I am a professional musician; as such I have done a lot of “starving.” I am quite sure that my financial struggle was prolonged as a result of some basic shortcomings in the areas of faith and attitude.
Because I pursued a path of persistence
about succeeding as a performing artist, I eliminated many possible ways
of money making. But, because I lacked the courage to stay focused, I made
only intermittent progress in my career. Discipline, whether in practicing
fundamentals of music, of Buddhism, or in other areas of life, has always
been a very difficult challenge for me.
Fast forward to approximately two and a half years ago. Many lessons finally began to sink in. I was spiritually and emotionally exhausted, having survived a seemingly unending stream of crises. It seemed that I had largely depleted my storehouse of fortune. I was being forced to move from the most modest of dwellings (where I paid an unbelievably low, low, low rent). My career was nowhere. Through anger and arrogance, I had blown my Buddhist God-like side hustle (moving furniture). So even if I found a new abode, I couldn’t even afford to move out.
I had alienated my family, except for my father who, in his wisdom, forgave me. I had seriously offended my sister, in response to her offending me. I was semi-estranged from my only child (my son), who had gotten married at the beginning of the year without bothering to tell me.
I ended up depending on friends for their help. I moved to the new place (a much, much better place to live), and was allowed to give my washing machine to the landlord as payment for two weeks rental. I had been promised a job in the Chicago Public Schools, and was waiting for the criminal background check to clear. That took two months to happen. I found out later that the entire state of Illinois was depending on six persons in the State Police Department to do all the background checks, and they were that far behind.
In the meantime, I got a street musician’s license, and eked out a daily existence, paying my rent daily until I was gainfully employed. I endured a lot of mental abuse from my landlord, who (though he was a very nice guy) had a lot of problems and was an admitted “rage-aholic.” (I don’t know if that’s a legitimate psychological term, but it is certainly accurate!)
My over-riding emotion at this time was that I was tired of losing, and I really needed to win for once. I shed a lot of tears, and found myself just sobbing in front to the Gohonzon. I chanted a lot of Daimoku! At the time of my breakthrough, I was chanting five hours daily.
This amount of chanting helped me to see how truly arrogant I had been for an inestimable amount of time. I realized (and haven’t forgotten) that I must have the best friends in the world. I say this because there are so many that tolerated my unbelievably negative attitude and continued to support and encourage me. At that time, if I’d had a friend like me, I would have had nothing to do with him.
This realization came to me one day, while I was alternately chanting and crying. I can’t describe the sincere remorse I felt. I knew immediately that I had to apologize to everyone. I decided to do just that. I began calling people and sincerely apologizing for having been such a very negative person. The apologies were choked with emotion and it was very difficult to complete them. Virtually all of my friends felt that I was not that bad; but I knew what I had realized in front of my Gohonzon. Some told me that I didn’t need to apologize, but I insisted that they hear me out. I told them I needed to do this for myself!
I included people with whom I had had conflict and who were not so friendly. I didn’t care about what they might have done or said to me, or how negative they may have been. I knew that when there is conflict, each of the involved parties share some of the responsibility. I apologized for my attitude and my actions. These people actually saw my sincerity, and I was able to begin turning adversarial relationships into friendships!
As I continued to chant, self-reflect, and apologize to others, I began to feel lighter and lighter inside. It became easier to express the apologies (the most painful emotions were subsiding). It was in the midst of this experience that my background check cleared, and I was hired into the Chicago Public Schools system.
At the end of the school year (April 2003) I was laid off — caught in a system-wide layoff. When I was told that I was being laid off, I returned to my office (I was the only Teacher Assistant in the school, and I had my own office). I chanted Daimoku a few minutes and admonished myself to remain positive. Then I called my home phone to retrieve my messages.
There was a message from an agency that books musicians onto cruise ships. They said that they needed a cocktail pianist right away, and that three pianists that they called had recommended me. I had called this agency before, and they requested promotional materials that I did not have, so they told me to call back when I had them. This time they asked me to send them a home made video and my playlist, and promised to hire me as soon as they got them. I spent four of the next five months playing the best music gig of my career. It paid well, I lived rentfree, ate great food (free), and even got my laundering and ironing done free!
I came back to Chicago a much improved keyboardist-vocalist and with enough savings to buy all new professional equipment. This was the first time ever that I was really professionally equipped.
Within a month I was rehired into the school system. Decades ago, I had attended college for five years as a music and education major. I never graduated. A year ago, I determined to finish my bachelor’s degree, and get my Illinois State Teacher Certification.
I have been accepted at an excellent music teachers’ college here in Chicago. There are some very formidable obstacles confronting me, but I am determined to begin school this August!
I have recently been recruited into a band that has excellent prospects for top paying local engagements. This opportunity represents the income that I will need to earn while in school!
It is clear to me that everything depends on me — especially on my practicing Buddhism passionately; extending compassion to my fellow members, friends, and family members; and enthusiastically supporting the May-June Contribution Campaign and the six-year Shakubuku Campaign. I know that this is truly the way for all of us to change our karma!
Before I close, I would like to relate that just before I was forced out of that meager abode (referred to at the beginning), I was burglarized, and lost approximately $13,000 worth of music and recording equipment. At that time, I was working a temporary job with the U.S. Census Bureau.
The prevalent guidance reaching me through the realm of SGI-USA was about not blaming others for my suffering. Much attention was given to not giving in to anger, and not holding grudges against others. I had been informed who the persons were that burglarized my cottage, but I couldn’t prove it and informants were unwilling to give the police their eyewitness accounts. They feared revenge from the perpetrators.
For two weeks, I could not clean up the mess from the break-in. Doing that would ignite my anger and rage toward those persons responsible, and I just didn’t want to experience it. Finally I could ignore the conditions no longer, and I grabbed a broom. As I began to sweep, of course, my mind went to the burglars. To my amazement, I thought “I would hate to have their karma!” I couldn’t believe my next thoughts were coming from me. “I really feel sorry for them — I’m going to chant for them!”
At that instant, my phone rang. To my surprise, it was my son. He wanted to pay me a visit. He came the next day, and asked to begin anew to create a harmonious relationship with me. He told me that I was going to be a grandfather, and that he wanted his child to have me in his or her life.
I made a determination to overcome my tendency toward anger, and to resist the impulse to blame others for any unhappiness — no matter how directly related they were to the situation. I determined to accept the responsibility for all hurts, angers, and frustrations, and not to compound the suffering by resenting others.
At the Census Office, I had a supervisor who was a young woman. I was by far the hardest worker in my department. Virtually everyone else was constantly looking for ways to get out of work. One day we did a very laborious job. At the end of about two and a half hours, I was wringing wet with perspiration and shaking. I sat down to rest. This supervisor began ordering me back to work. She knew well how hard I had been laboring. In the ensuing discussion, she kept stepping too close to me, “invading my space.” I told her this made me uncomfortable and asked her not to do this. She responded by repeatedly stepping within a couple of feet of me as I continually backed away.
My anger got the better of me. I lost my cool, sidestepped her, and stormed out of the office. I was livid and I knew better than to return to work before I could calm myself down. I went to a nearby store to get a cold drink (It was an extremely hot day). When I entered the store the cold air-conditioning hit me and I experienced a tremendous feeling of physical relief. Immediately I remembered my determination and I realized “that young lady is very unhappy!” I then remembered that the previous evening she had brought her daughter into the office. She was a very young mother, and I suddenly realized that her life was probably very hard. I thought “I’m going to chant for her when I get home!”
That evening, I arrived at my door with my determination to chant for this young lady very much in mind. On the way in, I grabbed my mail. Once inside I saw a picture post card. I suddenly realized that it was a picture of my sister (the one who I had offended). She was visiting Kenya and was posing with two formally dressed Masai warriors. Her message was that she was forgiving me for my offense, and she apologized to me for withholding her trust of me for three years. (She attributed this to her faith in Jesus Christ and that is fine with me!)
The point is that, although I had apologized to her when the offense occurred, her forgiveness came only when I was able to overcome my own anger toward my supervisor! When I overcame anger and condemnation toward my burglars, my son returned to me! When l did self-reflection, accepted responsibility for my own life, and did profound human revolution, my financial condition did a 180 degree turn!
What I have learned is:
1) To change my world I have to change myself!In delusion, we perceive ourselves as limited in possibilities and in power. Common sense tells us that we cannot achieve anything that we don’t believe we have the ability to accomplish. To believe that I am a Buddha is to believe that I have the power, the wisdom, the courage, the fortune, etc., to accomplish ANYTHING!
I think that we have to acknowledge that what we experience is our karma. I also think that when I make statements like “I have job karma,” I might — somewhere in the back of my mind — be buying into some form of self-doubt. I think that it is my real karma to be essentially a Buddha. It is my mission to confront my own human difficulties and demonstrate (for the benefit and encouragement of others) that the inherent power, my own Buddha nature, can be harnessed through Daimoku to the Gohonzon. This karma, I feel, dwarfs any other karma that might be manifest (or dormant) in my life.
This confidence and conviction may be the greatest benefit I have experienced, and I am eternally grateful!
I cannot close without stating that receiving guidance and encouragement from my Central Zone leader really helped me to keep going! The insight and inspiration that I gained by reading The Buddha in Your Mirror was pivotal!