By Etsuko Uehara, Toyonaka City, Osaka
"I am going to become a priest of Nichiren Shoshu," my eldest son announced. I was dumbfounded. I opposed this idea. Despite my wishes, he passed the examination to become a Nichiren Shoshu acolyte with the highest score of all the candidates. In 1981, at 21, he left us saying "I will follow the path of the priesthood."
In January of the next year, I visited him at the head temple. He was very courteous, his language was formal, as if we were no longer his family. I notice his hands were frostbitten and purple. Acolytes were not permitted to wear overcoats or gloves.
In 1984, he was assigned to work at Sentoku-ji temple in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo. He had lost 44 pounds and looked like a total stranger. His physical condition had deteriorated due to fatigue and stress. It was not uncommon for him to be awakened around two or three in the morning to drive several hours to pick up the chief priest, Rev. Akimoto, from an exclusive nightclub or restaurant. Rev. Akimoto was the Nichiren Shoshu Liaison Department Chief.
If he were late, the Rev. Akimoto would reprimand him in public and even strike him. My son accepted this as part of the practice and he persevered.
At Setagaua, acolytes slept under the Gohonzon on the floor. They were treated like slaves. In contrast, the chief priest and his family lived extravagantly and slept until noon. The chief priest rarely did gongyo in the morning.
Once my son was sent to a home to chant Daimoku with a family for a mother who had passed away. After returning to the temple, the chief priest reprimanded him saying, "What happened to the offering from the family?" My son said "I just gave it to your wife." After checking the envelope, the chief priest said "Such a small amount cannot be called an offering! Why did you leave the Doshi Gohonzon at the home of family that makes such a small offering?" He then struck my son.
In 1986, my son was transferred to Myosei-ji temple in Kyoto. Six months later the chief priest, Rev. Okamura, called and said, "Your son has disappeared. What an awful thing he has done. He has escaped. His sin deserves death. I hold you responsible for bringing him back to the temple right away."
We drove to Kyoto and looked everywhere for our son. A few days later he called. We urged him to return to the temple. He would not listen. After much arguing, my son finally explained why he would not return. He had discovered golden statues of Amida Buddha in the base upon which the temple Gohonzon was enshrined. When he asked the chief priest why they were there, the chief priest told him "The statues have financial value, so leave them where they are." My son could not believe that it was correct to place slanderous statues just below the Gohonzon. My son argued, but Rev. Okamura would not listen.
I scolded my son and told him to return to the temple. I was scared and confused. My 80-year old stepmother wanted to die as a form of Buddhist apology for the acts of my son. She was hospitalized for fatigue and depression.
I could not sleep at all. If my son became a layman, I thought, the next seven generations of my family may fall into hell no matter what we did. I held a grudge against my son even though I felt sorry for him.
One of his acolyte classmates called my son and told him "You were the top of the class, but because of you, we all lost face. You should apologize and return to the temple. Otherwise, you should take your own life."
My husband, despite himself, disowned my son. When my son left home, my heart was shattered to pieces. We still visit him and worry about him.
My son just graduated from Ritsumeikan University. The chief priest, who was in his 40's, died painfully of leukemia.
Now I realize it was naive of me to be blindly obedient to the priesthood. I realize it was my own foolishness to respect the clergy because of its position in our society.
President Ikeda's guidance has enabled me to make this important realization. If we were not taught how to fight, and call forth our own righteous indignation, it would have been hell for us. We would have ended our lives dismally, with only painful memories.
President Ikeda, thank you very much!
Fellow members, thank you very much! With a heartfelt cheer to the SGI,
I will continue to fight for kosen rufu and my own personal victory.