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Living a Poetic Life

Photo by Bob Nardi.

by Matilda Buck 
SGI-USA Many Treasures Group Vice Women’s Leader

World Tribune: Thank you, Matilda, for sharing your experiences with us. You’ve been practicing for over five decades. What has been the key to continually refreshing your faith over the years?

Matilda Buck: If you open up the SGI-USA publications and read Ikeda Sensei’s guidance and the experiences—if that’s all you do, do that, and you will feel uplifted. You will feel connected.

The most precious thing we have is the sangha—the community of believers. Some of us may be in districts that are kind of stuck, some of us may be in a lively district, but if we realize that our districts are the treasure land, we will feel a sense of mission to contribute.

I chant for each member’s happiness and that our district will attract young people who will have an experience with the Gohonzon and Sensei.

Last year, I introduced a young woman to Buddhism. The way that she refers to Sensei and the way she grasps his guidance—it’s like she already has a connection with him. Sensei’s guidance is so available now that someone who is never going to meet him can still feel that they met him through his words.

WT: You have met Sensei on numerous occasions. Can you tell us about one of those encounters?

Matilda: In 2001, I was appointed as the women’s leader for the SGI-USA. I was exhausted, and I felt I didn’t have enough time to go to all the places I needed to go in our vast country. I was given the opportunity to attend a dinner with Sensei and ask a question, and I asked him what I should do when I felt so exhausted that I couldn’t feel my own life. 

Sensei smiled and told me I had to be deadly serious about accomplishing kosen-rufu but that I must also live a poetic life. He taught me that only when the life of the person advancing kosen-rufu is thriving and adorned with beauty—like a poem—can kosen-rufu be said to have borne fruit. He encouraged me to wisely harmonize the three elements of effort, rest and joy, like the conductor of a great symphony. It was his humanity that moved me. To this day, I aim to harmonize all aspects of my life.

WT: What is one of your seminal experiences in faith?

Matilda: I have come to understand that every situation we encounter is perfectly endowed. Everything in our life is tailor-made for us to chip away at our own disbelief and hurt and deadness. I’ll share about one of my turning points in faith.

I was raised by an alcoholic mother. She was a loving mother, but she was brokenhearted from my father’s death. My home life was very unstable. I was in the presence of a parent who could change at any moment, so I spent my childhood basing my actions on her sobriety.

I got married at 19 to create a happy family like the ones I saw on TV. But after having two children, I got divorced. I remarried someone who I thought was the complete opposite—stable, established. But after three years, I found myself unhappy and wanting to leave him. 

That’s why I started chanting. It was my last-ditch effort to love my husband again and to have a happy family. It seemed impossible, but after chanting for a few weeks, I felt a bubble of hope. I met all these people in the SGI who were actually solving their problems in life. Then, as I got involved in SGI activities, I fell in love with kosen-rufu. 

I was happy when doing activities, but home life was a different story. My husband became a full-blown alcoholic. I had this realization one day that I hadn’t changed my karma. Going home to him after activities, I had to steel myself just as I had when I was a little girl going home to my mother. I never knew what version of him would be behind that door.

I chanted and opened Nichiren Daishonin’s writings. After reading “On the Treasure Tower,” I thought, After 15 years of practice, I still I don’t believe that I’m a Buddha. I could hope to have Buddha aspirations, but I didn’t believe that I was a Buddha. And then a second thought: If I’m a Buddha, I’m allowed to be happy. I’m going to become happy. I don’t have to live like this. I have the power, wisdom and compassion of a Buddha, and I can change anything. This was my first big turning point. 

The second turning point was seeing my husband, Carl, as someone who was suffering, too. He was also a Buddha and was fully capable of transforming his life. During this time, I was trying to decide whether to leave him. I now felt that I could because I no longer saw him as a poor helpless thing or the person ruining my life. 

After having these realizations, his drinking continued to get worse. I finally decided to leave him, and when I told him, he looked like a stunned bear. He stopped drinking cold turkey right then and there. 

I was told by everyone that he would never stop drinking, but he did. Me coming to understand that I was a fully empowered Buddha and that I should respect him as a human being who was suffering was the key to transforming everything. We spent 11 more years together, him sober, until he passed away peacefully chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until his last moment. We wrote a great story of human revolution together.

WT: What a beautiful story. Do you have any advice for young people?

Matilda: Try to say “yes” to new opportunities, whether in the SGI or in your daily life. The experiences you gain through expanding your life to advance kosen-rufu will enable you to become an attractive person who can encourage so many people. Sticking with the SGI is the best investment for your life.

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