I would like to share my experience of how I was introduced to this wonderful practice in South Africa. I am about to celebrate my ninth year of practice.
Since a very young age, I have suffered from depression, which runs in my family. Two of my uncles committed suicide and, on the 2nd July 1987, my father shot himself. My parents' physically abusive marriage further prompted my search for spiritual truth.
My mother, in her struggle to find happiness and escape the destructive cycle of her marriage, became a re-born Christian (a huge movement in South Africa). At age 14, I followed in her steps. But I just couldn't accept their basic beliefs after a while.
Through a friend's mother, I became interested in various Eastern philosophies. I tried them all: Sant Mat, Hare Krishna, TM, Zen, Tibetan, Therevada Buddhism. I finally went back to Christianity before meeting this practice.
I had read in various magazines that famous celebrities like Tina Turner and Patrick Duffy practiced this Buddhism, but these articles never mentioned the words they chanted. I was very curious to know what they were.
I always used to listen to the BBC World Service on short wave in Johannesburg, to get the full picture with regard to news that was going on in South Africa. (South Africa in the late 80's news was strictly controlled by the apartheid regime's laws. The State of Emergency prevented South African newspapers from reporting on the unrest.) I was very involved in the anti-apartheid movement in my university. Winnie Mandela was in my class. Many of my classmates were in detention.
It was a cold winter's July afternoon in Johannesburg, and a programme started on the BBC World Service about Nichiren's Buddhism. I was so excited when I heard people chant, but couldn't hear the words as the short wave signal was so poor. I put a tape in my radio, and taped the brief programme. Afterwards I slowed the tape down, but still couldn't hear the words.
Two years later, I was browsing in a bookshop in Rosebank in Johannesburg and came across Mr. Richard Causton's book An Introduction to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism.
I bought it immediately and tried to chant, as instructed at the back of the book. The next day I was on a university holiday working at a TV station. I was sitting in a telephone cubicle, I had the book with me, face down, just the "Nich" part was showing. A colleague grabbed the book and went a bit wild.
It turned out that when she had been in the states in the late 80's, she had attended a couple of discussion meetings and received the Gohonzon. Although she didn't carry on with the practice, she taught me how to chant correctly. I was so amazed I didn't think anyone knew about the practice in South Africa.
She said she would bring me some things. The next day she brought me her gongyo book and her Gohonzon, which she unfurled and showed to everyone in the office. I took it home and stuck it on the wall with prestic stick, placed a statue of the Buddha below it with some flowers and tried to read this really complicated little book. I decided to chant to meet a SGI group. Something didn't feel right. I took the Gohonzon down and put it in a drawer, but carried on chanting.
Through this lady I contacted the members in Johannesburg in December 1990. I have been practicing ever since. I handed the Gohonzon back and received my very own Gohonzon in 1994.
I still struggle with depression and
self worth, but my Buddhist practice has kept me alive. Sometimes I have
to fight for my life to overcome this suicidal tendency. But I will not