by Lynette Yetter
"What do you mean
conforming to this militaristic marching
will help me change my karma and
polish my life?"
"It will! All of this suffering will
become golden memories!"
a woman younger than me,
who still lived with her mom,
"But I prefer jazz improv,
not marching around like soldiers.
You're trying to erase my individuality!"
"No, it's so your individuality can
You have to develop your life,
Kotekitai is a faith activity.
It's so you can grow."
I was 25.
I wanted to grow and change my karma,
so I participated for three years
in the SGI young women's Buddhist
in parades wearing a double-knit
that cut into my armpits as I held
my elbows high, playing my flute.
But I stepped high and proud, striving
to shine the light
of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
through my playing,
through my life condition.
I marched in the cold fog for hours,
In blazing sun for hours, rehearsing.
"Itai doshin," the leaders told me,
"Many in body, one in mind.
We're doing this for world peace,
to learn how to unite for a common
Together with 12-year-old girls,
I rode buses for hours to get to
Nine hours to the L.A. Sports Arena,
chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo all
"Challenge your limitations.
Make a goal for yourself.
By successfully participating in
this activity, determine that you will achieve
your personal goal,"
the twenty-year-old girl said on
the bus microphone, her voice crackly and earnest.
When we filed into our seats in the
Sports Arena, "Sit up straight!
If the girl next to you falls asleep,
poke her with your elbow!"
A fourteen-year-old poked me in the
"For Seattle, wear all white. No jewelry.
Pull your hair back into a pony tail."
My silver hoop earrings
(that were handcrafted in Africa)
and the mauve-colored stone stud
hadn't left my ears in over two years.
They were part of my identity.
As I unfastened them and slid them
from my lobes,
tears started to fall down my cheeks.
In the mirror I didn't recognize
my own face as I brushed
my wild hair back into a tight ponytail.
The only white clothes I had were
my karate ghee pants from when I
was twelve-years-old and
a white man's shirt.
Tying the cotton belt of my too-small
karate ghee made me feel
like the fat kid who never fit in
that I had
Covering my exposed flesh with the
man's shirt that I never wore,
I felt like a prisoner
who had her clothes burned and
her head shaved.
This was changing my karma?
Crying, I took their word for it
and set out to play military marches
on my flute with the hopes
that I would become happy.
I chanted Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
in my heart, with my whole being.
Madison Square Garden.
We rehearsed in the New York July
sun at the campus of SUNY Purchase.
Thousands of young women from all
marching in formations, playing our
rehearsing choreography to fill the
My head hurt.
I was sweating, prickly, uncomfortable,
A bullhorn announced, "Alaska, Washington
will now take a lunch break."
The young women walked through my
formation, heading to the cafeteria.
I jumped in with them and
As the river of women passed the
I cut off and went in to the air
I took a shower.
How good it felt.
I put on my other, non-sweaty clothes.
I laid on the bed,
enjoying the comfort, the silence,
"Why am I here?" I asked myself.
"I came here to challenge myself.
To change my karma.
I'm not changing anything by escaping
'Honim myo' as they say. 'From this
And Daisaku Ikeda says that in our
youth we have to experience hardships
to hone our character,
if we have to pay for them."
I put my sweaty uniform back on.
I picked up my flute.
I opened the door and walked back
into the humid New York July heat
to march in the noonday sun.
I crossed the field
to where my formation was marching
back and forth --
I went to my spot and lifted my knees
high and played with my whole heart.
Over time, like the surf
beating against the rocks,
the roughest edges of my character
got smoothed away.
My inner colors began to shine.
I followed the directions of people
who had less musical training than I,
but who knew more about Buddhism
and life training.
They were right.
It is all now my golden memory.
Now I wear no jewelry by choice.
I don't need a trademark to define
who I am.
If it hadn't been for that life training
I learned in kotekitai
(No complaints! Hai!),
and learning to be part of a group,
I wouldn't have been able to become
A person who plays the siku.
Who plays this instrument in dialog
with a partner,
Most sikuris are men. Are indigenous
Aymara or Quechua.
I am a fat white woman, pushing 50,
playing the sikus
in parades with indigenous peoples
in the Andes.
these indigenous men made me
a line leader.
From my kotekitai training,
I knew how to pay attention to the
formation around me
and my place in it.
I knew to not complain about last
minute changes to the choreography.
I knew to not take it personal when
someone corrected me.
Even if he was drunk.
Even if I thought he was wrong.
The black pants they rented for me
were too small.
They wouldn't zip up.
So, I tied a string through the belt
loops to hold them up and
arranged my homespun shirt to cover
I played my siku with my whole heart,
sending the light of Nam Myoho Renge
Kyo with each note.
Five years, now, I've been playing
with this group.
Yesterday we attended an international
gathering of sikuris.
I was the only gringa.
The only woman sikuri.
The other women were dancers.
We played in pasa calle, a parade,
with the other sikuri groups.
One group from Parata was dressed
with feather headdresses,
plumed fountains on top of their
They played homemade drums, each
one a different size.
Not one of the cylinders was symmetrical.
The rawhide tying on the drumheads
was hand-tanned and cut.
Our group looked rag-tag.
One of the leaders was hung-over
and wearing the blue running suit
he'd slept in.
He threw on a black poncho with rainbow
and perched a black beanie on his
New members used borrowed black ponchos
with orange fringe instead of rainbow.
But with the first down swing of
the bombo maso,
we played with one heart, one spirit.
Down to Lake Titicaca we all went,
playing our sikus and bombos.
Down the stone lane we danced and
past sheep grazing,
adobe bricks drying on their sides,
golden meadows that swept up to
On the beach of the mama qhocha
we shared our music with each other.
Before each group's performance,
a representative of that group
the current presidents of our group
said to me,
"Will you speak for us?"
"I can if you want me to," I said.
One of the presidents smiled and nodded
The other said, "We want you to."
They wanted me,
to represent this group of indigenous
at this international indigenous
"Say this," one president said.
"Say that," another president said.
From my kotekitai training I didn't
I strode to the center and
stood with all of Lake Titicaca at
facing the sikuris
who had traveled far to share
the Andean Cosmovision
An elder with furrowed face and plumed
his jacket decorated in geometric
designs with hundreds of buttons sewed on.
His broad feet shorn in llama skin,
like his ancestors.
Gaunt man in his 40's, eyes sunken
deep in bony sockets --
staring to perceive the inner essence
of everything --
grey hairs mingled in his black braid
down his back,
a white square of cloth, like a cape,
draped across one shoulder of his
Pointy knit ch'ullu beanie on his
Woman dancer in tire tread sandals
and hand embroidered
Her hands broad.
Her back straight and strong.
"Sisters, brothers, thank you for
this invitation to be here today.
We are honored to be here together
to celebrate the siku,
the spirituality of this music that
we all need.
Kusikuni kay tinkurayku. (Quechua
for 'I am happy because of this gathering.')
Aka jach'a uru. (Aymara for
'This great day.')
We danced on blistered toes at 12,000
playing the bombo even though our
lips raw on the bamboo edge,
we played and danced together
creating ecstatic unity.