Gratitude for the Gift of Life

Seattle Branch, San Francisco Dharma Center

by Mr. Ken’ichiro Ohashi

The following religious testimony was delivered during the Ullambana Ceremony at the Seattle Branch of the San Francisco Dharma Center on July 14, 2013.

Mr. Ken’ichiro Ohashi delivers his testimonial during the Ullambana Ceremony at the Seattle Branch of the San Francisco Dharma Center.

Since childhood, I have had a powerful longing to liveoverseas. My dream came true when I came to Canada as a Japanese immigrant at the end of October 2008, thanks to the support of many people. I did not have any definite plan about how I would live here in the Northwest; I only knew I wanted to do so. I was satisfied just thinkingthat my childhood dream had come true. I was so happy.

Although there were times that I couldn’t find a job and had no idea what to do, I eventually found a position at my current company in April of 2009. It is said that it is very hard to get a permanent job here in the Northwest,so I felt that, as a new immigrant, I was getting the best possible start. The company I work for treats their employees very well, providing a pleasant working environment and fair compensation. I am the envy of my Japanese immigrant friends. They say, “It’s very difficult to get a chance to work at such a good company. How did you get the job?” I agree that I was very lucky to get the opportunity to work for such a good company.

However, there is a concern I have had since I began my current job. Specifically, I am not good at communicating with others. I am a person who by nature likes quietly working on his own, and who is not good at taking the lead in communicating with others. Also, I am not that good at speaking English. I cannot understand what my colleagues say, and I cannot get them to understand what I’m trying to say. So, I have intentionally avoided conversation with others, only saying what is absolutely necessary. This behavior turned me into the kind of person who avoids meeting with colleagues; as a result, I ended up being isolated from my co-workers. There were many times I worked all day long without speaking to anyone and then went home. Although I realized that this situation was not good, I had no idea what to do about it. Then, I thought that it was very important that I did my best to take on a full workload and complete all assignments before their due dates, in order to avoid getting fired. So I sometimes brought my work home in order to meet deadlines, and I becameexhausted from Monday through Friday. I didn’t rest on weekends, either, committing myself to activities for the Dharma center and for the Japanese community to which I belong.

Smoking gave me a break. Even only for five minutes, it gave me a feeling of refreshment. So as a way to relax, it was very effective and convenient for me. Also, my stress was released by eating food I liked and drinking alcohol. When I didn’t have any particular plans on weekends, I fell into the habit of staying up late and rising late with almost no physical exercise. I led an irregular life.

All of a sudden one morning, I felt a slight pain like cramping in my chest, as I was smoking in the backyard of my house after a walk. In those days, I had some severe pain in the joints of my shoulder, elbow, and knee, etc. I wondered why those pains had moved up to mychest. Really, I didn’t think too deeply about it, since the pain went away quickly. However, as time went on, the pain began to last longer and longer. And on a Sunday evening (about ten days later after the first pain), I felt pain rise up in my chest while surfing the internet at home. Although at first I hesitated to go to the emergency room, I realized that I really had to go because the pain in my chest continued for more than ten minutes, which it had not done before. I asked my landlord to take me to the hospital.

After registering at the hospital, my blood pressure was taken and an EKG, blood test, and X-rays were done. I also told my symptoms to a doctor there and waited for the test results. But the doctor said, “We didn’t find any problems although we checked everything. Just in case, I have made an appointment for you to take a stress test which monitors EKG after doing some light exercise. Please come back for a complete examination tomorrow.” I went back home without having any treatment at the emergency room. The doctor did not find any problems in my body. I assumed that the cause of the pain in my chest wasn’t related to my heart, because there was no problem found in my EKG. I knew I didn’thave lung cancer because no shadow was found in my X-ray. I felt at ease, thinking that the cause of the pain must be something else.

The next day I went to the hospital and underwent the stress test, as the doctor has ordered. But the doctor stopped the test after two or three minutes, and asked me to lie down. After looking at my EKG for a while, he said, “I found something unusual in your EKG. I will write a letter of introduction so you can go be admitted right away.” Again, I was put on a bed right after showing the letter of introduction to the doctor in the emergency room,and was sent to a special heart ward. Even though I had obtained permission to take leave from the work for the time being, I hesitated to tell my elder sister what was going on. However, the doctor told me that I would have to stay at the hospital for a minimum of two to three days,and possibly until the end of the week. I couldn’t hide my condition from her anymore, so I called her. I’m sure she was quite surprised to hear the news, but she quickly pulled herself together and rushed to see me, worrying whether I had any change of clothes and toiletries. The nurse explained what had happened, saying that the pain in my chest was due to heart convulsions due to a temporary hypoxic state caused by an oxygen shortage from the artery, which was becoming narrowed. This is called a “heart stroke.” She handed me over a DVD and brochures to study. At the time, I still didn’t recognize how serious my disease was, thinking that I wanted to have the surgery as soon as possible, get out of the hospital, and get back to work to make up for lost time.

I got the operation the next day; it only took 20 minutes. I thought, “Oh, that was easy! I will be able to get out of the hospital tomorrow and go back to work the day after.I happened to hear a conversation between a nurse and a patient who was in a bed beside me. “Is there any way to treat my disease without taking medication?”he said. “Sorry to say, but no. You’ll have to keep taking it for the rest of your life.” replied the nurse. I thought, “What! Taking it for the rest of my life? What do you mean by that?” I read over again the brochures that the nurse had given me the other day. Then I found a statement, almost on the last page of one of the brochures. It saidthat the medical association recommends taking an aspirin tablet for the rest of one’s life or other medications for a minimum of one year, depending upon the condition of the disease. I thought, “Have I become a person who will depend on medication for the rest of my life? Will the rest of my life be filled with medication? Really?” Then my mind went blank!

The next morning, a medical specialist was telling me how I should live once I got out of the hospital, and I listened to his instruction and guidance. He told me about not smoking, improving my eating habits, doing appropriate exercises, and taking medicine. When I asked if I really had to keep taking medicine, he clearly said, “Yes, life-long.” His words shocked me once again. I deeply realized how serious the disease was when a nurse handed me a nitroglycerin tablet in case of emergency after I was discharged from the hospital. After I got out of the hospital, I had lunch with my sister. As soon as I got home, I started searching the Internet for information about my disease and medication. As Isearched further and further, I found more facts that Iwanted to look away from. Although I decided to stay home that week, and had obtained permission to take leave from work, I was at a loss; I couldn’t accept what was happening to me. There are lots of people who have an unbalanced diet and who are heavier smokers than I. There are also plenty of obese people here in the Northwest. Why me? Why did I become an angina patient? Although I tried many times, I couldn’t find an answer to my question.

I tried to be calm, but the situation was terrible for me. I hadn’t even cared about a slight pain in my chest before, but now, if I felt pain at bedtime, fear came over me. I stayed up late at night until becoming overwhelminglysleepy, holding a nitroglycerin tablet because I thought I might die if I fell asleep. My boss kindly told me that I could take my time and stay home for a while before Istarted working again because it was very important to recover and become healthy. However, I went back to work the next Tuesday of that week. I felt that I might be crushed by fear if I continued to stay at home, and that Ihad to return to my usual lifestyle and regain my self-confidence in order to overcome my anxiety. It has been a month since then.

Sometime after I became ill, my area leader gave me the role to express my religious experience. I believe that a personal testimony should be usually shared along with the important realizations gained through one’sexperiences. However, at this moment I am still sufferingand have not yet solved my problems. And I cant think of any realization I can share with you. Since getting out of the hospital, I have noticed something, though. That is, I have become a person who feels gratitude for things I used to take for granted. I can open my eyes, my heart is beating, I can breathe, I am still alive and I’m glad to wake up in the morning. Also, when I returned to work, many workers at the company greeted me saying, “Welcome back!” I thought, “What a negative person I have been. I would dislike anyone who behaved as I did. I felt ashamed that I had been looking at people through my own colored lenses. I have started learning English again for the last few years, because I have changed my attitude; I’m striving to become a good enough English speaker that I can express my feelings and thoughts effectively.

I received a telephone call from my mother in Japan while writing this paper. She wished me a happy birthday and asked me to read her e-mail. I thought, “Ah, is today my birthday? I became forty-one years old today.” I read the e-mail from my mother after finishing a briefconversation with her on the phone. In her e-mail, she says, “All experiences in the past, good things and even bad things alike, are all your treasures. You might think that your life did not go as you wished because of the failures of the past. Once you realize that as a matter of fact, it is all part of the journey of your life, even though you cannot change it, these things in the past will be changed into treasures, just as they are. And, if your point of view changes, the way you the value of the past will totally change. The Lotus Sutra tells us about that perspective. There is no question about the fact that youve lived your life the best you can.

I became a forty-one-year-old man this month. I am standing at the midpoint of the average man’s life-span which today is eighty years old. Taking advantage of the experience with my disease, I would like to make today a starting point of living my life with a new, fresh attitude feelings and appreciating the precious treasures of my past. Thank you very much.


Mr. Ken’ichiro Ohashi, right, and other members of the Seattle Branch.