with My Eyes
August 21st, 1998
Hi, my name is Kenwood Dennard. I’ve been practicing Nichiren Daishonin’s great Buddhism for 11 years, 2 months, and 11 days. During this time, I have had countless beautiful heartfelt experiences with this amazing Gohonzon! These experiences have truly deepened my faith and strengthened my determination for my goal for the future: worldwide peace and happiness ... Kosen Rufu!
My Buddhist practice has dramatically revolutionized every aspect of my life from personal relationships to education, finances, family, friendships, and on and on. This time, I’d like to tell you how one important aspect of my life has shifted in a very beautiful and concrete way: developing APPRECIATION! This sense of appreciation wells up in me now bigger than ever, and has shifted from the vague to the specific and from the theoretical to the practical.
I was born 70% deaf and it has been a fundamental source of embarrassment and shame ever since childhood. I was often met with a barrage of silly questions about my hearing aids, questions like “Ewwwww — what’s that thing on your ear?”
I always gave a stock answer, saying that those things in my ears were hearing aids — they are something like glasses, only instead of being for the eyes, they are for the ears. Once I started to practice Buddhism, I began to appreciate myself more and take care of myself more: I used to lose my hearing aids constantly. That has changed. I used to listen very haphazardly, having a “que sera sera” attitude. Now my Buddhist practice has helped me to be able to focus more and listen very intently.
Of all the careers in the world, I had to pick an ironic one: music! Ever since I was three years old, I have played music. Recently, I had to memorize some music for a band I was playing with and I was having tremendous difficulty. Usually I just make up my own spontaneous music –– especially my favorite, jazz! But in this case, it was a pop music band that employed me. The bandleader wanted me to memorize the music quickly and not rely on reading the music. I tried, but it was very difficult.
Then I chanted daimoku and had a revelation that I was in the habit of using my intellect to remember the music, instead of listening carefully using my EARS to remember the music. I guess I was afraid to rely on my ears. Well, I decided to rely less on reading and more on listening and playing along with a videotape of the band. I had tremendous difficulty focusing my mind on listening to the same piece of music over and over again, and I was also struggling not to look down on the type of music it was. I chanted to overcome my arrogance. Bit by bit, it worked: I abandoned distractions and laziness and forced myself to memorize the music.
It was so difficult to discipline myself that, more than once or twice, I was actually in TEARS from the effort. I just wanted to curl up with a TELEVISION SET and space out! It had come to the point where the important Los Angeles performance was approaching, but I still had not completely memorized the music. The manager pulled me aside and explained “we know your playing ... you are a famous jazz drummer. We have great respect for your work. This band, however, is a pop band. We need you to learn the exact drum parts from the CD ...” He was sincere and straightforward and I did not want to let him down.
The manager arranged for an expensive rehearsal studio for me to rehearse in and I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. I used no sheet music, but, by the end of a long rehearsal day, I still hadn't memorized all the simple details. At the urging of a friend and someone I was introducing to Buddhism (Peter), I rented the studio for a second day at my own huge expense to continue my memorization process, playing along with the videotape on a huge screen with huge speakers! I listened and played along and worked and worked, and still I was missing important details of the music — and I was running out of MONEY! I was chanting daimoku under my breath and moving forward with 100% effort; but soon my rehearsal time came to a close. Then, as I was paying the bill, the studio offered me additional time into the night for a BIG discount. Almost free of charge! I said "Hai!" Yes, I'll take it!
And I was able that night, finally, to play the whole show from memory almost perfectly. The next day, relying on my new-found confidence and my determination concerning my ears, I announced I would not be needing the music stands because I would play the show from memory. The bandleader seemed impressed and happy.
Then came a strange and sudden obstacle: My left hearing aid started making an unbearable loud noise. Next, all of the sudden, it just stopped working altogether. It had taken a lot of courage for me to announce that I would rely on my ears instead of reading the music — and now the hearing aid was completely inoperable. Now I had to rely on listening to the singer, but she was resting her voice during the rehearsal, so I could hardly hear her voice for my cues. Plus the entire mix in my monitors sounded wrong. The monitors were crucial now, whereas before it didn't matter as much, because all I had to do was read what was on the paper. So I struggled to maintain a high life condition and ask for what I needed (I couldn't be meek, by the way; I had to stand up for what I needed amidst some confusion).
Well, I finally got through the rehearsal which, surprisingly, despite my personal challenges, went very well. That night, the performance was indeed a smashing success. The manager told me that the band was able to secure new jobs partly because of my excellent performance.
The following night in Vancouver we had another exhilarating performance . . . I was genuinely enjoying the entire experience. I was able to make eye contact and have so much fun with the singer and the bassist and the guitarist and the backup vocalist and the brass, etc. I was sweating and grooving. I felt an explosive joy and deep bond with the bassist bandleader.
At the end of the show the bandleader said: “You have made me reeeeeeeally happy!” I found that deeply gratifying, since the purpose of our Buddhist practice is happiness. Also the bandleader said, regarding my performance (and I must add he is very strict concerning details), “Trust me, it was PERFECT!!!!!!” Yeeaay! Oh, by the way, the band I was playing with is very popular; they’ve sold 25 million records in Japan alone.
I feel I have made great new friends and experienced a real treasure of the heart. The bandleader and singer were so sincere that I really didn’t mind working so diligently to make the music sound good. I feel such a huge sense of appreciation to my practice for enabling me to focus and have such a great experience. Instead of appreciating only the good stuff like I used to, I appreciate those obstacles I had too.
During my Christian upbringing, I used to appreciate Godliness, but not humanness. Now, in accordance with the Oneness of Person and Law, I appreciate my entire life including my humanity! I appreciate having a deeper sense of hope and personal responsibility. With the Gohonzon, my faith is more concrete. I devote myself to the concrete law of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo — the Gohonzon, not some vague concept of what God is or the universe or spirit. I appreciate the actual concrete experiences I am having with people!!
In 1994 Daisaku Ikeda, the president of the SGI, included me in his guidance, mentioning that Kenwood Dennard is partially deaf. Again in 2002, he mentioned me in his guidance. Sensei (as he is known) said Kenwood has to try harder than others. He uses his eyes to hear. I was again embarrassed and ashamed when I heard that — but now, thanks to Sensei’s compassionate guidance, I am confident that I can be proud of my struggles to encourage and inspire others. To me, my experience means my hearing is not only improved, but I’m USING it better, too! And so my determination is to “do my homework” and resolve my obstacles, and spread this appreciation for Nam Myoho Renge Kyo all around the world for the rest of my life! I am chanting for my hearing to improve and I’m chanting to show actual proof of hearing the world’s cries for happiness and peace just like Bodhisattva Wonderful Sound.
Thank you very
much! Peace! :-)