Me Those Words"
I started to practice in January 1969 in Washington DC. My leader was a genuine military hero. He saved thousands of lives in the evacuation of Libya. His name was Ted Osaki. Doctors told him his wife was dying of cancer and they could not save her. She saved herself through her sincere practice of the Daishonin's Buddhism.
I have little use for leaders. Buddhism is an individual quest for enlightenment. I do enjoy doing shakubuku. It is my habit to think of unanswerable questions for leaders to answer. I call it "Stump the Guru".
I promised the Japanese woman who shakubukued me to practice for 100 days.
I chanted for something I considered impossible. I wanted to prove it wrong so I could warn my hippie friends about another stupid religion. Oddly, the "impossible" happened.
Before practicing, I had been in the Army. Every month my buddies and I would pool our money and buy as much pot as possible. We were caught. I was introduced to the Daishonin's Buddhism while waiting for my trial.
After pleading guilty, I was in a holding cell in Travis County, Texas, when an event occurred that would change my life. The cellblock had four main cages and a bay area that was open during the day. The bay area had a shower and two metal table and chair combinations that looked like picnic tables.
At night, the prisoners segregated themselves into the four main cages. One cell had Latin Americans, another young whites, a third held African-Americans. And the last cell had mostly older whites.
I was in the young white cell along with one of the people I was busted with (named Greg). In the old white cell was Mark, another person I was busted with. I did not like Mark. He was a hot head, a wise guy. He’s the guy who got us busted.
In jail, I had used Bugler Tobacco papers to construct a Gongyo book. Another guy in my cell spent a week drawing the perfect 56 Chevy on the wall. Then he erased it and started drawing the perfect 57 Chevy. He was a car thief.
One day, I was seated with my back to the African-American cell at a metal picnic table, playing chess with Greg.
Mark went into that cell and asked "Which one of you Mother so-and-so's took my cigarettes?" (He did not use the word so-and-so). The biggest man in the cell asked: "Who are you calling a Mother so-and-so?"
Fists started to fly. Mark hit the floor. He was kicked repeatedly. There were too many of them and not enough of him. One of them looked at me and said, "Birds of a feather flock together." My heart sank. He and one of his friends started smashing my face into the metal picnic table. My legs were trapped under the table. There was little I could do. Prisoners from other cells shouted "Kill them!!! Kill them!!!"
Before passing out, I had a stark realization: "You are about to die!"
Without thinking, I rose to my feet, pressed my palms together, and a deep and powerful voice came from within me: "Nam myoho-renge-kyo, Nam myoho-renge-kyo, Nam myoho-renge-kyo!" The fighting stopped.
I looked down — my white T-shirt was red with blood. My pants were soaked in urine. Mark was lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the African-American cell. He started to apologize to those who beat him. Pepe, the leader of the Latinos, yelled "Don't apologize to that black mother so-and so!"
The fighting erupted again. The two guys resumed smashing my face into the metal picnic table. This time, with great purpose, I began to chant. I had lost all pretenses. I was beyond trying to be cool. With three Daimoku all the fighting stopped again. This time I did not stop chanting. They begged me to stop, but I would not. They promised me they would stop fighting if I stopped chanting. I did not stop until after lockup when I fell asleep.
Pepe was tough. He had been in the Texas prison system since he was seventeen. He was twenty-nine. He had scars and homemade prison tattoos all over his body. He was looking at another 10 years. He was tough and uncompromising. That's why I was surprised to see him the next morning, waking me up.
He said "Teach me those words."