New Beginnings  

By Donna James  

Whenever I think about the way everything came about, it reminds me of the lyrics from a song: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.  

In 1994, my aunt passed away. It was at her funeral that I was first introduced to Buddhism. Actually, I consider it my re-introduction. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was to experience that day.  

As the incense began to burn and its scent mixed with fruit and flowers, I began to relax and feel really peaceful. The feeling was overwhelming, almost intoxicating.  

For days I could not get the chanting out of my head. I heard it in my sleep ... Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo ... I heard it when I was driving ... Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo ... I heard it practically non-stop, no matter what I was doing. And soon I began to chant along with the voices. I didn't tell anyone. No one knew. They would think I was crazy, how could I explain this to anyone?  

My life wasn't going so great either. I hated my job. I worked for 911 and I was stressed out all the time. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. My stomach was always hurting. I trudged through life in misery, and so did my family. Living with me was next to impossible, and I made them as unhappy as I was.  

But every night I went to sleep chanting, Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, and in my dreams the voices came and chanted with me and brought me a measure of peace. Soon I was chanting on the way to work, and at home I would chant in the closet.  

I would go to the library and bookstores for books on Buddhism. I read everything I could find. This continued and I became more and more unhappy. Nothing seemed to help. I took a 30-day leave of absence from my job on my doctor's advice. I went on vacation and tried to get myself together. I began to have anxiety problems and was afraid to be alone, but with my anger and bitterness I drove everyone away. And still I was chanting in the closet.  

Then my Mom called and told me my Uncle Jonny was getting married and it was to be a Buddhist ceremony, and I remember thinking ... Aha! Buddhism again! I couldn't wait!  

At the wedding, I sat listening to the chanting, and in my head, I chanted along with them as much as I could. But I was sad too, because I didn't want to chant silently. I thought that they were so lucky to be able to follow their heart.  

At the reception and dinner that followed, I met so many wonderful people. Everyone was so friendly and happy, I wished I could follow them into Buddhism, but I knew I never could because no one would understand.  

Also that day, someone very important came into my life. Mrs. Takako Eastman-St. Ama, who married my Uncle Jonny! Little did I know at the time, but she would help me make one of the most important changes in my life.  

Now when I look back on the way things went, I say that the first time around, I missed the bus. And I didn't intend to miss it again! So at the wedding, I asked some questions and expressed my interest in Buddhism, which was a pretty big step in itself.  

At home, things got even worse. I had quit my job by then and there was a lot of stress from that. Then, as fall came around, I seemed to sink deeper and deeper into depression. All I wanted to do was sleep and escape. My husband just couldn't keep going on this way. We decided to go to a marriage counselor. In one session, he was upset because he said he could not make me happy. That he had tried to for so long but he just couldn't make me happy. I had been reading a book Takako had given me. And for the first time it occurred to me, no, he can't make me happy. I thought, he's not responsible for making me happy, my happiness has to come from me. That no one could give me happiness.  

It was at this time that I began to chant more earnestly for my happiness and also for acceptance from my family. My husband has supported me completely. He wondered why I hadn't told him. He said he would always support me and that he knew Buddhism was important to me, because he saw its positive effects on me.  

My mother never questioned my decision. She told me that she could see with her own eyes the impact it had had on my life, and she was happy for me because she could tell I was happier.  

The biggest stone in the road for me was my Dad. And although he has never said that he understands or agrees with my choice, in his case, actions speak louder than words. Last May I when received my Gohonzon, he made, by hand, my butsudan, and my Gohonzon was enshrined on May 8, 1999.  

I feel sometimes that life started over for me on November 1, 1998. I went to my first SGI meeting that day. I have come a long way since then. Life is not perfect but I have experienced many benefits and happiness from my practice. My husband continues to support me and we have made such progress in our relationship that I feel is a definite benefit for us all. Now I look forward to life and to the future. Now I know what I was searching for.  

The Buddha rose from his meditations and spoke to his followers, he said, "Do not worship me for I am but a man."