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War bride and college graduate use power of stories to reach out to other women with their Buddhist faith

By Janae Cepeda

One-to-one and in a blog, a war bride and a college student who practice Nichiren Buddhism reach out to women in the community, using the power of their stories of overcoming struggles to let other women know hope exists.

They have experienced the reality behind the Buddhist saying that “barley grows better after it has been trampled on.”

For Jennifer Lasby, the student, summoning the inner courage to forge ahead despite difficulties ties her to Chieko Wilkin, the Japanese war bride. 

Four years ago, they met at the Airway Heights SGI Center—Soka Gakkai International, Japanese for “value-creation society.”

The SGI is one of the societies of Nichiren Buddhists in Eastern Washington.

Because the Young Women’s Division and Women’s Division often combine meetings, Chieko and Jennifer formally met in a study group for women.  Jennifer said that Chieko’s story has inspired her to connect with other students.

Although she had been introduced to Nichiren Buddhism as a child, Chieko did not practice it until she came to the United States in 1960 with her husband Bill Wilkin, whom she met in Japan.

“It is about chanting and never giving up.  At the time, I thought it would be a vacation for me!  My seventh year of practice was starting,” she said.  “My attitude was:  everything has gone smoothly in my life so far. I wonder what great benefits I will receive this year.”

The minute she landed in America, obstacles began. Speaking only Japanese for her first 24 years was her first challenge to learn to speak English.

 “I met my parents-in-law, and they were cold to me.  I spoke no English, and I soon became homesick.  I was living in hell,” Chieko said.  “There were not many other people to chant with, and there were not many meetings.”

“Victory can be attained,” she always reminded herself.

In December 1960, before her second child was born, Chieko learned her husband, who was away serving in the military, was hospitalized with tuberculosis.  She felt that some treated her like a criminal because he had TB.

Plus, he was not there when she was giving birth, and she was unable to speak English well enough to explain her pain.  Although she felt lonesome and vulnerable, her son was born healthy.

Early in her marriage, oil in a frying pan caught fire.  When she poured it into the sink, the fire blew back into her face and set the curtains on fire.

Chieko said her reconstructive surgeries were painful, and her husband left her to find another woman.

She began attending SGI-USA‘s cultural center in California where she spent her days encouraging other women to benefit each other’s lives.

“I went to meeting after meeting and attended kosen-rufu gongyo, the meeting for attaining world peace.  Day after day, I studied all I could and tried not to be discouraged,” Chieko said.

After a year, her husband returned, realizing she was the woman for him, and appreciating anew the strength that originally attracted him to her.

Chieko attributes her success to perseverance and hope.

“I went through many more obstacles, financial, physical and spiritual, but I never gave up,” she said.  “My practice of Buddhism is my treasure.  I realize I needed the obstacles to force me to become strong and grow.

“The sufferings I went through are also my treasures because they are golden memories of my struggles and fighting to be a winner,” she said. 

Although not a member himself, Chieko’s husband continues to support her in her practice of Nichiren Buddhism.  He recognizes the good she evokes in others’ lives and shares her happiness.

She believes that the bigger the problems people face and the more they pray to overcome them, “the higher the state of life” they can develop and the “more profound the wisdom” they can tap and the greater inner wisdom they can gain.

Starting with helping other war brides, Chieko has shared these words with other women over the past 49 years in Spokane.

“I used to cry often, but now I see there is nothing to cry about.  I am so happy and want others to be happy,” she said.  “My practice of Nichiren Buddhism has shown me how to be grateful no matter what happens.  Through my experiences, I am determined to have a can-do attitude that can overcome any obstacle.”

Today, Cheiko continues to mentor young women through activities at the SGI center in Airway Heights and throughout the Inland Northwest.  One of those women is Jennifer, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Gonzaga University.

Jennifer said that Chieko’s stories of hope have inspired her.

Jennifer did not begin to practice Nichiren Buddhism until college.  As a result of her practice, she has persevered through problems in academics and relationships.

Now she considers it her karma to attract other young women with chaotic lives.  She has touched lives of women at Gonzaga just by talking with and listening to them.  She helped one student whose alcoholism was impeding her studies and encouraged another until she was hired for a job.

Jennifer made a daily victory chart in which the word, “victory,” was broken into little segments representing 15 minutes of chanting.  The chart tallies more than 300 hours since February, time when she has prayed for the things she most needs and wants in life, including meeting Nichiren President Ikeda, her mentor.

That blessing, which she has chanted for over six months, came to reality.  In October, she traveled to Japan to meet President Ikeda, to attend several prayer sessions and to study with her mentor and other young men and women from around the world.

Jennifer has also been involved in a blog called Bucket List Victories, which encourages women to set goals and not give up.

The Bucket List website shares personal stories of women from around the world who submit their stories from the minute to the extreme. 

The stories give confidence to those who feel disheartened by life and need that boost, she said. 

Like Chieko, Jennifer hopes to mentor young women in times of difficulty by using her past experiences for their benefit.

“Winter always turns to spring, it may take months but trials are excellent. Don’t give up and resign to something you did not aim for. You can achieve unlimited victory, so do not retreat even a single step,” she said.

Jennifer finds inspiration in a Nichiren Buddhist saying, “The earth upon which we fall is the same ground that enables us to push ourselves up again.”

 For information, call 747-0990.


Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree