Why do we participate in Gakkai activities, read the Gosho (Nichiren Daishonin’s Major Writings) and listen to President Ikeda’s guidance? It is through the training we receive when preparing for Gakkai performances, meetings and events; the deeper understanding of the Mystic Law from the Gosho we read and encouragement from Sensei’s guidance that enable us to develop the strength, courage, wisdom and attitude to face and triumph our lives’ challenges (or karma). Jann Gerstner, a WD from SGI-USA, learned and developed a strong attitude of never surrendering to any adversity she faces which allows her to defeat many negative karma in her life.
I live in Florida where I had practiced Nichiren Buddhism for 37 years. In 1975, I joined the SGI Young Women’s Division. We were asked if we would like to start a fife and drum corps and be part of 200 girls from the SE up to Washington DC who would march in Hawaii on July 4th of that year.
Over the next three months I learned to play the piccolo and the attitude of never-give-up! As part of our training, we memorized a segment from The Opening of the Eyes, one of Nichiren Daishonin’s most important Gosho (Major Writings).
“Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith.” (WND, p. 283)
We recited it in Japanese with each morning and evening gongyo, which ingrained the passage into my life. Our daimoku created unity and the courage to face all obstacles in our path. Without that training that penetrated deep within my life, I could never have faced the next 37 years with a never-be-defeated attitude.
In 1980, while in the Catskills learning to hang-glide, I fell 600 feet and put my head through the rod I’d been holding. I suffered brain damage to the left lobe, which caused grand mal seizures.
I was encouraged that “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle? (WND, p. 412) I went home and began a three-hour-a day-campaign of chanting to change this karma. When I went back to the doctor, to his surprise the new test showed no damage. This experience would provide profound encouragement for me later on.
I learned to live a 100% in the moment and to move forward with strength and courage. During a turbulent period in 1992, I kept losing jobs every few months, and also my place to live.
One time I lost my job and place to live in the same day. I continued chanting several hours a day and practicing hard within the organization to introduce as many people as possible to the practice.
To my amazement, I always had a beautiful environment around a new job and me. In 1994, I had my first attack of MS, although it was not diagnosed at that time. I knew something terrible was happening to my body and that stress escalated the symptoms.
I dropped out of my career and found a contract job that would allow me to work when I felt good. I began to paint furniture that I was able to sell. I worked hard with the other leaders in our district to raise capable leaders.
As I began to build fortune in my life, in 2002, I was hit with another major attack. This time I lost the use of my right leg, could not hold my body up, and the tremors were unbearable. This time I was given the diagnosis of MS and placed in a nursing facility. The doctors did not hold out too much hope and said I would probably spend the rest of my life there. I had a great SGI support system and they encouraged me day and night. Matilda Buck called me from the FNCC and I promised her I would see her in October 2002 at the WD conference.
Now here I was, making a determination to be at a conference, no money, lost my place to live again, on top of I could not sit up, walk etc. I called upon that never-be-defeated attitude that I learned in YWD. That, along with my brain-damage experience which proved I could change physical karma.
Also that I lived a 100% in the moment, made me feel I could achieve victory once again. I knew deep inside that this was my greatest opportunity ever to show how we can change the impossible to the possible.
I began to chant and study. By August 2002, I walked out of the nursing home. And in October 2002, I met Matilda at FNCC as she got off the bus. I felt total victory.
When I came home, I found I had a two-and-a-half-inch tumor in my left breast — which turned out to be a benefit because the oncologist that treated me had studied under a neurologist who was experimenting with Cytoxin, a chemotherapy that could help MS patients.
At that time, it had not been FDA approved. I never owned the cancer; I felt it was a benefit that after eight treatments over a 16-week period I had my balance back, and in the fall of 2004, they could not find the MS in my brain.
For the next six years, I was MS and cancer free. I continued to build districts in Florida and helped members stand up. Last July, the MS came back. At the October Kosen-rufu gongyo, on oxygen and a walker, I vowed to the members that I would not discourage one person, that I would make it through and change this karma once and for all. I decided to do the chemo again.
Due to the severity of the effects of chemo and the MS on my body, hospice was called in to manage the pain and care for me. Over the next several months, I was on morphine. Hospice tried to get me to sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) form.
I refused, telling them you do not die from disease — you die when you’ve completed your mission on earth. And I knew I hadn’t done that.
Once again, I lost everything around me. I moved from hospice to a friend’s house. There were days when I was so weak and full of pain, it would have been easy to let go. But the training I received in YWD — that never-give-up spirit — was at the core of my life.
At the end of November, I received an overdose of morphine and was rushed to the ER with acute respiratory depression. My lungs were filling up with liquid. I remember being in a dream and this man was trying to drown me. I ask him not to because it would discourage so many people.
After that I opened my eyes. A friend was there who was a paramedic and SGI member. She told me that I’d come within five minutes of being brain dead. Something deep within me had changed in that moment.
Once again, the chemo worked and my symptoms went away, but the side effects caused my digestive system to fail for the next several months. In one week I lost 14 lbs. It also caused some focal seizures in my brain, which put me back into the hospital.
An MRI was done and the neurologist told me that for someone who’d had MS for 16 years, my brain hardly showed any signs of the disease. I told her I was a Buddhist and had been working at changing the karma of MS. I was told that most of my myelin sheaths were damaged and they did not know how I was moving around. My pain would never go away.
When I came out of the hospital, I was once again homeless. Not only that, but I seemed to be re-experiencing bits of karma I had seen throughout my life. It was difficult to see the ugliest aspects of my life that I had thought were gone for good, but I was determined to clean out my karmic storage bin once and for all.
President Ikeda said in Buddhism in a New Light, “An important aspect of what we call enlightenment, or human revolution, is to change the way we see ourselves and thus to see the unconditional value of life within us, which neither requires comparison with others nor depends upon our transient appearance.”
I continued to work with my co-district leaders to help members stand up and chant daimoku to show actual proof. I felt a transformation in the depths of my life.
My brother asked me to come live with his family in Cumming, GA. We had always been close, so I decided to take him up on it. He came to Florida and brought me home. And I do mean home. He told me I would always have a home with him and his family. Now I have a home but a wonderful family around me for the first time in my life.
In the beginning of Febuary 2011, my doctor put me back into the hospital due to some weakness on my right side. I spent one week and during that week some test were ran. I felt that the hospital was the Buddha’s land. I was released with a follow up doctor’s appointment.
On Febuary 14, 2011, I saw my neurologist, now this is a new one that I had in the hospital. He had taken a MRI of my brain and then a spinal tap. After getting all my records from Florida. He showed me the dvd’s and the MS can hardly be seen in on the MRI.
My spinal tap came back almost completely clean. He sat back for a moment and looked at me. Then he spoke, “I am complete amazed”! Then he asked what type of Buddhism do I practice. I told him I was a member of the SGI.
Then he smiled and told me his mother has been practicing since he was a kid. And of course she had tried to get him to practice. He said, that I have blown him away, that he has never experience seeing karma change. I believe I will get him to a meeting now.
I could not figure out why the doctor was putting me in the hospital. Usually they wait till the MS has escalated more before they put me in. I believe it was the mother of the neurologist that was chanting so much for her son that I got tossed into the hospital so to meet him. It is truly mystical how the Law works.
I owe my victory to the never-give-up spirit that I learned in the YWD, and ingraining the segment of the Opening of the Eyes into my life. By never being sorry I was not leading a peaceful life and never doubting the forces in the universes, I have been able to change major karma and gain wisdom, courage, and, most important of all, great compassion for everyone that I meet.