Sangha in Motion
Dharma Journey: Kevin Roche sharing at Oklahoma Gohonzon Receiving Ceremony
My journey began as the son of Irish-Catholic immigrants in N.Y. I was one of 7 children. My childhood was typical of a child born in the 50s and raised in the 60s. My family was deeply rooted in the Catholic Church. My mom worked, without pay, as a maid/cook in a convent in exchange for discounted tuition for her children in a catholic school. My aunt and my sister were nuns. We ate our dinner many nights with nuns and priests from our parish. My parents went to church every day. My brothers and I were altar boys. My parents and grandparents openly prayed I would become a priest. I openly prayed that my grandparents and parents would stop openly praying for me!
As the 1960s ended in violence and broken dreams, so did my childhood. By 8th grade I was abusing alcohol and street drugs, and had fallen into a life of crime. I spent my nights on the streets, involved in increasingly violent and risky criminal activity. High school added only dispair, hopelessness, alienation, and more drugs and alcohol. School ended dismally and I drifted away from my family, numbed by pain, and medicated on the street.
Just as I was fading out of my family’s life, my mother reminded me of the traditional Irish heritage - tragedy; but also, of redemption. She gave me my first lesson in Buddhism in the form of advice – advice I would not truly understand until I found Buddhism many years after her death. She told me, “Change your behavior, and you will change your heart and mind.” That seemed to be the reverse of the traditional advice, but I remembered it always! That single seed was the foundation of hope that allowed me to climb out of the dark many years later.
I left home and came to Texas. The darkness began its long slow fade. I starved my way through Nursing School; then met a girl and married. But the scars were deep and the booze and drugs were never far away. We moved to California, and then to Asia for a year. In Japan and Thailand, I had the chance to visit many Buddhist temples and that sparked an interest in me. I began to read Buddhist writings.
Eventually, my wife returned to California and I joined her there; but our marriage was malnourished through alcohol and drugs, and it eventually collapsed under its own weight. I moved back to Texas, began to sober up, and returned to a Nursing career.
In the hospital I met the girl who would save me: Barbara, my current wife. I also began to open my eyes to the truth of suffering. That is, that I was not alone; that everyone suffers.
You see it everywhere in a hospital. I spent 15 years working in the ICU and began to develop a profound sense of gratitude. I became aware of the richness and value of my small life. It was then that I realized that I was the author of my own suffering. And if I was the author of my suffering, so too could I be the author of my happiness. That’s what my mother meant. I thought you had to be happy before you could act happy. The truth I learned was: compassionate acts lead to compassionate feelings! What power I now had over my own life! My appreciation for the Dharma was evident before I even met the Dharma!
After 10 long years of self-imposed exile from my family, I received a message that my mom was terminally ill. My wife said the following words to me, “Go home and take care of your mom until it is finished, and then come home when you are well.” I spent the next 3-4 months taking care of my mom. She died in my arms on a snowy Christmas Eve. Spending those days with my mom was the most profoundly meaningful period of my life. In spite of her own suffering, she gave me insight into my suffering as no one else could. She released me and cast me on a new path. I mark each Christmas Eve as my mom’s Death Day and my Re-Birth Day. I wish I could tell her how grateful I am. (Mcree Saweela Mither) My heart is home, mom - in her original language, Gaelic.
Many years later I read these words from Founder Niwano and I recognized instantly. He said,
“Salvation is not being rescued from suffering, but letting suffering rescue you. Suffering allows us to be reborn. It is within this adversity called suffering that we are able to find the gateway to happiness.”
It sounds like Founder Niwano and my mother had been good friends!
Eventually I left nursing and began a new chapter in my life as a high school teacher. I truly loved teaching and I found a true bond between my own life experiences and those of my students. How ironic that a high school failure found happiness teaching high school!
My life finally seemed to be “coming together”, but something was still missing. Like most members of the San Antonio Sangha, I “saw the sign” and walked into Rissho Kosei-kai in October 2006. The smiling faces I saw that day belong to the very same people that are with me here today; those that drove here with me the other day in Shakir’s van which I am now calling “the Great Vehicle”. I am profoundly grateful for their friendship and fellowship.
This past Spring, I developed a serious condition in my trachea, my vocal chords. Unable to lecture or talk for any length, I left my job as a teacher. The day before I went into the hospital, my doctors informed me that my condition was potentially grave and quite serious. I spent that evening with my friends from RKK, Shakir, Brian, Jennifer, Eric, and Susan, practicing for the Las Vegas Convention show. I was hoarse, spitting up blood, and terrified! Each of my friends, in their own way, comforted me. How fortunate am I!
I will never forget Rev. Nakamura’s advice on that evening. He told me to go home and chant Chapter 16 - from the Lotus Sutra- twice. I told him, “That will kill me!" And he said, No. It will save you. You will be fine. Just do it!"
Well, I wasn’t into the hospital in defiance of my spiritual advisor. So I went home and spit blood all night, but I recited that chapter - 3 times! The next day I went into the hospital. I was scanned and scoped twice. And the news was terrific! My condition was very treatable and my long-term outlook was excellent.
Now, Rev. Nakamura is not a miracle healer. He was reminding me: through The Buddha’s teachings that I am vow-born, and that The Buddha had work for me still to do.
So, with profound gratitude to all the people that made it possible for me to be here today, I make the following vow: I vow to honor the sacrifices of my family, loved ones, and friends that allowed me to be standing here today. With utter humility, I vow to follow the Bodhisattva path, to spread the Teachings to all beings within my power; to offer my service when needed, my wisdom when sought after, and my compassion – to all sentient beings - at all times.
Namu Myoho Renge Kyo