Living In Gratitude

Minister of the Oklahoma Dharma Center

Rev. Kris Ladusau

This testimony was delivered at the Great Sacred Hall during the Founder’s memorial day on March 4, 2014.

Rev. Ladusau testifies to her faith at the Great sacred Hall.

Good morning !  It is a great honor to be here with you on this very auspicious day. As I stand here, I feel a deep, abiding connection to the Gohonzon and to this sacred space.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the completion of the Great Sacred Hall, and I heard it is fifty years ago today that Rissho Kosei-kai enshrined our Gohonzon here, which Founder Niwano revealed according to descriptions of the Lotus Sutra. This Statue also enables us to firmly establish the Three Treasuresthe Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Looking at this wonderful Gohonzon, I am reminded that, we too, are called to “stand up” and move forward, taking the Dharma out into the world from this fifty-first year forward.

This is in harmony with both Shakyamuni Buddha and Founder Niwano’s vow to liberate all beings from suffering – the same vow that has now become our own, as we choose to be bodhisattvas navigating in this world.

I feel very honored to be the first American-born Reverendfor Rissho Kosei-kai.

I would like to share my Dharma Journey with you. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, located in the center of the United States. I was raised Christian and had a good experience in that spiritual tradition.

I first learned about Buddhism in the form of Zen. It was 1975, and I had started studying Judo, Aikido, and Shinto Muso Ryu. I liked the Zen practice of meditation.

My introduction to Rissho Kosei-kai occurred in 1984. My mother had just passed away, and a Japanese friend invited me to an Obon service in Oklahoma City. I can’t explain why, but for some reason, the memorial service felt very comfortable to me.

I joined Kosei-kai, and began to learn and practice the Teachings. I was drawn to problem solving tools like the Four Noble Truths, and I liked seeing reality without illusion or self-centered focus.

I had been a member for about ten years when my father passed away from Alzheimer’s. The night before he died, I heard the words from the Kyoten repeating in my head, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Buddha…” It was a great comfort to me during that difficult time.

I continued my study and practice in Rissho Kosei-Kai, eventually becoming a Shunin. Special advanced training was also provided for me in English, since I am not able to read or speak Japanese. For this, I am truly grateful.

Several years ago, after an intense training in Japan, I had a chance to meet with President Niwano before returning home. I asked for his Dharma Guidance. He said, “Share the joy of the Dharma.” His wisdom continues to guide me.

I have learned that spirituality is not a practice separate from or above our ordinary routines, but it is an integral part of every waking moment. Founder Niwano always said that Enlightenment was to be found in every encounter. I believe this to be absolutely true.

As a Reverend, all encounters are extremely important opportunities to learn.

By understanding the teaching of “causation,” when situations arise, I put myself in the position of “primary cause.” I can clearly see my shortcomings and also the opportunity for growth, being reflected in myself and my sangha.

I have also realized that I let things become too casual at the Dharma Center. I have apologized to the sangha for this, and together we are re-establishing better focus and etiquette that reflects our respect for the Buddha, the Teachings, and our time together.

I have learned that when I feel tension arise during an interaction, it is my opportunity to check and make sure that my Buddha-Nature is remaining open to the other person.

Hoza is such an important part of Rissho Kosei-Kai. As a leader, I had doubts that I could give adequate guidance.

Several years ago, I had an insight. I envisioned myself taking one hand of the Gohonzon, and with my other hand – holding the hand of the person suffering. I realized at that moment, I was simply a “conduit” for the Dharma to reach the other person.

It is not me providing the guidance, but the Dharma itself that can produce a healing.

Once in hoza, an older woman shared that she had recently moved into her son’s home. She expressed great sadness because he refused to let her have a home altar. She cried when she wrapped up the Gohonzon and stored it in a drawer, never to be seen. I could clearly feel her pain.

Without thought – these words came out of my mouth, “I can see that you love the Buddha deeply, and that is so wonderful. I don’t know what the future holds for your situation at home, but I can tell you that you always have the altar with you – in your heart. You are never without it.” This Dharma guidance seemed to ease her suffering.

Through both laughter and tears, my sangha and I have grown together in the Dharma.

It has been my deepest honor that they share with me their hopes, dreams, and difficulties. I have been with members as they navigate through family issues, divorces, illness, and death.

Through these past years, I too, have personally experienced deep loss; the death of family members and friends, and the end of a long term relationship. Through it all, my sangha has been there to support me.

They have phoned to check on me if I am sick, cooked a meal for me, taken good care of the Dharma Center if I am in Japan, and sometimes they even remind me to take a day off if I haven’t. I am so grateful to them.

They also support each other well. Years ago, one of our members wanted to be doshi for her brother’s funeral. As we were chanting, she became emotional and began to cry. She was unable to chant. Immediately, the entire sangha chanted her part for her, until she was once again able to lead.

With the Dharma in my life, I have learned that gratitude is the key that unlocks the shackles – freeing us from our attachments and removing our limitations.

Every morning I greet my altar by chanting Namu Myoho Renge Kyo. I verbalize gratitude, then ask for continuing guidance and ever expanding awareness – to see the world through the eyes of the Dharma.

I now know everything in this world is Skillful Means. My practice is to consciously choose a response – to think, speak, and act – in harmony with the Dharma.

The Rissho Kosei Kai dream of sharing the Lotus Sutra with the world has come true. I see all teachings reflected in the lives of our members in Oklahoma and I celebrate with them when they use those teachings to liberate themselves from suffering. I would like to share a story from one of our members.

When Ray came to the Dharma Center, he was spiritually searching. He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the Vietnam war. His attention span was only about five minutes long. He could not be in the same room when the drum was played because it reminded him of bombings.

In the past, he had suffered a psychological breakdown and lived on the streets for a time. Now he had a place to live, but was barely surviving on veterans assistance each month. He was not able to hold a job.

Since he did not have money to donate, I taught him many ways to show generosity. He caught on quickly by smiling, holding the door open for others, complimenting people, and sometimes reading a poem as a phone message to friends.

I asked him what he would really like to do in life. He said he wanted to read stories to children. The Dharma Center purchased the Jataka Tales (past life stories of the Buddha), and he began to read these stories to children on Sunday.

We then made a professional CD of some of the stories. I told Ray, “Long after you and I are gone, you will still be reading stories to children.” This made him very happy.

As Ray continued to attend the Dharma Center, his attention span increased and eventually he was able to stay seated for the entire service – drumming included.

He enjoyed going for coffee with me and talking about life and the Teachings. Many times he expressed his gratitude for the Dharma Center. Ray passed away peacefully in his sleep two years ago. He survived life’s struggles and experienced the power of the Dharma in his life.

Through walking this Path with Ray, I learned to appreciate the simple things in life, I learned the struggles of someone dealing with mental illness, and together we shared the joy of creating a gift for future generations.

The teachings of Buddhism and Rissho Kosei Kai have changed my life. No amount of money could ever equal the treasure that I have been given in this lifetime, and I am eternally grateful.

I feel blessed when I think about the joy of interconnectedness that I have learned in Rissho Kosei -kai. My eyes have been opened to see the beauty of the Dharma in everything and everyone.

I can honestly say that I have great trust in the way the Eternal Buddha continues to teach us, and for the remainder of my life, I vow to do all I can to expand and develop the global sangha.

I am profoundly grateful to Rissho Kosei Kai for everything. I am thankful for Founder, Co-founder, President, Kosho-sama, and all the wonderful teachers that have guided, and continue to guide me on the Bodhisattva Path.

I am thankful to Shibucho Kiiko Scott and all our Japanese members in Oklahoma. They are our “founding mothers” who brought the teachings to us from across the ocean.

I also owe an eternal debt of gratitude to our former minister Yasuko Hildebrand. I have had the great gift of experiencing true “synergy” by working side-by-side with her, since the birth of the Oklahoma Dharma Center. What a journey of discovery we have shared together. Thanks also go to Yasuko’s late husband Harry for his years of support.

To Kim and all the Dharma Teachers and members in the Oklahoma sangha — thank you for your dedication to the study and practice of the Teachings and for choosing to walk this Path with me. I am grateful to all those who have entered the doors of our dojo because some of my best teachers have been my students.

I appreciate all of my life experiences which have led me to this point – recognizing that none of them could have happened were it not for my parents giving me birth. Deep love and gratitude to them, and also love to my family and friends for their lifetime support.

To all of YOU – my Dharma family – know that we are ONE.

I would like to close with words from our Kyoten. “The unsurpassed, profound, wonderful Dharma, is rarely met in myriads of kalpas. Now we see and hear it, receive and embrace it, may we TOGETHER understand the Tathagata’s foremost teaching.”

I bow to the Buddha-Nature in all of you.

Rev. Ladusau (center) conducts a ritual for blessing a baby in the Oklahoma Dharma Center.