Reiko Azuma

A network of “friends in the Orchid room”: Spreading the happiness as you are and where you are…”

Personal ExperiencesIn 2007 I was pregnant with my third child. My young family purchased a wonderful house in an inner west suburb. In this new suburb we knew no one; it was a difficult adjustment for me with two small children. Our new community was nothing like where we had come from. When we went to local parks we saw no children. It seemed to me that people kept to themselves in this area and the community was non-existent. I felt increasingly disconnected in a community that seemed disjointed, and all I could see was nothing but apathy. It was depressing. I was increasingly disconnected to outside world but the kids kept me busy – sleep deprived and yet sort of content.

In 2008, I started to research primary schools in the area in preparation for my eldest daughter Tabatha who would start primary school the following year. I was curious about the local school but all I heard was negative rumours. No one had anything good to say about it. None of our neighbour’s children attended the local school. Several families that I knew sent their children to surrounding suburbs and they were very happy with those schools. These popular schools in the area had excellent facilities, offered vast choices of extra curricula programs, opportunity/gifted classes, reputable music bands and high scores in the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). But deep in my heart, I felt a strong sense of discomfort with the idea of sending my children to other schools, because it didn’t align with my belief to be empowered, rather than being a victim of the situation. I wanted to contribute, to make positive change in our area. But all the children in our street attended schools in other suburbs or private or catholic schools. Our neighbours seemed to travel everywhere in their cars, even though we lived behind the shopping centre! I didn’t see children on the street. I dreamed and imagined that children in our street attended the local school. They would walk there together, play and grow up together, have a feeling of connectedness, belonging to the community. Our community would be one where children and families feel safe and engaged. That thought was an ideal and it was far from my reality. I wanted everyone to make that change in our community, but I didn’t want to take the risk and responsibility with my own family. I didn’t want to be the first one to do that in my street. I felt overwhelmed by the thought, sometimes I felt powerless and hopeless. In that desire to change I felt very alone and isolated. I was torn between my desire to contribute to create a vibrant community (through contributing to the local school) and the hopelessness of the reality I was facing. The change simply seemed completely impossible and felt I overwhelmed…my internal struggle quietly went on.

That year, I decided to actively make a connection with the local school by bringing my children to the playgroup held at the school. I actively sought out the chance to speak to mothers who came there, the facilitators who run the playgroup, even the teachers, and I observed the students. Through this process I felt a shift in my heart. I asked many questions such as “what is the most important aspect of education?”, “What enables the happiness of my children?” “What do I want for my children?” I started to question and evaluate my own way of thinking. I had to face my own prejudice which I never realised I had! It was painfully obvious that I lacked courage which caused me to avoid my heart’s desire to contribute and engage with local community. I wanted to courageously live the life of hope and empowerment, rather than being a victim of the situation that seeming has absolutely no control of. After all, the most important “education” is to be confident and empowered. All I need to do then was to actually live the teaching of Buddhism through my own life, in the exact situation I was in. It was perfect. In that process everything became clear and gave me a profound opportunity to look deeply into myself. How can my practice of Nichiren Buddhism facilitate change in this community? How can my human revolution be relevant to the betterment of this community? I recognised a great opportunity to transform myself and through me, the community. Through this process I have truly reawakened to the profound meaning of my practice, and started to believe that it can bring about a positive change in my community through my own human revolution. I deeply determined to see and experience the proof of that. I knew that I had to gather all my hope, courage and compassion from my heart to commit to this journey.

I needed to challenge the tendency to believe that the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ and prove it wrong. With the new found wisdom I determined to make the best possible decision for my children, my family and the community!  Even though Tabatha had already been offered a place in a good and popular school, I made an appointment with the principal of the local school.

The principal’s smile and her warm welcoming voice melted my doubt. We discussed several times over the years about the purpose of education and to my surprise her answer was “to cultivate a base of lifelong education. We are learning till the day we die.” Then she spoke of the school’s philosophy of inclusiveness, the importance of celebrating difference and diversity. Her words resonated deeply in my heart and our discussion and dialogue still continue to this day in the school yard, and recently in my car on the way to Ela Gandhi’s lecture at the ACC! Our conversations have reinforced our shared passion for community building and world peace.

So much has happened since we’ve moved here. Now we call it home. My daughter is in year 4. My second son Miles is in year 3. My youngest, Toby, started in kindergarten this year. Our next door neighbour mentioned to me the other day that her daughter is starting at our school next year; this will be the 4th family on our street attending our local school.

I am truly happy; I am surrounded by great friends who work together for the betterment of our community. We are growing, deepening our friendship. It is consistently expanding through the same dream we share, of building a wonderful community for our kids and their friends and it seems to be expanding each year.

President Ikeda writes, “Enabling more and more people to form a connection to the Daishonin’s Buddhism, thereby creating a growing network of ‘friends in the orchid room’ will lead to an expansion of happiness and treasures of the heart for both oneself and others that will endure eternally. ” (SGNL8651)  I truly feel I am creating this cause right now, daily. The discussion group I started almost 2 years ago continues to function as a powerful nourishment and encouragement that is so needed to continue on this eternal journey of community building and expansion of friendship. Human relationships continue to be challenging, even when working for a great purpose – but the benefit is that each time I can see that it is my ego that raises its ugly head. I can see clearly the benefit of practicing open dialogue in the group discussion. This helps me to strengthen my confidence in people and it is a fantastic training ground for meaningful dialogues and engaging with people around us in our everyday encounters. Thus courageously creating or bringing “the orchid room” with us “as we are”, wherever we go, engaging with the person in right front of us and striving to connect with their heart – in other words, bringing the discussion group to our friends, rather than just keeping it exclusive to our organisation or the discussion group we attend or facilitate. Kosen-rufu is about making the discussion group accessible and available for everyone, anytime, anywhere by us being “the orchid room” ourselves. And it doesn’t always mean that we teach others about Buddhism, but engage with the person front of us without any prejudice and preconceive judgment; enacting Buddhism. I do not need to teach, but can learn from others by “listening” with equality and respect. It is a lifelong learning practice and education and I have huge room for improvement! Living this way we can be confident that people are sure to make a deep connection with the Daishonin’s Buddhism. It is a philosophy of friendship, interconnectedness and deepening our faith in the unlimited creative potential which resides in all of us. We are sure to live richest life no matter what happen to us.

To me, spreading the philosophy of Nichiren is not about simply converting people. It is about how can we contribute to the betterment of our family, friends, community and workplace through our own human revolution. The hardest part is to stop coaching others on their human revolution!

President Ikeda writes, “Genuine happiness can only be achieved when we transform our way of life from the pursuit of pleasure to one committed to enriching our inner lives, focusing on ‘being more’ rather than simply having more.” (www.ikedaquotes.com)

As we inspire our surroundings with the flowers’ lofty fragrance which is our courage, I must ask myself all the time, what benefit can I bring to people around me through my practice of Nichiren’s philosophy? How I can encourage and benefit my friends and family through my unique self transformation, as I am and where I am.   To conclude I’d like to share my determination. I determined to become “The orchid room”. I am determined to courageously embrace life and people as they are and live with appreciation.