Zange II (Buddhist Apology)

By Chris Holte

My mother had a problem with drinking. What started out as social drinking eventually metastasized into that ugly kind of compulsion known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism. I was miserable in that area of my life, and it led to frequent conflicts and misery for the whole family. When I started chanting it took me a while to figure out that maybe I should chant about it, but still nothing seemed to happen. She did go to counseling and she went to a clinic, but when she came back she was still drinking, lying about it, and had added smoking to her list of bad habits.

At that time her drinking was so bad that it was life threatening. I went for guidance.  Rather than sympathizing with me, I was told that I needed to do zange or Buddhist apology. I was also told that I needed to chant about whatever it is that made me have such relationships and to apologize for it. I chanted a long time for my mother's happiness and to transform whatever it was that had caused me to have such relationships and then I went home.

When I came home, she was worse than ever. She had locked herself in her room and came out only long enough to lash out in an incoherent manner at the whole world. I chanted even more that night, and the next day we confronted her with the fact that she seemed very ill, that we couldn't take it any more, and that she was either mentally and physically ill or drinking secretly. She signed herself into a clinic and she hasn't consumed anything alcoholic in the past 20 years or so.

This was actual proof of the power of Daimoku. But there is a rest of the story here. I had transformed my relationship with my mother somewhat, but had I really changed my karma?  No, because I ended up married to (and later divorced from) a person with similar problems and because this still dominated my life, years later my relatives were all with AA or NA. Despite years of effort, similar patterns are in my children and my relatives to this day. The battle isn't over yet. I used to think, "If only they would chant it would change", but when my mother quit drinking I realized I can't wait for what they do. I really think my prayers were effective.

I began to transform my karma when I truly reflected on my life and not only did zange for what it was in my life that attracted such relationships, but awakened to what those things were. It wasn't just the alcohol but the getting stuck in the past, getting stuck in things that I couldn't change, and a tendency to hold emotional grudges about things that were definitely my own fault but that I blamed on others (even while thinking that I wasn't doing so!), that was holding me back. I have learned that I need to cut with these things and move on.

Patterns are familiar so we seek them out. When life is painful we tend to avoid it. Alcoholism and other addictions are as much symptoms of failure to deal with life positively as they are afflictions. To change the pattern we have to awaken to the fact that our lives should be filled with joy, good friends, and happiness and that that starts with ourselves eliminating negativity and accepting others for what they are.

Now I'm in a relationship with someone who has none of those problems and am facing new challenges on a higher threshold of energy. I am learning that accepting who they are doesn't mean we have to hang with negativity or be anything but cautious when people are being tricky, defensive, or negative. 

These things are in my life because I've made the cause to have them in my life. As I stop making the causes, they transform. True Faith in the Lotus Sutra involves realizing that I too am a Buddha and waking up to reality. And that means learning lifelong skills of listening and growth.

There is another experience about zange at: