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Across All Four Quarters of the Land

Engaging in dialogue for the peace of the land, my family triumphs over illness and fear. I’m Chika O’Berry from Ashburn, Va.

Photo by Kosim Shukurov.

Living Buddhism: Thank you for talking with us today Chika. Major global events hit close to home over the past three years, as your family dealt with one health struggle after another. How did you respond? 

Chika O’Berry: My father, a man in his 80s, went in for a routine checkup in early August 2020 and was immediately hospitalized; his blood count was shockingly low. Within the day, he received a diagnosis of stage 4 stomach cancer.

I had never before seen my mother cry—honestly, I’d never even seen her complain. A driving force in our family, she met every hardship head-on with determined prayer. But my father’s diagnosis rattled her, not only because it was so dire but because the timing and circumstances were, too. Amid a global pandemic, the doctors informed her that she would not be allowed to see him. 

Through her tears, she told me: “Daddy is using his body to teach us the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He’s fighting for his life in bed. We have to fight, too, where we are right now.”

Chika O’Berry with her parents, Sueko and Isao, in Japan, 1985. Photos courtesy of Chika O’Berry.

My mother begged the doctors to let her see him. At some point, they relented and let her peek through the window of the intensive care unit. There, she saw him under anesthesia, hooked up to countless tubes, his faint heartbeat displayed on a monitor. 

Instead of overwhelming her with fear, the sight set her heart ablaze. “I’m gonna fiiiiiight!!!” she told me over the phone. It was a battle cry to transform the destiny of our family, to chant and share Nam-myoho-renge-kyo “as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (“Rebuking Slander of the Law,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 444). This passage of the Daishonin’s became our rallying cry to use hardship to transform not only the destiny of our family, but that of all humanity.  

“I’m fighting with you!” I told her from half a world away. It wasn’t easy, though—a cold front had come over Virginia, or rather, over the hearts of the people of Virginia. Little was known about the coronavirus but that it had first broken out in China, an Asian country. Unreasoning anger is the close cousin of fear. Now and again, walking into town, my smiling eyes were met with a hard glare that said, “You’re not welcome here.” Few actually spoke the words, but occasionally, someone did. “Go back to your country,” growled one older gentleman passing me in the grocery store. 

Never have I hesitated to discuss Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with others, but, suddenly, just leaving the house filled me with dread, and the idea of discussing Buddhism with strangers felt all but impossible.

My mom was right, though: my father was fighting for his life. Every cause we made for kosen-rufu would no doubt return as good fortune to our family. 

A senior in faith assured me that this was precisely the time to share this Buddhism in America; precisely because there were so many angry, unhappy faces around; precisely because there was such fear among neighbors.  

Among neighbors at home and neighbors abroad. Your family was also affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Chika: I remember the day of the invasion, in February 2022. My husband, Howard, an officer in the U.S. Navy, turned to me and said, “Chika, this might be happening.” Soon after, he received his orders. A kind of intensity took hold in the house as he prepared himself mentally and emotionally for what lay ahead. 

March through July 2022 were hectic months of preparation, over the course of which my prayer began to shift from the health and happiness of my family to one encompassing the entire world. Nichiren’s words struck me with fresh meaning: “If you care anything about your personal security, you should first of all pray for order and tranquillity throughout the four quarters of the land, should you not?” (“On Establishing the Correct Teaching,” WND-1, 24). 

My husband’s ship had a crew of 6,000. I began chanting that every person aboard return home safely. Each of those 6,000 sailors were leaving behind friends and family who worried for their safety—children who would miss their fathers or mothers, husbands who would miss their wives and wives who would miss their husbands. One of my husband’s crewmembers had a daughter struggling with depression and anxiety, and we saw firsthand how impacted she was by the deployment. 

We think of war as a gigantic thing: one nation pitted against another. But nations are made up of families, and it’s the family that’s wrenched apart in war. Ultimately, nations are made up of people—people cause wars and people can end them. Deeply, I felt: The military needs leaders who embrace humanistic teachings of respect for the dignity of every life without exception. Maybe it sounds far-fetched, but I found myself chanting for my husband, a disciple of Sensei, to be stationed where he could make the biggest impact. 

Chika and her children celebrate the safe return of her husband, Howard, and 6,000 sailors in Norfolk, Virginia, 2023. Photo courtesy of Chika O’Berry

We understand that, shortly before and after his deployment, your family experienced a host of health problems.

Chika: That’s right. By this time, my father had made a remarkable recovery, surviving the ordeal against all odds and returning home to my mother. His doctor, upon releasing my father from the hospital, told me, “I will never, ever forget him.” Of course, he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. He was battling to regain his health. At the time of my husband’s deployment, this was the case for most of our family. Amelia, for one, caught a cold and a bad cough that lingered long after other symptoms cleared up. It kept her home from school and both of us up all night for days, weeks and months. 

My son, Tyler, too, was sick—he’d been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease earlier that same year. And I myself was experiencing health challenges—
discharge and sudden bleeding from my left ear, symptoms my grandmother had had, and which had led her to go deaf. But my fate, I decided, would not be the fate of my grandmother. As the Daishonin says: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412).

Those days were hard, but I explained to Amelia: “All people have a health struggle at some point. Mommy’s is her ear, Tyler’s is his stomach. Grandpa just got surgery. You’ve got your cough. Let’s all chant together to turn this suffering into joy. But not just for ourselves. Others also need Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Let’s share about this Buddhism so everybody can win.”

“Yes!” she said. 

Just as your mother united with you, you united with Amelia. 

Chika: That’s right! Amelia was just 4 years old at the time. I’d go out with her, “planting seeds,” as we say, discussing Buddhism with others. I’d hand a card to someone here, another there, and then suddenly pull up short. She’d be watching me.

“Mommy, you’re not going to give one to them?”

“Well, maybe not that person,” I’d say, usually of a grouchy-looking man. 

“Don’t worry,” she’d say, “I got it,” and she was running off with a card she’d taken from my pocket. 

There was no difference to her—a person was a person, and all people want to become happy. If they looked grouchy, it was all the more reason to tell them about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Once, in a shoe store, she took off with a fistful of cards, addressing one family, then another: “Hey! Chant! Happy cards!” and I was left running after her to explain, hardly able to keep up and winded by the effort!

Amelia had held up a mirror to my heart and showed me what was in it—judgments that rose in a flash and brought me up short, just as I was reaching out to connect with another life. 

“Why do you do it,” a friend of mine asked her once. 

“It makes me feel strong and happy!” she said. 

That October, I was reminded by my father of the power of chanting and sharing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The reminder came as a photo—a selfie he took on a golf course in Shizuoka, the moon faintly pressed above a blue Mount Fuji behind him. I’d nearly forgotten what an avid golfer he’d been before his surgery in 2020. Before falling ill, he had traveled Japan by train, going course to course with friends, sending selfies as he went. Not only had he made a full recovery but in certain ways was even healthier than he’d ever been. I was reminded of his life-or-death battle in the hospital two years earlier, and my mother’s ferocious response to activate the protective functions of the universe.  

Rousing my faith, I redetermined to hold nothing back and put all my faith in the Gohonzon. Every daimoku I chanted, and every conversation I had was a cause, not only for my husband but for every sailor aboard his ship and each of their families. Each day, I started with a vow: Gohonzon, Sensei, today, I’m not gonna be defeated!

In November, after months of back and forth with the doctors, Amelia was diagnosed with asthma and prescribed an inhaler, after which her cough cleared up considerably. By then, my son was able to monitor his Crohn’s disease with very mild symptoms. My ear, too, needs just a very minor surgery. Through this, all three of us deepened our faith and stepped up our practice. 

Chika with her family: daughter, Amelia, son, Tyler, and husband, Howard, in Blacksburg, Virginia, 2024. Photos courtesy of Chika O’Berry.

And your husband?

Chika: In April, his ship came back to port, bringing all 6,000 aboard home safely to their families. While on deployment, he’d received the promotion we’d both been chanting for and, upon coming home, not one, not two, but three job opportunities in his field of expertise opened up, which we’d also been chanting for. A bit surprised, he applied for all three and, with even greater surprise, landed the one he wanted most. We quickly geared up for a move somewhere nearer to his new job. 

The first day of SGI-USA’s May Commemorative Contribution activity is April 28. Given that my prayer was to send my husband where he could fight for nothing less than world peace, I decided I wanted to challenge myself as I’d never challenged myself before. I showed my husband the numbers and said, “If we can sell our home by this day, for this price, and find our dream home near the Pentagon by this day, for this price, can we challenge ourselves to do this much in contribution together?” 

He blinked and then said, “Of course!” But I could tell he thought it was unlikely. Our real estate agent, too, balked at the asking price. “Well,” she said, “you can try…”

At this time, a friend sent me the following guidance from Sensei:

When our fundamental mindset changes, we ourselves change. And when we change, the environment and the world change, too. 

The source of this great transformation is found nowhere but in a radical deepening of our own chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon. This sort of prayer to the Gohonzon is completely different from that found in a dependent, supplicant faith; we do not weakly and passively beg someone for salvation or assistance.

Prayer in Nichiren Buddhism is fundamentally a vow. It is a pledge or commitment to follow a chosen course of action; it is a declaration to challenge a clear objective. (March 17, 2006, World Tribune, p. 3)

Selling and buying a house is not the true purpose of this battle, I decided. Just as a deeper purpose underlay my husband’s safe return to Virginia and my family’s return to good health, so, too, did a greater purpose underlie this battle to sell and purchase a home. Through this battle, too, each member of our family would deepen their conviction in the Gohonzon and the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This was my determination. 

Our family has always joyfully taken part in contribution, but on the morning of April 28, the day we put our house on the market, my husband declared, “First thing’s first: Let’s make a contribution! Let’s make a cause for victory!”

The very next day, a family toured our home and offered our asking price. I think my husband was a little stunned. I’d set the date and the price and, backed by daimoku, I’d gotten both. My husband was inspired by these victories that layered one on top of another: one layer, two layers, three, four, five—like, wow-wooow kinda way. When we landed our dream home within a week of moving to Ashburn, he was floored. Even after years of practice, he, too, can still be impressed! He told me he wants to deepen his study, even now, to better understand the workings of Buddhism in daily life. Again today and again tomorrow, I will do the same. 

From the April 2024 Living Buddhism

The Emergence of Vibrant Bodhisattvas of the Earth

Breaking Attachments to the Transient and Awakening to the Enduring Self