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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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Sangha in Motion

Masao Tsuneyoshi's Dharma Journey - Turning My Life Around at Gakurin

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for allowing me to give my testimonial speech on this momentous occasion, Shakyamuni’s birthday.

It seems just like yesterday that I had flown to Japan with both high hopes and apprehensions to change and turn my life around.  Although I did not have any specific goals for the future, I was still allowed to enter the Gakurin International Seminary program.  These past two years have been all about ups and downs but I was able to successfully complete the program.  I am standing in front of you with aspirations and a determined mind, both of which I did not possess in the past.

My brother was born prematurely which resulted in him having a detached retina in his right eye.  The harsh struggles with reality eventually lead to my mother joining Rissho Kosei Kai Los Angeles.  So my mother always took me along to church since I was a baby.  All the members took great care of me.  However, once in high school I started to mingle with the wrong crowd and began to lead a delinquent life.  My life was heading in a downward spiral which involved with the police.   After some time, my mother had found out about my “secret” life.  I was prepared to get scolded and ready for any sort of punishment but instead I was caught off guard by my mother’s words and actions.  Tears ran down her face as she hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to recognize the tough times you were going through.”  I recalled the numerous times in which my mother had said to me compassionately, “I trust and believe in you,” after observing my changes in action and daily life over the past few years.  Looking back on it now, it must have been so hard for my mother to say those words.  My mother’s words opened my eyes to what I was actually doing.  I apologized for neglecting my mother’s feelings and thoughts and decided to get my life back on track.  Right around the time this had happened, former LA church reverend, Rev. Mizutani arranged for me to become an International Seminary Student and to study at Gakurin.

Masao Tsuneyoshi sharing his Dharma Journey

The environment at Gakurin was of one that I had never experienced in America.  In America I was able to do what ever I wanted.  I had a car of my own and no curfew which I took full advantage of and stayed out all night.  I was in a great situation to fool around and play as much as I wished.  On the other hand, Gakurin life had a strict curfew, nowhere for you to really run, all the people around me were good-natured people which made it hard for me to act out of line and do as I pleased.  It was tough to adapt to the rules and I felt that I would not be able to last in this suffocating environment.  Typical daily schedules went something like this: morning wake up call usually at 5:50 a.m., then cleaning of the dormitory, morning prayer service, commute to Japanese school, commute back to Gyogakuen, self-study, closing meeting, and finally Kosei-kai “duties” which I was not used to doing at all.  I remember being overwhelmed by the rigorous tasks and duties in which I needed to complete on a daily basis.  Although it was tough in the beginning, I was blessed to have great instructors and colleagues who helped me adjust and get settled into this environment.  I was able to fix my sloppy, untidy lifestyle and learned the importance of continuing in the practice of good daily habits.  Also, daily interactions with fellow International students, missionary training, lectures on the Lotus Sutra and Basic Buddhist Teachings lead me to take a look at and change my one-sided biased point of view.

Born and raised in America, I was brought up in a society which values the ideals of independence and I had a tendency to look at situations theoretically.  I could not comprehend the necessity of faith and religion.  As a matter of fact, I never even attempted to understand or even listen.  However, I encountered and got to know an individual (let’s call this individual, Alice) who changed my way of thinking.  Thanks to this encounter I came to realize that the Buddha’s teachings were a necessity in life.  Couple of months after being acquainted, Alice began calling me past midnight crying and talking about committing suicide.  This sort of experience was a first for me so I felt a little uneasy and shaken.  It started off with Alice complaining about stuff here and there and it seemed like she just wanted someone to listen.  It quickly turned into phases where she would conduct herself in a disorderly manner and begin tearing up her room.  It finally got to the point where she started cutting her wrists and inflicting injury on herself in different ways.  I felt powerless but decided to just devote myself to listening to her and simply try to interact with her with compassion.  However, there were times where I would skip school and stay with her because I feared that she would injure herself further.  It took me some time to realize that my life was being controlled by her and I was not able to accomplish anything that I needed to do.  On top of that, Alice’s condition was not improving.  Around that time I began to feel that being compassionate to others may be able to please them but you aren’t able to really “save” them from their predicament.  I finally decided to neglect her pleas to not inform Gakurin staff about the situation.  This was the first time that I had taken it upon myself to seek and ask for guidance from my instructors.  I invited Alice to evening prayer services at the Great Sacred Hall.  I was able to see first hand Alice’s condition beginning to slowly improve.  It was very mysterious, almost unbelievable how things started changing for the better once the teachings came into play.  To tell the truth, I was fatigued in my everyday involvement with Alice.  I remember thinking why does this have to happen to me especially when I’m so busy.  But in fact, this special encounter and connection with Alice lead me to accept the fact that the Dharma and teachings were essential in my life.  I started to want to learn more about The Lotus Sutra and the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai.  I am filled with gratitude toward Alice for bringing these feelings from out of me.  Also, I was told that I should be grateful to my mother who had reached out to me wholeheartedly in all situations good and bad.  This was the reason why I was able to do the same toward Alice.  I feel that I had learned a little something about parental love from this experience.

During my first year of missionary training, I learned about basic Buddhist teachings, Kosei-kai practices and was taught about the importance of always keeping in mind to live daily life while acknowledging and abiding by the Dharma.  “Tedori” was a new experience to me.  On my first Tedori practice, we visited a youth member not much younger than myself.  Let’s call him Mike.  Before our visit, the Shibuchou directed me to “Look at the other person as a mirror.”  Always worrying and concerning his parents in many ways, Mike was struggling with conflicts within himself.  While speaking with Mike, I was able to see my former self, how I used to be before coming to Japan.  I was able to really understand personally what it meant to “learn from your encounters.”  In Hoza, I was taken by surprise to hear members talk frankly about their difficult and sometimes embarrassing pasts.  I was never able to or even thought about speaking about my shameful past.  However, I was taught that by revealing yourself completely and sharing with others allows you to face the Buddha and gives you an opportunity to reflect back on your life.  I had always thought there was nothing to gain from these strange practices.  Experiencing and practicing trainings such as Tedori and Hoza, I was able to look deep into myself and found out many things which I did not know recognize in the past.  I came to appreciate and enjoyed the fact that I was growing as a person from these practices.  I came to understand that Kosei-kai’s practices were to purify one self and strive to become that better individual.  From the Lotus Sutra I learned that all of the teachings are meant for you to truly understand yourself.

During my second year of missionary training, I committed myself in practices to “looking at the Buddha nature within others.”  I was also able to experience “the mysterious, invisible strength or powers” which are constantly being emitted around us, something of which I always doubted.  When wholeheartedly praying for others and when your words and actions suit the wishes of the Buddha, the Buddha arranges for “helpers” to appear and help overcome difficult situations that you or others are in.  From this experience, morning and evening prayer services changed from simply reading the Lotus Sutra to actually praying for the salvation of others.  Also, watching the reverend and members earnestly and diligently practicing the teachings definitely had a big impact on me.  It helped me to increase my faith and strengthened my prayers for people in all directions.  From my once stubborn thinking of not caring or trying to accept what the teachings and practices were about, I feel that I have finally come to accept all of it wholeheartedly.

These past two years allowed me to finally realize my parent’s compassion and affection.  I feel that because my parents had cultivated into me the idea of always being considerate for others, I was able to experience and understand what “true inner happiness comes from happiness of others” really meant.  I feel that I was able to make it this far thanks to everyone for always acknowledging me for who I am and believing in me no matter what.  And I am so thankful to my mother for holding onto the teachings, as I am sure she had felt betrayed or abandoned by the Buddha as she watched my life go down the hole.  I would not be here today if she had not kept her faith in me.  And just as my mother unlocked and opened up my Buddha Nature, I will strive to become a person who can do the same and look for that shining piece in every individual.

The knowledge and experience I obtained, the wonderful encounters with the many people at Gakurin are irreplaceable and will be a huge asset in my life to come.  I am certain that there will be many difficult situations waiting in the future.  Nevertheless I feel that I have acquired the knowledge and a compassionate heart to overcome these situations.  From this point on, I plan to have absolute faith, study and learn more of the teachings, apply it to my daily life, and share this wonderful Dharma with others. 

Thank you very much. 

Masao Tsuneyoshi Masao Tsuneyshi is a Japanese-American and a member of Rissho Kosei-kai Los Angeles. He attended Gakurin International Seminary in Japan.

April 5, 2009


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