and gave myself the license to chant abundant, uninterrupted daimoku. I brought a question: How do I engrave what I heard today in my life? But I already had the answer—I was already doing it. By the end of that daimoku session, I was full of conviction, determined to bring Sensei’s heart to all that I did. To work, to motherhood, to the members of my chapter, I would give my 100%, without sacrificing anything. And I resolved to do this based on daimoku.

Upon returning home, I reentered the intensive rhythm of my daily life. But now, I discovered something incredible: Just as time flies when chanting fully focused daimoku, the time that follows slows down. Instead of parsing myself out into frantic thirds or fourths between responsibilities, I found I could give 100% of myself to each person, each responsibility, and have time left over. What’s more, all my interactions felt far more meaningful.

I did my interview, without any doubts as to whether I could take on the job. I even referenced my Buddhist practice as my driving reason for wanting to work where human rights are advanced. Even more joyfully, I accepted the position when it was offered a few weeks later.

These days, I begin with daimoku— abundant, appreciative daimoku that expands my state of life.

Recently, at the end of one particularly long day of work and SGI activities, my son held out his little turquoise car with an inviting “Vroom!

Vroom!” I answered, and took it up and ran, laughing with him round and round the house until breathless, laid out on the floor, exhausted, happy. These days, I share my secrets: The key to winning in the moment—life force. The key to life force—daimoku!

December 15, 2023, World Tribune, p. 5

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