Awakening to My Buddha Nature
My name is Angela Quashie and I live in Chicago. I began practicing Nichiren Daishonin's True Buddhism in 1982 at age 18. I am the granddaughter of a Baptist minister, which made starting to practice challenging. It was also difficult to practice because, at that time, my family lived on my grandfather's property. Fortunately, my mother had never forced us to go to church, remembering the many days during her childhood when she had been forced to go. Now that I was an adult leaving for college, I was free to believe whatever my heart desired.
So my life began. A newly practicing friend from high school had introduced me to this Buddhism. I had to teach myself gongyo since I was the only practicing member in a little college town in the middle of Iowa. Needless to say, reciting the sutra was like pulling teeth without instructions. I really enjoyed chanting daimoku because I felt so peaceful inside. I recall that, shortly after receiving my Gohonzon, a leader had told me that if I could just teach one person to chant, I would accumulate great fortune. I really wanted to practice with others, not just when I returned to Chicago during school breaks, but all the time. So I took his advice very seriously.
After praying this way, I began telling other students about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Sometimes I was ridiculed for my beliefs. I was finally able to teach one person to practice on campus during my senior year. How could I have known then that the one person whom I taught, Robert Quashie, would later become my husband and best friend. After graduating from college I went back to Chicago to live, where I accepted a leadership position in the youth division.
During the early 90's there were many changes in my life. I got married, had my first child, stopped practicing, and was diagnosed with a congenital brain condition called arteriovenous malformation. This is a tangled cluster of blood vessels in the brain. Eventually, this karmic illness would force me to place all my faith in the Gohonzon.
The AVM was discovered after an episode when I had a severe headache and a temporary inability to talk and understand what others were saying. This forced me and my husband to rush to the emergency room. From the very beginning, I had some of the top neurology specialists assigned to my case at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where we had recently moved. The year was 1994. They explained that I had experienced a type of seizure. The doctors recommended a procedure called Gamma Knife surgery that would not involve open surgery but would take up to three years to obliterate the AVM. I was told that without the treatment, I could become mute, and I could possibly lose my life if the AVM began to hemorrhage.
As the doctors talked to Robert, I recalled a feeling I'd had since childhood, that I would not live past the age of thirty. I was now exactly thirty. One physician told us that it was fortunate that I delivered my breech baby by C-section, two years ago, since a regular delivery could have caused a rupture in the undiscovered AVM. I relied solely on the doctors' recommendations because I was not practicing at that time. This was my first mistake. The second mistake was eventually going to the temple. Looking back, as I survey my life with a clear mind I greatly appreciate these passages from the Gosho "On Attaining Buddhahood":
"However, even though you chant and believe in Myoho-renge-kyo, if you think the Law is outside yourself, you are embracing not the Mystic Law but some inferior teaching. "But my mind was not always clear. This is how it happened . . .
In 1995, we relocated back to Chicago. After two years of waiting for the treatment to affect the AVM, suddenly I began to stutter and my headaches returned. I decided to start practicing again. I had just started a new job, which required a lot of phone work. In addition to other symptoms, I developed dyslexia when reading. I informed my boss of my condition but she was not compassionate and said she might have to let me go.
I went in for a MRI scan during my lunch break one day and was told I had to stay and talk to the doctor. In reviewing the results of the MRI the doctors determined that the swelling in my brain was life threatening. My neurologist placed me on steroids to reduce the swelling. I increased my daimoku and study. I lost my job but I gained more time to chant. About two weeks later, I was chanting one evening and my right arm began to shake uncontrollably. I called out to my husband and he rushed me to the hospital.
My new doctors seemed to have had little experience dealing with my particular condition. They did not know exactly what to do. The doctor that prescribed the steroids prescribed a very low dosage to reduce the swelling. Apparently, the low dosage created the opposite effect. It caused the left hemisphere of my brain to swell even more. There was discussion among the doctors to determine the next course of action. One doctor recommended removing the top portion of my skull to allow the swelling more room!
Now I determined it was time to take matters into my own hands. While the doctors were discussing options, I began to pray with the thought "Gohonzon, my life is in your hands now. I don't want my children to grow up motherless." Before being admitted to the hospital, my husband and I received guidance from Mrs. Liz Kando that we should exchange our Nikken Gohonzon to one transcribed by Nichikan Shonin. We also prayed that the HMO, which was based in Chicago, would cover a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This was unheard of, but they did!
I put the Gohonzon first and began reading every Gosho passage about illness that I could find. I am happy to report I overcame the AVM. My original surgeon looked at the MRI scan and declared that the AVM was 99.9% reduced and that the stuttering would improve once the swelling could be controlled by a higher dosage of steroids. Apparently, the swelling was a sign that the AVM was healing much the same way a healing scar is surrounded by redness and swelling. I did not need brain surgery after all, just a better prescription! I was so appreciative of the Gohonzon and the AVM for allowing me to deepen my faith. Once I was home again, I prayed to the Gohonzon with deep appreciation in my heart and I felt warmly embraced in return. I began to believe the Gohonzon had a life of its own when I chanted to it. But . . . did I really believe that the Gohonzon was my life itself? The future would reveal that it would take further trials to show me that the Gohonzon was my life.
When I returned from the second visit to the Mayo Clinic, a barrage of obstacles confronted me. My right side from the knee down started feeling numb all the time. My inexperienced doctors tried to convince me that the lack of feeling in my leg was all in my head. The stuttering worsened. It took me up to two hours to recite morning gongyo. Eventually my insurance ran out. Also, the high dosage of steroids began to affect my emotions and my judgement.
It was during this time that a temple member, whom I had known from my district years ago, told me that all these things were happening to me because I was chanting to a counterfeit Gohonzon. This was something I had never heard about before. My husband Robert and I wondered why no one had told us about these accusations when we exchanged our Gohonzon. We wanted to ask questions but at that time it was difficult to find anyone in the SGI who wanted to address the "temple issue". We became suspicious and suspicion led to doubt. We had no doubt about practicing, but wondered whether or not we were chanting to the correct Gohonzon. I wondered, "Could we get our original Gohonzon back?" An SGI leader told me the answer was "No."
I became enraged like never before. The anger was fueled by the high dosage of steroids but I did not know that at the time. I thought I was justified in my anger. I fell deeper into the lower worlds. I found myself arguing with people on the street, a behavior totally uncharacteristic of me. One night while chanting I thought I heard a noise and turned away. When I turned to face the Gohonzon again, I briefly saw a hellish face instead of the Gohonzon. In my ignorance, I thought, "Maybe this object of worship is possessed by demons!" which is what I had heard from the temple member.
Robert and I decided to drive to the local temple to speak with the priest about our doubts. Of course he was more than happy to confirm our worst fears. He suggested that we turn in our Gohonzon to him as soon as possible. I asked him if he could explain all the benefits I had received from chanting to the Nichikan Gohonzon. His answer was the benefits were the results I had received from my former practice. Not knowing the history of the "Temple Issue" and believing all of my life that priests did not lie, I thought, "He would not lie to me, would he?" We met with the priest again and decided to give him our Gohonzon. We thought we were doing the right thing and that now we would experience some peace of mind.
The day we took our Gohonzon to the priest, my husband and I were in such disunity with each other. Something was telling me, "This is a terrible mistake." However, when I shared these feelings with my husband, he exploded with "After driving all this way we are going through with what we started!" The priest smiled as he received our Nichikan Gohonzon. As my husband gave the priest the Gohonzon, he thought, "If you are fooling us, I will be back!" We hoped we would receive the Nikken Gohonzon right away but the priest said we had to wait six months to get it. Essentially, withholding the gohonzon was his way of keeping us tied to the temple. He seemed aware of the pain and confusion I was experiencing because I had come to him for help. Like the children in the "parable of the excellent physician and his sick children," we foolishly drank the poison. It was September 1997.
During this time, friends of ours from the SGI reached out to us and held on to us throughout the entire experience. Friends like this are precious and rare. But at the time I did not realize it. I felt it was best not to trust anyone, but I was really suffering. My mind was so overcast, I felt like I was drifting in the sea without an anchor.
With no insurance I found myself in the company of mediocre doctors, one of whom told me, after viewing my most recent MRI scan, "The AVM is still very much there. These things just don't go away!" My world was upside down. I wasted no time in calling the staff at the Mayo Clinic, and they tried to obtain a copy from this Chicago doctor who resisted their efforts. After several attempts on my part and the doctors from the Mayo Clinic, the Chicago hospital said the scan had been lost. Needless to say, I never went back there.
I was so unsure of my future and praying to an empty altar did not help. We had been with the temple for 3-4 months now and I decided to ask the priest how much longer we would have to wait to receive a Gohonzon. The priest's response was "The law of cause and effect is very strict. We will have to wait and observe. Be patient." I thought, "Is this compassion?" My husband had already started talking with SGI friends about coming back and my thinking was not far behind his. One night I was feeling as if I was on my last leg and I cried aloud, "Dai-Gohonzon. Show me the correct path. If only I had a zenchishiki!" (a good friend in faith).
The next day I received a beautiful invitation in the mail to the Women's Division General Meeting from an SGI member Etta Sue. I went and I had a great time. A few days later I confided this to a close friend who had started going to the temple the same time I had. She felt I was not being fair to the priest and that if I would just tell him about my health issues he would understand and show compassion. She then arranged a guidance session for me with the priest without my knowledge. Reluctantly, I went. It would be the last time I entered the temple as a temple member.
I explained to the priest the nature and history of my health karma and that I must have a Gohonzon to conquer it before it conquers me. Essentially he said, "Now I understand your insistence. Rest assured. I will be praying for you from this moment on. I can erect a toba tablet (which is done for deceased people) on your behalf. Should the worst happen, and you become deathly ill, I can write the high priest so he can pray for you." I mentioned that I was still in contact with some SGI members. He suggested that in my case, because of the weakness of my brain, I should have no further contact with the SGI. Without either of us mentioning the Sho-Hondo, he suddenly pulled out pictures of the destruction of the Grand Reception Hall with the Sho-Hondo behind it, still intact. Then he said, "See the Sho-Hondo is still there!" Little did I know that the priesthood had already made plans to destroy it. Then he gave personal guidance to my friend.
At that moment the priest's wife appeared and began to slander a woman from the temple congregation whom she apparently did not like. To my surprise, the priest just sat there smiling without admonishing her. So I calmly suggested that she stop. She retorted that she thought in this country there was freedom of speech. On the way home, I mentioned to my friend that the guidance seemed rather cold-blooded. She said she thought I took it the wrong way. But for the first time in months, I knew I was thinking clearly.
It is important to note we never did get a Nikken Gohonzon from the priest. At some point he phoned me at home with empty promises of bestowing a Gohonzon on us soon. Then he told me, "I will be going out of town tomorrow to perform gojukai ceremonies. I trust you will not inform any of your SGI friends of my plans."
Etta Sue sent me study material entitled Reaffirming Our Right to Happiness, which thoroughly answered all of my questions about the SGI's decision to issue the Nichikan Gohonzon to members. It also provided the history of the Fuji School.
I am very happy to say that on March 8, 1998, only days after our request, the SGI compassionately issued another Nichikan Gohonzon to our family. I later found out that it was on this day in 1274 that the Daishonin was pardoned from his exile to Sado Island. That same month I returned to the temple to request a deposit refund placed for tozan. Clearly agitated, the priest crossed the room to intercept the refund check that his secretary was about to hand me. After looking at the check, which was only about $50, he insisted that I sign for it. Which I did. Then he asked if I would speak with him in private. He said he had heard rumors that we had rejoined the SGI movement. He feigned concern. I joyfully told him that we had just received another Nichikan Gohonzon on the 8th of the month. He claimed that was the very day he had scheduled us to receive gojukai also. I wondered when he was planning to tell us! But it no longer mattered. Having taken off the mask, he began to slander me. I left. I felt a surge of energy and began to walk briskly to my car.
Some of our latest benefits include:
I would like to close by sharing the following Gosho passage, which is engraved in my life:
"It is the same with the Buddha and a common mortal. While deluded, one is called a common mortal, but once enlightened, he is called a Buddha. Even a tarnished mirror will shine like a jewel if it is polished. A mind which is clouded by illusions originating from the innate darkness of life is like a tarnished mirror, but once it is polished it will become clear reflecting the enlightenment of immutable truth. Arouse deep faith and polish your mirror night and day. How should you polish it? Only by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo." (from "On Attaining Buddhahood")