Living with Persistence, Patience and Determination
This experience was presented at the 50th Anniversary celebrations in Victoria, May 2014.
“We acknowledge that we here celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the visit of President Ikeda to Australasia on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nation. I’d like to pay my respect to the Elders of these traditional lands, and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples past and present.”
I just want to say how humbled I am to be asked to share some words of encouragement on this the 50th Anniversary of the SGI in Australia.
They say it takes around seven years for an Avocado tree to bear fruit, which relates to my connection with Nichiren Buddhism from the time the seed was sown in 1988 until now. From casually chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and enjoying the company of some beautiful French girls – friends of my now wife – who were practicing Nichiren Buddhism in London to my commitment following a recent life changing event – that’s 25 years; much longer than an avocado tree! It’s often a crisis in life that is the catalyst for commitment and I am no exception.
16 months ago I was returning from a holiday visiting family in Queensland. We had just spent a beautiful night camping at Brooms Head National Park in Northern NSW, bushwalked that day in the area and were continuing our journey south along the Pacific Highway. My 15 year old daughter Lily was in the front seat, my youngest son Flynn was in the back with my wife Cathy who was sleeping at the time. We were travelling in convoy with my sister Shelly, her husband Rick and their kids Ginger and Avalon. Our eldest son Dylan had flown back to Sydney a couple of days earlier. Suddenly, without warning and with no prior symptoms, I suffered my first ever seizure whilst driving with my family near Grafton in Northern NSW (30 December 2012). I can thank Cathy and my daughter Lily, who applied the hand brake, with my wife taking over steering and avoiding a catastrophe – for saving our lives.
In hindsight, it was one of those accidents where time becomes elastic, events unfold frame by frame. As I was having the seizure I reflexively took my foot off the accelerator pedal, put the left indicator on but then started veering right, with decelerating speed, towards the centre lines of the Pacific Highway where I thankfully came to a halt. The highway was busy with pre-New Year’s Eve traffic and it was fortunate that no other vehicle was hit and nobody else was injured. In having the seizure, I arched my back in the driver’s seat, fracturing four vertebrae. We managed to avoid calamity but it was the start of something big! I was also lucky that my sister Shelly – who is a trained nurse and sculptor – and her family were not far behind to lend support whilst we waited for an ambulance.
I spent four nights, including New Year’s Eve, in Grafton Hospital with CT scans not revealing any cause for this incident. It was only after Cathy drove us all back to Sydney that further tests revealed that I had a tumour growing in the right temporal lobe of my brain and that a craniotomy was required to remove the tumour. I was not feeling a million dollars and I was obliged to return immediately to work as it was the time of year for delivery and presentation of our Annual Report – I work for a facilities management contracting company and managed their maintenance contract at Sydney Opera House.
So a few days after delivering my contract’s Annual Report, I had the operation to remove the tumour and following analysis the prognosis was not good. I was to have 7 weeks of radiotherapy and 6 or 7 rounds of chemotherapy.
My family rallied to provide support and encouragement and my sister Monica rang me imploring me to “chant goddammit” in her best New York drawl (she had lived in New York City for 18 years and now resides in Madrid). Monica had been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for four years since being diagnosed with and defeating cancer. Two more sisters from our large extended family, Shelly and Toni came down from Queensland and my sister Monica flew from Madrid, and we started chanting. Monica had sown the seeds some months earlier when she stayed with us around the time of the death of our brother Gerry who had lived with a congenital heart defect some 2800 weeks longer than medical experts forecast. She chanted daily and metaphorically watered the seeds of our commitment in the garden of Nichiren Buddhism.
A keen networker, Monica made every effort to establish supportive contacts with representatives from SGI Australia and I am grateful she “hit the bulls eye” in making contact with Adrian, Greg, Bjorn & Lap Shan Li in whose area I reside. Lap Shan would come or I would visit his place and we might only chant for a short while following the operation, but the support has been “jewel-like” and testimony to the bounteous benefits which arise from a solid mentor-disciple relationship. The support, strength, positivity and friendship provided by our local SGIA “family” Lilia, Kayo, Dorothee, Mardi, Michela to name but a few, has been invaluable in supporting a deeper appreciation of the value of Nichiren Buddhism through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in front of the Gohonzon.
My sister Monica made the most of her time with us here in Australia, providing me with guidance to establish some clarity around “what we are chanting for”, what are the determinations I should make. For me it is to rid myself of any semblance of the tumour and I am chanting for “perfect health”. To do so I understand I need to develop my relationship with the Gohonzon, through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo like a lion might roar and to forge this relationship through faith, study and practice. I am so appreciative through this life changing event to have the support of our friends within the group and area to chant together before the Gohonzon and strive with all our imperfections to reveal enlightenment. In that sense I do feel that the Gohonzon is like a mirror, in that I am getting to know myself better, to understand where I can improve, to clarify the causes I can make for the sake of kosen-rufu.
I was offered the opportunity to receive Gohonzon – the object of devotion – and was fortunate to receive it on 4 August last year at the SGIA Culture Centre in Sydney, followed by chanting and tea at home with our friends. Now, my twice daily chanting provides structure, like bookends, and the perfect opportunity to chant for my family, friends, and of course to make determinations to be cancer free and in perfect health. I chant to celebrate the good fortune that has come our way; to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon and deepen my commitment to this practice.
I am continually inspired by the words of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda that “Faith is the courage to never give up” and I am grateful for the support provided by my friends and fellow supporters of Nichiren Buddhism where I live. My fellow practitioners continually inspire me to exercise persistence, patience and determination, to keep my eyes on the goal and to chant ceaselessly and with the roar of a lion in my quest for perfect health.
My last day of chemotherapy was on Christmas Day 2013. I was also lucky to have the right gene mutation to qualify for participation on a vaccine trial aimed at preventing or delaying the onset of further life threatening symptoms. My last meeting with my Neurosurgeon prompted him to exclaim, “Wow, it looks as if we could almost say you are in remission!”
From the outset I have received the very best of support and encouragement from the many friends I’ve made in committing to local group meetings. In these meetings we openly share our victories and challenges in our lives, which as you know can lead to transformation and a deeper appreciation of our lives. I am inspired by the conviction of my SGIA friends who’ve made the commitment to faith, study and practice. They mirror these words of President Ikeda; “The spirit to take on challenges and win is the starting point and final goal of Buddhism. Such circumstances represent a perfect opportunity for us to do our own human revolution, and change all poison into medicine”.
[Damian is from NSW]