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Opening Doors

Walking the path of a contributive life, I fling wide the doors to my mission.

Community—Karina Mahbubani with her daughter Isha in front of her restaurant in Kingston, Jamaica, April 2024. Photos courtesy of Karina Mahbubani.

by Karina Mahbubani
Montego Bay, Jamaica

It dawned on me two years after my husband left on business for Ocho Rios: There were two of me—one true, the other false. 

My husband began working weekdays in Ocho in 2014, returning on weekends to me and the kids, to our beautiful waterfront home in Montego Bay. The realization came in the rhythm of his comings and goings, and shook me to my core. I was one person on the weekdays—empowered, spirited, driven. Quite another on the weekends—subdued, withdrawn, submissive. 

I was in conflict from the outset of our marriage, arranged in the traditional manner by our parents in 1999. Fiercely independent by nature, I wrestled daily with traditional notions of womanly duty, and the notion that my love could be arranged. But giving voice to this was too painful, confusing and above all, taboo—no woman in the history of my family had ever left her marriage. 

It was my mother who introduced me to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in 2009; she’d begun practicing in India. She visited and invited me to chant with her. I was one of those people who knew from the start this was for me, for life. Chanting felt like the opening of a door within, from which liquid sunshine spilled forth. As wonderful as it felt, it was familiar, too, somehow, unmistakably so. 

In 2011, I gave birth to twins, and also to a new venture, my first restaurant. However, my family viewed the restaurant as something of a hobby outside of motherhood, a footnote in family affairs, whose centerpiece was my husband’s wildly successful exports business. 

Traditionally, couples do not divorce in India. But in 2016, unprecedented change was afoot, not only for me but for the kosen-rufu movement in Jamaica as a whole.

A propagation campaign of the likes the island had never seen was coming into bloom. In its midst, I was coming to grips with my innermost fears, facing them as I never had before the Gohonzon. Seeking from a senior in faith about my inner conflicts, I was advised to chant unflinching daimoku to the Gohonzon, face my true self and through my own example encourage others to do the same. The greatest gift I could give my family, my community and the world was the example of my own fearless self-realization.

I began to take action for kosen-rufu in a way I never had before. Since the start of my practice, my prayers had been superficial ones—for a cruise, a luxury car. I’d gotten both but found no deep fulfillment in either. Now, for the first time, I began chanting not about how much business could be done at the restaurant but about how and with whom I could share Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I began to see the success of my business, the harmony of my family and my behavior as a person as the doors through which others could encounter the Mystic Law. Instead of asking for things, I asked what I could give. How can I contribute to the happiness of my community?

Burning with this question, I participated in that year’s May Contribution activity. It was in May that I opened my second restaurant to overwhelming acclaim. Amid intense anxiety and doubt coming from within my life and my family, each conversation I had about Buddhism recentered me, kept me moving forward along the path of my mission. That September, treading a path untraveled by any woman in my family, I informed my husband of my decision to leave. Not easily shaken, he was in new territory, nonetheless. Ahead of our every conversation, I prayed for the happiness of our family. Understanding deepened each time we spoke, and when we officially separated, it was with mutual respect.

Hosting a kosen-rufu gongyo meeting at her home in Montego Bay, Jamaica, February 2024.

Striving alongside friends in faith, we gathered over 40 people for our 2017 New Year’s Gongyo meeting, an unprecedented accomplishment for the island and a source of tremendous joy and pride for us all. In fact, my husband lent us the space we held the meeting in—a large room in a building he owns.

When others see me running a successful business independently, co-parenting harmoniously and raising our three beautiful children into people of character, they naturally respect the decision we made and the way it was done. Today, my parents live with me, their daughter—an unorthodox arrangement—and are proud of the fact. When they speak of me to family in India, they speak not with shame or bafflement but pride. 

In 2023, I opened another restaurant, this one in the island’s capital of Kingston. It received even greater acclaim than the previous two and became widely known and hugely popular. Even its name, Mystic Thai, is a door—a conversation-starter. 

I’m now looking to open yet another restaurant in Jamaica. The average person might wonder why. Why, when the business is doing so well, when there’s more than enough to raise a family. It’s because it is for something larger than myself, larger than my immediate family. Each is a platform for kosen-rufu, a way, a hope, for someone to encounter the Mystic Law, and for me to demonstrate actual proof of the power of this practice so that others might ask, “What is it that you do?” And I can answer them fully. 

May 17, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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