My Awakening to the Light of Life

New York Dharma Center (Chicago Branch)

Kayo Murakami

This testimony was delivered at the Chicago Branch of the New York Dharma Center during the ceremony of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Memorial Day on June 15, 2014.


Ms. Kayo Murakami delivers her testimonial during the ceremony of Shakyamuni Buddha’s Memorial Day on June 15, 2014.

THANK you very much for this opportunity to share my practice of faith on Shakyamuni Buddha’s Memorial Day. Please guide me.

We celebrated a milestone this year―the 50th anni- versary since the Great Sacred Hall was erected. In his Dharma guidance for the New Year, President Niwano explained that an important significance of the 50th anniversary is for us to once again personally revisit the Founder’s guidance and review our faith.

This year will be the twenty-fourth year since I received the role as the branch leader of the Chicago Branch. I have lived in the United States for forty-five years. I have spent more than half of my time here with that role and responsibility. Thanks to my parents, I came into contact and was raised with Rissho Kosei-kai teachings from when I was very young. I started to visit the Chicago Branch around 1975 and was eventually given the role of area leader under the former branch leader, Mrs. Matsumoto.

After Mrs. Matsumoto retired, although I lacked experience and practice, Rev. Suzuki―our minister at the time―generously encouraged me to become the branch leader. In 1990, I personally received the appointment as the branch leader from Founder Niwano when he came to New York to attend the UN Children’s Summit and received a kind guidance which I felt was above and beyond what I deserved. He said: “When you become a person who can say ‘Yes’ with an accepting, open heart and mind, the Chicago Branch will start to overflow with many people.” Throughout the years and until today, those words I received from the Founder have provided such immense support for me.

I came to the United States against my parents’ wishes. Yet now, when I think of how earnestly they must have prayed for me, my heart is filled with grati- tude for this teaching which, I believe, made the happi- ness I enjoy today possible.

Back in those days, I was working part-time for an airline. With my role as the branch leader, my work and my family, I lived with motivation and purpose in life. My husband was proud that I was a Buddhist who was given such responsibility for the branch and supported me behind the scenes. We were blessed with our two children who have grown and are living happily with their own respective families.

In March of 2002, my husband passed away at the age of seventy-four. When I turned sixty in 2005, my children encouraged me to somewhat live a life of ease and relax a bit from then on. Because I was approaching retirement age at the job I had held for twenty-two years, without hesitation, I decided to leave the job. With dreams of dedicating and focusing my efforts to my role as branch leader by utilizing some of that extra time I had gained, I started anew.

The Chicago Branch is a part of the more compre- hensive Rissho Kosei-kai of New York. Our minister is not always nearby. I tried to be mindful of keeping my communication with the reverend as close and mean- ingful as possible, and devoted myself to be the pipeline for the members. Although I had big dreams as I tackled the challenges of my role, it has by no means been easy. I thought I had given my best effort, but problems kept piling up. I found myself continuously feeling hope- lessly stuck, in an instant.

For a long time, I did not try to transform my heart and mind. I suddenly realized that I had made my sense of mission to protect the branch such a priority that I had become overly self-assertive with everything I did, thinking, “I have to do it myself.” I lacked the ability to humbly entrust to others. I was narrow-minded and wanted to force my opinion on others. Therefore, the branch was always filled with friction, and whenever we held meetings, we had difficulty reaching agree- ments. People were constantly feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. I gradually found myself feeling lonely. Those were the days when I continuously felt depressed.

I started to feel my own limitation for the role. In my mind, I would be soliloquizing―“I want to quit my role” but “What was the purpose of all my efforts during these twenty years?” I was asking and answer- ing my own questions back and forth, wasting every day in vain.

In December of 2012, Rev. Fujita was appointed as the new minister of the New York Dharma Center. When we visited the New York Dharma Center, Rev. Fujita told us that Rissho Kosei-kai’s way of putting the Dharma into practice is to revere the buddha-nature in each person. This is such an important practice that we can say our practice starts and ends with revering the buddha-nature in oneself and others. However, she said, it is extremely difficult to truly possess this capac- ity. I realized at the time that this was the practice I needed.

Yet, I was still easily influenced by changes that occurred around me, and thus kept alternating between joy and sorrow. I shared my painful, troubled heart with Rev. Fujita when she came on her missionary trip to Chicago. I started by saying, “I just don’t have any motivation to do anything right now.” Rev. Fujita listened so carefully to what I had to say that I found myself telling her all about the pain I felt in the past and all the efforts I had given in the twenty-two years. After deeply listening and nodding often as I spoke, Rev. Fujita said, “It is because you have such sense of responsibility that protected the branch that we are blessed with what we have now. Moreover, it is because you had continued to believe in Taking Refuge in the Three Treasures for over twenty years. This is by no means an easy task. It is all thanks to you. Please praise yourself.” She was revering the buddha-nature in me. Since then, whenever Rev. Fujita came to meet with the members of Chicago, I stayed by her side. I learned much through her example. I watched her bow her head deeply to the Buddha in prayer and how she revered the members’ buddha-nature through her kind yet detailed manner. I realized this is not about personal ability or power. This is about the “role” we have been given to carry out with the divine protection of the Buddha. My heart and mind gradually started to focus and become clearer.

The following episode happened during the morning of this year’s Setsubun-e (the ceremony observing Setsubun, the last day of winter on the traditional Japa- nese calendar, in which we cast the devil away and invite good fortune in). I had one wish. On that day of transition from one lunar year to another, my wish was to cast away the devil within my heart and welcome the New Year with a clear heart. And as if the Buddha was granting my wish, I was blessed with a realization on that day which allowed me to transform and turn a new leaf.

What happened began at the end of January when Rev. Fujita came to Chicago for her missionary visit. After she answered Mr. M’s question during the study session, she faced him, saying, “We are learning Founder Niwano’s and President Niwano’s wonderful teachings. Mr. M, I wish to practice together with you, the faith which is in accordance with Rissho Kosei-kai’s teachings. May I please ask for your support?” Then she shook his hand, squeezing so hard it looked as though the hand would be torn off.

The next day, Rev. Fujita and the NY members who accompanied her returned to New York. But that triggered what happened next.

It was a few days later. The Chicago Branch held the Setsubun-e. Before the ceremony began, Mrs. M came to me and said, “Although he shook Rev. Fujita’s hand, my husband said he has concerns which need to be cleared before he can proceed with her request. Taking this oppor- tunity, he wishes to share with Rev. Fujita his bitter feelings toward you, Ms. Murakami. May he call the reverend?”

Ms. Murakami (left), along with other members, rehearses the practice of observances and rituals at the New York Dharma Center.

In the past, I would have immediately reacted angrily thinking, “How rude can she be!” However, at the time I was somehow able to graciously accept her request. I found myself replying, “I will ask the reverend.” I was mystified to find that I was actually able to accept so calmly. That is because, for a long time, I considered Mr. M as a difficult person. If anything, I had become so paranoid that I believed he had always intentionally tried to hurt me. That was how I felt. However, the thought that came to mind at the same time I heard Mrs. M’s request was, “Ahhh … Mr. M was feeling hurt for a long time.” “Just like him, I was feeling hurt!…” I was able to clearly see … that was what had happened.

With a self-centered view of things, I was always overly protective of my feelings that I had been hurt all the time. I never tried to see things from Mr. M’s perspective. It never occurred to me that Mr. M was feeling hurt for a long time. How conceited I had been.

I also did not like to face things that were inconvenient for me. That I had an avoidance tendency was an important realization for me. From my heart, I was truly sorry for Mr. M.

Through this experience, I was given an opportunity to examine, from deep within my heart, my own mind and heart. As the days go by, I am actually feeling as though I have transformed. And at times, when my feelings start to waver, I am able to catch myself and switch to a feeling of gratitude. I am very grateful.

It has been several months since then. The Chicago Branch has come alive and our space is starting to feel small. In Hoza held every Sunday, there are visitors who say they saw our website, or have wanted to stop by after always driving past our building. We also had a university student visit to do research for a paper. There have been times when the parking lot is full and accommodating all the cars each time that happens can be a challenge. All the members of the branch who are busily dealing with it, however, are delighted with the situation.

I am reminded of the guidance from the Founder when I received my appointment as the branch leader. “When you become a person who can say ‘Yes’ with an accepting and open heart and mind, the Chicago Branch will start to overflow with many people.” I am now standing on the starting line of his encouraging words.

I am witnessing the workings of the Buddha with wonder and gratitude.

Quite appropriate for this year, the 50th anniversary since the Great Sacred Hall was built, and the 51st year that begins a new chapter, the Chicago Branch and I, as the branch leader, have been able to break free from the tiny shell we have had to the present, to take the very first step to start anew. The missionary organizational structure within the branch was established, giving birth to five area leaders. Thankfully, the area leaders seem to be enjoying pondering over and planning how to best contact the members they have been assigned, and so on. To each member who, for so long, had not received adequate and complete attention, we will convey in detail the valuable teaching which aims to truly liberate everyone.

I am told that it was approximately 120 years ago, in Chicago, that Buddhism was first introduced to the United States. In light of such causation, I would like to share the minds and hearts of the Founder and the President to as many American people as possible and guide them to the faith. And so that bright, kind, and warm wheel may spread widely throughout the entire Chicago area, I vow to diligently practice with such a grand dream.

Ms. Murakami (far left in the front row) with other sangha members.