Sangha in Motion
Dharma Journey: Janice Tom sharing at Hawaii Special Service
Eternal Buddha Shyakamuni, Founder Niwano and President Niwano, please guide me.
Reverend Hosoyama and Reverend Hironaka, please guide me.
Honored guests and members, please guide me.
Good morning everyone, my name is Janice Tom. I am a second generation Rissho Kosei Kai member of the Hawaii church. My mother joined Rissho Kosei Kai in Tokyo, Japan about 49 years ago when I was an infant. Through her devotion to the church and the teachings, she has always encouraged me to be an active member. As a youth and young adult, I attended church and followed my mother to special services from time to time, however, it has only been in the past several years that I have been actively involved in the church and practicing the teachings.
Having my own family and gradually understanding why my mother devoted herself to the church heavily influenced my increased participation and the desire to learn and practice the teachings. In general, I have a very happy and fulfilling life with my husband and my two children. I have a stable and fulfilling job and a comfortable home. I have had a few problems in my life, but nothing that I felt were too huge to manage or would cause me a great deal of stress and suffering.
In October of 2008, an incident in my family occurred that changed everything. My then 16 year old daughter, shared with my husband and I that she was pregnant and she wanted to keep the baby. At that moment, I thought my world was going to fall apart. I had such high expectations for my daughter who is very bright and has the potential of having a very successful life. The thought of her bringing a child into this world at her age left me with a heavy heart. She was with the father of the baby for only a short period of time. He was only 18 years old himself and a military dependent from the mainland. I feared that their relationship would not last and that the cultural differences where going to be too challenging for my daughter to cope with at such a young age. My husband and I discussed with our daughter the challenges she would face and the expectations we had of her with the choices she made. We made it very clear that whatever decision she made she would be held accountable for, but we would always be there to support her. My daughter had made up her mind to have the baby.
The next several months were challenging for my family as my daughter was focusing on finishing her junior year in high school, we were getting to know the baby’s father better, having to prepare our young son of the changes in the family and obviously needed to share the news with family, friends and church members. I began to develop resentment towards the father of the baby for putting my family in this situation, yet knowing in the back of my mind, my daughter was just as responsible.
This was the first time I had decided to receive guidance from a reverend. After all, prior to this, my life was just fine and I did not feel I needed any guidance. When I informed Reverend Hosoyama of the situation, he was very understanding and compassionate. He basically said that my husband and I should continue to fulfill our church duties, follow the teachings and believe in the Buddha’s arrangement, for this child was actually a blessing.
I asked Reverend Hosoyama for assistance with the baby’s middle name to be given by the church. When the Rissho Kosei Kai headquarters provided the baby’s name, Kumi, my daughter was less than pleased and actually refused to use the name. I again seeked guidance from Reverend Hosoyama who encouraged me to help my daughter understand that the name given by the church will help the baby face the possible challenges in her life given the circumstances. I later discussed it with my daughter and she agreed to accept the name.
On May 10, 2009, Mother’s Day, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl, Kari Kumi Tom. Everyone was delighted. But much to our dismay, immediately after the baby’s birth, the behavior of the baby’s father was concerning. It almost seemed as if he was obsessed with the baby and overly protective.
The days in the hospital and the next few days at home only confirmed for me, that there was reason to be concerned for the father’s behaviors. The obsessive behavior continued and he made it clear how he wanted things to be done because this was “his” daughter. Needless to say, we did not agree with him. My daughter was obviously not happy and within three weeks of the baby’s birth, my daughter ended the relationship with the baby’s father. We held several meetings with our family and the father’s family in hopes that we could resolve the issues, however, nothing changed. In fact, things just got worse. I was actually the most verbal one from our family and the baby’s father actually said he would not agree to any further discussions or meetings if I were present. We were now faced with legal issues and started court proceedings for custody and visitation for the baby.
I talked to my daughter about the father’s background and asked how he coped with life in general to try to make some sense of why he was so obsessive with the baby. My daughter shared that his grandparents were divorced, his parents were divorced when he was young, his stepsister’s baby had died, and his stepsister later committed suicide. I thought to myself, he had suffered so much loss at such a young age. And now, he was faced with the loss of the mother of his baby and was threatened with the potential loss of his child. I imagined he had longed for a family and now his dreams of having his own family was shattered. Yet, I could not set aside the anger that I had towards him for putting my daughter, granddaughter and my family in such a difficult position.
Once again, I asked Reverend Hosoyama for guidance. I remember one of the first things he said was to try to put myself in the father’s shoes and that I need to be compassionate. He said that we should take my granddaughter to the Rissho Kosei Kai USA 50th Anniversary Convention in Las Vegas in July, especially because President Niwano would be attending.
The first thought in my mind was my granddaughter was going to be barely 3 months old and it was unthinkable to take such a young baby on the airplane, especially during the time when the SARS epidemic had developed. But I was going to take Reverend Hosoyama’s advice and make the attempt to consider it.
I had made air travel reservations for my entire family to attend the convention. My daughter however was against going with the baby and putting her at risk. After much thought, I decided to cancel my reservation and stay home with my daughter and my granddaughter. I went back to inform the Reverend that we would not be going to the convention. He said I needed to believe in the Buddha, promising everything will be all right if I truly trusted and believed in the Buddha.
I returned home and reflected on how my mother dealt with her own challenge with her newly diagnosed cancer not too long ago. I remembered the doctor’s initially thought the cancer was quite advanced and her prognosis was probably very poor. However, through her strong belief in the Buddha and faithfully following the Reverend’s guidance, she was left cancer-free and with a good prognosis for survival. I realized that I needed to believe in the Buddha and commit to taking my whole family to the convention as the Reverend recommended.
That summer, my entire family attended the convention. My granddaughter was probably the youngest participant there. Everything went very smoothly, from the air travel getting to Las Vegas, to our stay at the hotel, attending the convention and the return trip. We were also blessed with President Niwano and his wife visiting my family’s table at the convention dinner. And much to my surprise, President Niwano actually carried by granddaughter in his arms and Mrs. Niwano stroked her head. At that moment, I realized that the challenges we faced were all meant to be as the Buddha’s arrangement and I needed to view it as a blessing just like the Reverend had said. When we returned from our trip, I had a renewed understanding of how important it is to not only learn and practice the teachings, but also to believe in the teachings.
In the months thereafter, my daughter was able to surpass my expectations of being a good teenage mother. She graduated from high school on time, was able to adjust to motherhood quite well and was able take on most of the baby’s care with my husband and I readily available to help if she needed it. She spent the next year going to parent counseling and court hearings.
As the year went by, my resentment towards the father continued to build. He would not compromise with us on visitation issues, he felt his way was always right, he was not truthful in court, had no job and no real plans for his future. And yet, he felt he was a model father. The psychologist who worked with my daughter and the father commented that the father was unrealistic in his expectations of fatherhood and we would be faced with a lot of challenges with him.
In August of this year, we were finally done with the court legalities and the custody and visitation battle was over. By this time, my family was doing well with the adjustment to the baby and the stressful situation we faced with the father settled a little. My daughter continued to thrive as a mother. She started college and planned to get a part time job to help with expenses. However, my granddaughter’s father received more devastating news. His stepfather who raised him for the last ten years announced unexpectedly he was filing for a divorce. One month later, his stepfather was transferred to Italy for his new military assignment. The young man had suffered yet another loss in his family.
As I reflected on the past year since my granddaughter was born, I often thought to myself, everything turned out fine because I followed the Reverend’s guidance, I wholeheartedly believed in the Buddha and I diligently continued to come to church. My granddaughter was given a name by the church and she was blessed with President Niwano’s embrace. I thought I did everything in my power that I needed to do to make the situation better. However, I continued to think of the pain and suffering my granddaughter’s father caused my family and my resentment towards him continued to fester.
In October of this year, I was to present at the Dharma Study class. Quite unexpectedly my presentation date and selection of the chapter changed. I was given a new chapter, Chapter 25 of the Threefold Lotus Sutra: The All-Sidedness of the Bodhisattva Regarder of the Cries of the World. As I reviewed the chapter and prepared for my presentation, I realized it was not a coincidence that I received this chapter.
This chapter speaks of how we should be compassionate to everyone and to put other’s before us. We should put aside our own opinions and desires and help others in their time of suffering. I knew that I was not being that compassionate person to my granddaughter’s father. As I shared my story with the study group, an overwhelming feeling came over me and I started to cry. This was probably the first time I actually allowed myself to cry over the situation. I shared that the tears were tears of frustration with what this young man put my family through, but realized the frustration was probably more about I not being able to be a compassionate person to this young man. In the back of my mind, I could always remember Reverend Hosoyama’s initial guidance. Put myself in the father’s shoes and be compassionate. I have to say that it was a difficult thing for me to do from the very beginning and it still is. But I often have to remind myself, imagine that in this young man’s short lifetime, he has suffered numerous losses within his family, some which were quite devastating. And here I am, living my life, more than double his lifetime, and fortunate enough to be blessed with having my entire family still here with me to enjoy.
In many ways, I guess I should be thanking this young man for allowing me to experience the happiness that my family has found in my grandchild, especially for my parents who are able to enjoy a great grandchild so unexpectedly and for my granddaughter to get to know her great grand parents in her lifetime. With now four generations of Rissho Kosei Kai member’s within the family, we are truly blessed.
I continue to struggle with the idea that I need to be compassionate towards my granddaughter’s father. But I also know that I need to continue to learn the teaching, practice the teaching and believe in the teaching. I need to strive to be the Boddhissattva who is able to be compassionate to all human beings no matter what the circumstance. With the continued guidance of the Reverend and the leaders of the church, and with the support of the sangha, I hope one day I will be able to get to a point where I can truly feel compassion and appreciation towards this young man.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo
Eternal Buddha Shyakamuni, Founder Niwano and President Niwano, thank you very much.
Reverend Hosoyama and Reverend Hironaka, thank you very much.
Honored guests and members, thank you very much for allowing me this opportunity to share my experience with you.