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The Greatest Treasure

Living for self and others, we lay the foundations of eternal good fortune.

Great fortune—Pat and Miles Nakanishi (center) with their family in Hawaii, 2023. Photo courtesy of Pat and Miles Nakanishi.

by Miles and Pat Nakanishi
Pearl City, Hawaii

Pat Nakanishi: My therapist knew everything about my childhood—the financial hardship, the father who was rarely home, the manic-depressive mother who was either about town gambling and dancing or home, weeping, and the brother who bullied me whenever we were alone. My therapist informed me that my insecurities and anxieties stemmed from childhood and that knowing this was half the battle.

“And the other half?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

Nearing graduation, I decided to work with children, which brought me from New York to Hawaii on a government-sponsored teachers training program. There, I worked with a student whose family practiced Nichiren Buddhism. In August of 1969, they drove me to an SGI meeting held at a farmhouse. Listening to the rhythmic chanting of daimoku in rural Waianae, I felt in my bones that I had my answer. I’d found the other half.

Miles Nakanishi: When people see Pat and I, they often assume I was the one who introduced Pat to Buddhism. It’s understandable—I’m Japanese-Hawaiian; Nichiren Buddhism originated in Japan. But it was Pat who introduced me.

When we first met, Pat struck me as a bit forceful. Actually, we’d gone on one date early in the teachers program that had ended in argument. But she grew calmer that summer, more self-assured and kinder. When I commented on this, she said she’d begun practicing Buddhism. Intrigued, I went to a meeting where, like Pat, I felt a sense of homecoming. As a Catholic, it was new to me. But as an educator born and raised in the Aloha spirit, it made intuitive sense. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo morning and evening put me in rhythm with life, with my work, with the students, with friends and family. I worried less and lived more in the moment. That summer I gave Pat a call and asked her on a second date.

Pat: Miles does tend to worry. He used to joke, though, that money was one worry he never had until he married me. We were young teachers and new parents. Within the first seven years of our marriage, we had three children, our first, Daniel Keola, in 1974, and then the twins, Julian and Jesse, in 1977. The year the twins were born was the same year my widowed mother moved to Hawaii to be close to us. Miles was also back in school for his master’s degree, and we were leaders in the SGI. 

Miles: Life was hectic, but we were in rhythm. What is fortune, really? Pat grew up financially challenged and, to a certain extent, so did our kids. The difference is that our children never knew they were poor—they were surrounded by fortune. Their grandparents gave clothes and toys, and our neighbors offered us fruits and vegetables. They played with their friends on the nearby beach and were nurtured by their loving SGI family.

When the time came, we sent them all to private mainland colleges, where they won scholarships and worked to help out with expenses. In 1985, we bought our home and in 2022, we renovated. Fortune isn’t having what you want all the time but having what you need when you need it.

What builds fortune? It’s the spirit of offering from the heart. Be it time, effort, money or daimoku, offerings put us in rhythm with the web of life on which our own lives depend.

Pat: As we’ve gotten older, we’ve taken more deeply to heart Nichiren Daishonin’s call to “accumulate treasures of the heart” (“The Three Kinds of Treasure,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 851). We’re in our golden years, and many of those we visit are homebound, battling illness or injury. Whenever we hear someone is sick, we think right away, “Let’s go to them!”

Miles: We have seen friends battle and overcome illness, and others die of it. With regard to the treasures of the storehouse and the body, you can’t, as the saying goes, take it with you. What you do take is your life state. I remember a friend who died of cancer in 2008. We gathered around, chanting at times, at others singing her favorite Soka Gakkai songs. In the end, she turned, smiling to her husband and said, “I have to go now,” and closed her eyes. Her smile remained.

In 2016, soon after becoming a Many Treasures Group member, I myself was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Just one year later, Pat was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. As many times as we’d seen friends battle and overcome cancer, having it ourselves marked the start of a different kind of battle. The decision in both cases was simple: Be defeated by our diagnoses or use them as fuel to encourage others. We determined to do the latter. I remember one men’s division member who came up to me after I’d shared my diagnosis and determination to overcome it. “We’re brothers now,” he said. He’d recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Pat: In 2018, every three weeks from February to June, I underwent chemo treatments, and after each I experienced severe symptoms including fatigue, pain and shortness of breath. But chanting kept my life condition high. I’d stay home a few days after each treatment to rest, chant and study. Then, as I got stronger, I’d put on a mask to protect my low immune system and a scarf to cover my bald head and go back to SGI activities, which seemed to inspire others. Actually, though, it inspired me. I could transcend my suffering to offer something of value to others. Not only did I overcome my cancer, but I used it to inspire the people around me. Our families, too, are far stronger and more united than before our bouts with cancer.

Ikeda Sensei says: “Those whose final years of life are victorious are the real winners” (Feb. 6, 2009, World Tribune, p. 5).

We’ve got our eyes on the road ahead, along which many joys and difficulties no doubt await. We’re determined to walk it together with our eternal mentor, lending hope to friends, strength to family and courage to the youth, leaving behind many smiles.

April 5, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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