Why Gratitude

Los Angeles Dharma Center

Mr Yoshihito Nagata

This testimony was delivered at the Great Sacred Hall during the first ceremony of the month on March 1.

Mr. Yoshihitio Nagata testifies to his faith at the Great Sacred Hall.

Everyone, please guide me. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to share my religious testimony on the first ceremony of the month.

I am the second son of the Nagata family, including myparents and elder brother. At first glance, I may look like any other Japanese citizen, but I was born and raised in Los Angeles, USA.  My parents were born in Japan, but I am a fourth-generation member of Rissho Kosei-kai. My great-grandmother on my father’s side was the first member and served as assistant block leader of Block No. 18. My parents have always been enthusiastic about religious faith, and from the time I was born, my parents would take me to the Los Angeles Dharma Center. There I played with other members and was exposed to the teaching. But even after listening to the teaching, I used to think that it wouldn’t be useful in my life.

At a local university, I studied landscape architecture. With an introduction from a Philippine classmate, I went to Bahrain in the Middle East to work. At first I was filled with anxiety, but because it was a one-year contract I thought I could do it. So I was determined to persevere and to not quit. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover that there were to be only two people on site: my Irish boss and myself. Before I went, I had been told that my job was to design residential gardens. But from the start I had to be involved in management, sales, marketing, administrative work and also office maintenance. Because I had no experience in these other areas, I made many mistakes. My boss oppressed me, telling me every day, “You made a mistake again? Are you really a professional?” I became depressed. Because I was a live-in employee, and with my boss for twenty-four hours a day, my nerves were stressed to the limit. Due to this, my mind and body began to suffer, causing me to lose weight. At the time, just hearing my parents‘ voice over the phonebrought me to tears.  This is where my training was about to begin.

My mother instructed me to greet my boss every morning with a smile and a loud, “Good morning!”. I was also told to be sure to recite at least chapters 2 and 16 fromthe sutra before working. When I recited them, I felt that I was receiving the strength from the Buddha to overcome each day. I was able to reflect and realize new perspectives about life.  The most important was the depth of my parents’ affection. I was very dependent on their kindness. All I had to do was to ask and they were there for me. I relied on them, and resolved from then on, now it is my timeto return their kindness. Thanks to these new perspectives,starting the day with a smile, and reciting the sutra in the morning, I regained my mental and physical strength. When I changed my way of viewing things, I found I could work joyfully, and I was able to continue working for a year.

After the contract was over, I returned to Los Angeles. But after six months I could not find a job. Then, my mother told me about the Gakurin Overseas Leaders Certification Course. I was skeptical, wondering how useful a two-year course in Japan could be for my future. My mother wanted me to grow spiritually rather than getting a job. She told me that if I grew spiritually, opportunities would naturallypresent itself. I finally decided to apply for the Gakurin Overseas Leaders Certification Course.

Before leaving for the program, my relationship with some friends in Los Angeles were not going well and I wasworried. Especially six friends, whom I have known since middle school or longer. When I saw a friend who was popular with girls and could make people laugh, or a friend who had a well paying, steady job, I thought that they were living their ideal kind of life. When I compared them to myself, I envied them. In addition, one of these “friends” told me that I was not interesting, that I was overly emotional, tooquick to anger, and that I took everything too seriously. On account of this, I thought this is why people don’t like me and why things never worked out. I did not like who I was. I was worried about finding a job but I was more worried about my attitude towards myself and my life. I eventually decided to enter Gakurin because I wanted to learn the positive way of seeing things, accepting things, and how to be happy.

When I came to Japan, my study and practice of interpersonal relationships began. One of my issues was listening to others. But when it came to practicing, I trulyrecognized how weak I was at actively listening to others. In the dormitory life, there were countless times that I missed important information, and consequently created problems for others. It was difficult to do at first, but I considered it a very important practice for me.  I redoubled my efforts and worked as hard as I could to improve this skill. In order to listen to others attentively, it was especially necessary for me to concentrate. Through the teachings and practice, I learnedthe words people speak are infused with their true feelings, so it was possible to perceive others’ buddha-nature, if I listenedattentively. When I understood this, no matter how severe the words were that people used when they spoke to me, I could accept them with a sense of gratitude.

In May and September of last year, I was assigned to go to the Onomichi Dharma Center in Hiroshima Prefecture for practical spiritual training.  There, I received awakenings so precious that it changed my way of life. During the first training period, I met a member referred to here as Ms. A. She told me tearfully that as the result of something that was her own fault, she had hurt her relatives. People around hertried to praise her good aspects and encourage her with warm words, but she could not accept them, always saying, “But, but,” and continued to blame herself. She could not accept these words of encouragement as being true. Seeing her react that way, I was struck by how she resembled myself from ayear before. Seeing her made me think about how I hadchanged my attitude. The reason that I could not accept others’ words as being true was that fundamentally, I thought that my way of thinking was more correct than that of anyone else. I was determined to solve problems by myself. I could not ask others for help, because I would not admit that Ididn’t know what to do. I asked a Gakurin teacher how topractice listening and accepting others’ positive feedback. She told me that when I was praised for my good qualities, I should sincerely say, “Thank you.” Thus I began the practice of expressing my thanks. When I gave it a try, I sometimes found it hard. But I knew it was good for me to continue practicing, even if only in form. I continued to make aneffort. Soon, I found that I came to accept others’ words naturally. I told Ms. A about these experiences, and I was very glad that I was able to tell her. By meeting Ms. A, I came to understand that it is important to wholeheartedlypractice the teachings.

I next encountered a woman of the Youth Group,referred to here as Miss B. When I first met her, she looked very sad, and she wouldn’t look at people in the eye. Her mother told me that she had been bullied at work. A colleague intentionally spilled tea on her, and apparently damaged her belongings. She was depressed. Hearing the story reminded me of my tough experience in Bahrain. I remembered my mother’s words, and I told Miss B about them. I said, “My mother told me to be sure to recite at least chapters 2 and 16 of the sutra every morning. I practiced it, and was able to experience many awakenings. Please give it a try.”

My first practical training period at Onomichi was over, and three months later, my second training period began. I met Miss B again. I was very surprised to see her. She had changed so much that I could hardly recognize her. Previously, she had looked away from people, but now she looked up, smiled, and talked to me pleasantly. During the past three months, she had diligently continued to recite the sutra every day. I was so moved and happy.  I asked her what she felt or experienced, and she said, “As I continued reciting the sutra, I slowly got better. and I wanted to voluntarily join in activities to show my gratitude.” She and her mother expressed their thanks to me many times. I said, “I didn’t do anything; I only advised you what I was told.  It was you whocontinued practicing. You were able to change yourselfbecause you really wanted to. You liberated yourself with your own strength.” Once again, I had an awakening that would give me peace of mind.   It felt much better to feel grateful towards others, rather than hating someone or criticizing them. I considered how truly wonderful sutra recitation is.

During this training I was also able solve one of my big problems. This was that I compared myself to others. I experienced this awakening through visiting the homes of many members and meeting various kinds of people. When I entered their homes, I soon understood that people and theirfamilies were doing their best while dealing with their own personal struggles. When I paid my respects at their family altars, I discovered that there were different ways of enshrining the Gohonzon. These words came to mind: “There are many types of people.” Wondering what these wordsreally meant, I thought it over for about three days, and I finally came to a realization. When I was comparing myself to others, I thought, for example, “I’m less interesting than he is.When I could only see myself and that other person, itpained me when I considered how big the difference was, and how hard it would be to overcome it. But I now realized that those words meant that there are many people between myself and the one I was comparing myself to.  We are all different from one another. I realized that there are people who are less interesting than me, and those who are more interesting than that person. Now that I think about it, I understand it as a matter of course, but until that time, I hadonly been comparing myself to others, without attempting to accept the differences among people. This had been the cause of my suffering. This awakening suddenly set my mind at ease. Knowing the fact that there are many different kinds of people, I was able to solve many problems. I realized that even when I was in the presence of those who disliked me,somewhere, there is someone that accepts me for who I am, and my loneliness faded away. I also recognized that because there are many different people, I could improve myself by learning from others.  I was able to regard other people’s ways of living as being wonderful just as they are, and this also enabled me to recognize that my own way of living is wonderful just as it is. I realized that this way of thinking is in keeping with the Buddha’s view of equality, and I able to see that I am capable of many things.

When I asked a Gakurin teacher for Dharma consultation a year ago, he said to me, “Your suffering, as a result of comparing yourself to others, is because you don’t have a purpose.” I didn’t understand the meaning then, but now I understand the importance of having a purpose. Before entering Gakurin, my image of a good person was that ofbeing loved by many friends, having a girlfriend, and having a good job. Now I have a different concept. To me, a good person is one who serves humanity. My present purpose is to become a good person. If I continue practicing the Buddha’s view and study his teachings, I believe that I can become a good person. Since I’ve found a true purpose, even if friends ridicule me, its ok. Whatever happens, constant practice of the teaching will keep my mind focused on the universal truths. I’m grateful for having been given this treasure for my life in the past two years.

When I return to Los Angeles, I have a dream to fulfill. This is to become a positive leader. From start to finish, I want to work alongside my fellow members as a leader in the activities of the Young People’s Group. I want to lead by example, managing my time with discipline, and practicing the teachings on my own initiative. I want to be diligent in the practice of the teaching so that the Los Angeles Dharma Center as a whole can work with dedication to foster the development of young people in cooperation with the chapter members.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr. Yoshihito Nagata (second from right) and his family.