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Taking the Lead for Compassion

My name's Diane Conti-Tuncay. I'm originally from New York, but have been living and practicing here in Istanbul since 1990. I had a fantastic experience last August, just a couple of days prior to the great earthquake in western Turkey.

As you know, Greece and Turkey have been at odds for many years now. I learned that there have been active SGI groups in both Athens and Istanbul since the 1970's. In all that time, not once had members from either group thought to contact the other. I felt like a hypocrite chanting for world peace when I didn't even know my own SGI neighbors in Athens!

After some searching, I finally located the email address of the Athens district leader. We made contact and I learned then that he was born in California of immigrant parents from Greece. He returned to Athens to begin that country's kosen-rufu movement. We made friends very quickly and I took the opportunity to invite myself to Athens for a few days visit in August.

When I presented this idea back in May to my group in Istanbul, none of the members were interested in going along with me. I tried three times to get at least one person to come, but it wasn't happening. I always thought that I needed approval from my group or someone to do activities with. I was upset because this was a faith activity that we could do. In Turkey we have no organization and practice on our own at home. No shakubuku or geshu. I decided to leave my group and their attitude behind and follow my heart in doing what I felt was long overdue and right.

I contacted my friend Yoko Takamura in Tokyo and asked if she would like to join me. Yoko had lived in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, for several years before returning home to Japan. She accepted and we met in Athens on August 12th. We quickly saw that our Greek friends were very suspicious and distrusting of us. It really surprised us very much, because we had no ulterior motives other than promoting unity between the groups and furthering kosen-rufu in our part of the world.

Yoko and I both chanted abundant daimoku in our hotel room every morning and evening to be able to make heart-to-heart connections with the members. It became evident that compassion was the key to establishing our basis of friendship. Forget clever words and discussions to make the other person see things from your point of view. Emotions were too high for sensible talk.

Compassion was what was needed. It was very difficult time, the height of the Ocalan trial. We only had two and half days to win their trust and friendship.

The final moments in Athens were devoted to morning gongyo together with some of the members. The gongyo and daimoku were fantastic! The silence was deafening when we finished. Everything we prayed so deeply for sinking into us in the moments of silence that followed. There were genuine tears of joy and sorrow when we had to leave at the airport. I felt such genuine love for the Athens members and still do. On the return flight I told Yoko that it would take a tremendous effort to wake up both Greece and Turkey and get on the road to peace. The changes needed to come from every strata of society, a complete rehauling of attitudes. Little did I know that it would be our earthquake.

I returned on August 14th to a four-day seminar for my job. I received a job promotion with a sizable pay raise a wonderful benefit from the Gohonzon. By Monday evening, I was very uncomfortable. I just put my arms around me and held myself. I was so out of sorts and couldn't understand why. Then I had this overwhelming need to chant daimoku. I went to my butsudan at 10:00 and finished chanting at 11:00 PM. Even my voice sounded foreign and strange in my ears. I was chanting at lightening speed as if this was my last daimoku. I felt a deep feeling for the need to be protected. I chanted for all the Buddhist gods in the universe to protect this little votary of the Lotus Sutra. My voice was calling out to the universe for protection now. I felt relieved and went to bed.

At 3:02 AM the first shock hit. The bed shook from side to side. Earthquake! my boyfriend said. I immediately began chanting daimoku as my feet touched the floor. I grabbed my two little Chihuahuas, one under each arm and lead the way down the hall to the front door of my apartment. I could go no further and stopped in a doorway to hold on as the entire building began to agitate very rapidly up and down. Everything vibrated. I could hear all the neighbors, upstairs and downstairs, shouting. Things were crashing onto the floor above us. The ceiling fixtures were swinging madly. The noise of everything in my seven-floor building being shaken up and down was so frightening, yet I chanted on with confidence knowing that we would be okay. The shaking got worse before it got better. It lasted for 38 terrifying seconds.

We listened to the only radio station still operating from a neighbor's car.  You could hear over the air things falling around the announcer in the studio as she gave the news. None of us had any idea just how far reaching or what the magnitude of this earthquake was. We learned that in the afternoon that day on CNN.

At 6:00 AM, I entered the apartment and discovered the phone line was on! I quickly phoned my mom in Florida to tell her we were all okay. Then I got online and blasted out to everyone in my address book what we had just experienced here. That email has since gone round the world at least a few times. Apparently there were no other eyewitness accounts available in English. Afterwards I noticed that I was wearing two different shoes!

We spent the next week sleeping on beach lounges in the parking lot of my apartment building.

In the next two days, the mayor of Athens came to visit the mayor of Istanbul. On national TV, our mayor said: "We are brothers," as they warmly embraced. The newspapers reported that since the Greeks had donated so much aid and rescue teams, the idea of war now is not possible. Our national newspaper Cumhuriyet had a huge banner headline in Greek saying "THANK YOU NEIGHBOR!" All these wonderful exchanges continue till today. There have been Greek artists performing concerts here with proceeds going for earthquake relief. Germany has softened its stance towards Turkey's EU admission. And it goes on and on. The compassion keeps flowing. Turkey had the chance to repay Greece when they had their quake a few months later. 

The Turkish search and rescue team AYKUT were honored on Greek national TV.  So hard for me imagine that all of this was totally impossible just a few short days before!

So I continue to chant for my friends in Greece and I know they do so for me. We all have our own personal perspectives of the world, however there comes a time when you need to put them aside and evolve to a higher plane. If we cannot, then we can never advance. We are all on the same side for kosen-rufu! Employing the strategy of the Lotus Sutra and using our Buddha wisdom will get us to that place.

The Lotus Sutra states:

"When the Buddha spoke these words, the earth of the thousand-millionfold countries of the saha world all trembled and split open, and out of it emerged at the same instant immeasurable, thousands, ten thousands, millions of bodhisattvas and mahasattvas." 
Lotus Sutra, Chapter 15, p. 213
The homeless and unemployed are not okay once the TV is turned off. They will be with us for many years to come here. An entire region has been wiped out. You simply cannot get your head round the magnitude of it.