By Diana Elrod
I have been my present height of 6'2" since the age of 13. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but for a girl growing up in the Midwest in the late 60s and early 70s, this fact was quite traumatic. It meant that my mother sewed all my clothes because nothing store-bought fit. I wore women's size 6 shoes in the first grade, when I was taller than my teacher. When I was a 10-year-old going to the store with my father, many people thought I was his wife because I was physically so developed. Imagine that for a ten-year-old kid!
I was called names like: “Amazon woman,” and “Jolly Green Giant,” so naturally, beginning in elementary school, I became extremely self-conscious. I was always aware of what other people were thinking and feeling about me. I was constantly hurt and humiliated by thoughtless remarks.
My theory about life was: "Don't want or need anything, because you will never get it." Similarly, I decided that people are evil and will hurt you if they can. I made a vow that I would never be humiliated again — to prevent this from happening I became a super-achiever.
On the one hand, I wanted people to stop looking at my physical self so I became quite the intellect. On the other hand, I was desperately afraid that the people I loved would leave me, so I became fixated on other people's happiness. My relationships were often centered on people who ridiculed or humiliated me; and I simply took it.
As I grew older, it was not enough simply to control my environment — which was largely impossible — so I became more cynical and judgmental towards others because I needed to feel superior in some way. And when things didn't go my way, I became either enraged, or despondent. I drank enormous volumes of alcohol. I acted as if I had no cares in the world. I had lots of friends, but if anyone criticized me for any reason, I cut them out of my life.
By the time I met my partner Nancy — who introduced me to the practice — I had come to revere my own separateness, not only as a way of protecting myself from feeling hurt, but also as a way of channeling my power into something constructive. But she brought something intriguing to me that I had never known: a spiritual practice that was different from any other.
At first, I felt suspicious of the SGI. The practice seemed "too good to be true," too easy, and I also assumed that, like other religions, gays and lesbians were probably not treated well.
In my previous experiences with other religions, however, I had had no way to channel whatever suffering I was experiencing into anything positive. I was quite certain that these people (other people!) were the cause of my unhappiness, because that had been my lifelong experience. My answer was to tell people off and leave. I approached all my obstacles in life in the same way. I blamed other people, I complained, I raised hell, and then I left.
It took a long time and lots of sincere practice to realize that my dreams were not hopeless or stupid. And it wasn’t easy being around SGI members because they were happy — or trying to be — and I was mad as hell that I wasn't. I told myself that these people were idiots, and I found much to dislike or ridicule about them.
After a year of practicing, I asked Nancy if there was a SGI gay group. She told me there had been one a long time ago and then challenged me to help start a new one. I was not surprised when we initially encountered resistance. Rather than leave the organization, however, as I had with other religious groups, for some strange reason I began to chant about it. Even early on in my practice, something shifted for me: I actually believed in kosen-rufu. So many people had failed me so many times, yet I believed in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings despite myself.]
With the help of other members and leaders throughout the country, in 1998 we submitted a proposal to a senior leader in LA — I will call him "Bob" — who was then in charge of the FNCC conferences. He rejected our proposal saying that, because issues of sexuality dealt with "the lesser self," they were not relevant as a conference theme. Never mind the fact that "faith equals daily life": I had yet again been rejected. I was overcome by feelings of betrayal and anger, and I wanted to quit, but I didn't. I chanted instead, though I must admit I harbored hateful thoughts about Bob.
In 2001, the GLBT conference was finally approved. However, to organize the conference, I was asked to work with — you guessed it — Bob. I was enraged. This was the man who rejected me, and I was supposed to work with him?? I ridiculed Bob. I called him names. I thought evil thoughts about him.
Linda Johnson has captured the essence of human revolution so perfectly in many of her recent lectures: she has said that no matter what you were praying for, everything that comes up during the day is the answer to your prayer. Human revolution is facing challenges and each time reacting differently. Changing karma does not always mean getting rid of some "thing," whatever it is; sometimes changing karma means keeping the "thing" but not letting it control you.
The concept of itai doshin (many in body, one in mind) was, I knew, key to developing the conference. It was, in theory, easy to get behind, but not when it involved someone I basically hated and felt betrayed by. Nichiren uses the metaphor of being as "inseparable as fish and the water in which they swim" frequently to describe what itai doshin means. He said: "this spiritual bond is the basis for the universal transmission of the ultimate law of life and death." It's not an emotional bond, nor a psychological bond.
This was totally hard for me to grasp — how could I have a spiritual bond with someone I could not stand, that I actively hated? I didn't know of any other kind of bond other than emotional or psychological — and usually those caused me enormous suffering.
President Ikeda writes that the objective of our faith lies in the continuous revolution of our own lives. Kosen Rufu is just that revolution, aimed at contributing to the peace and culture of mankind. He's not saying, when you do your human revolution, then Kosen Rufu can happen; he's saying that human revolution IS kosen-rufu.
He also goes on to say:
"[W]hen all stand together in the spirit of itai doshin, each one will be able to see how intensely the others are fighting, each in his own capacity.... If we are aware of their individual efforts and feelings, we sense a new respect for them all, and at the same time try all the harder in our own positions to accomplish our missions."I certainly expect that of others — that people value and respect me, that they be aware of my individual efforts — how come I wasn't able to feel the same for him? Although my anger was partially directed at Bob, in reality it was a revisitation of my childhood pain that just got reattached to the newest jerk in my environment. Bob was simply the validation I needed to prove, once again, that I will always be hurt, that I will never have what I want, that happiness for me is simply a pipe dream.
I chanted and chanted, but to be perfectly honest I had no idea how I was going to break through this. I just knew that I had to, or there was no point in chanting. The change came when I learned that, at about the time that Bob had rejected our proposal, his son came out to him.
I was so floored ... here I was, ready to pillory this man, and yet I had never considered the suffering that he might be going through that caused him to act as he did. Once I saw him as a human being with his own struggles, my entire perspective changed. Ultimately, I learned that his humanity and the struggle with his own darkness was what made us more alike than apart. It actually made me want to work harder with him to make this happen.
I didn't have to like him for kosen rufu to happen, I only had to be willing to look at my own ways of fostering separateness in order for things to change. I should mention that Bob and I are friendly now, and I appreciate his presence in my life.
I'd be lying if I said that I have totally overcome my issues with the people I feel animosity toward. After all, I am a human being and human revolution is a struggle that never ends. But, I recognize now where my true obstacles are in life, and I always know that I can keep going back to the Gohonzon every time an obstacle comes back.
To repeat what
Linda said, changing karma does not always mean getting rid of the "thing,"
whatever it is; sometimes changing karma means keeping the "thing" but
not letting it control you. This is what I found.