|When we are deluded and unable to understand the value of our own lives as well as the lives of others, our earthly desires [illusions], karma and suffering lead to actions that bring about further illusion and torment. From the place of suffering, the cycle starts again, making us a prisoner to our own misery.|
I couldn’t take it anymore.
I was 36 years old, flat broke, two months behind with the rent, I couldn’t get a job to save my life, and Welfare (Social Security) had turned me down. For days on end I’d eaten nothing but carrots and green lentils. To make matters even worse, my boyfriend was incarcerated in a Montreal holding centre, awaiting trial for heroin-related unarmed bank robberies.
My desperate financial situation had motivated me to step up my Buddhist practice, and I’d chanted for three hours a day for weeks to change it. But that September evening in 1989 found me in the depths of despair and misery.
I travelled long distances by subway and bus that day to two job interviews. One prospective boss didn’t show up, and the other brushed me off, with no recollection of meeting me before, even though we’d once been out on a date together. On the way home, the subway train stopped between stations and an announcement asked passengers to debark and walk next to the tracks to the upcoming station. When we climbed the stairs to the platform, I saw a dead person for the first time in my life. A small white sheet with some bloodstains covered most of the lifeless body of a young man wearing sneakers, blue jeans and a brown-checkered shirt.
In the past days I felt so hopeless I had begun toying with the idea of suicide as a way out. After all, I’d tried it once before. But the young man’s dead body shocked me out of it. He could no longer do anything to change his situation, whereas I could, because I was still alive.
When I eventually got home to my walk-up apartment in a working-class Montreal neighbourhood, I chanted and prayed for the young man. Then I chanted for a long time for myself, sobbing my heart out.
Suddenly, a veil lifted.
I saw with lightning clarity what had previously been completely obscured to me: I faced a dead end in every aspect of my life because of my drug addiction.
While working on amassing good fortune through practising Buddhism I had also caused that good fortune to drain out of my life through years of drug abuse. Until that moment I always compared my hash-smoking habit with other people’s addictions to harder drugs. And I concluded that it wasn’t so bad. But no more. From the depths of my life I swore an oath that as long as I lived, I would never again smoke dope. I also expressed my deep remorse while chanting.
I’d started depending on substances in Britain as a teenager. I drank alcohol to mask my shyness and insecurity. When I started living the nightlife in Montreal in 1978 I took to drugs, hashish in particular, like a fish to water. I loved that smoking it distanced me from my problems. I tried acid, pills, opium and morphine; I played with magic mushrooms, cocaine and even snorted heroin — more times than my fragile psyche could handle; and if I couldn’t get my great love, hash, I smoked marijuana.
After I joined SGI in 1983, although I practised Buddhism every day, I also continued to get stoned whenever possible. But it was seldom fun anymore. I spent long hours isolated in a self-imposed prison, sitting on my one chair in my single-room high-rise downtown apartment, utterly lost in my head. Chanting about my substance abuse for two hours daily, my drinking problem improved remarkably, and I managed to stop smoking dope. But nine months later, when the right upsetting trigger came along, I got straight back into smoking hash.
Following an SGI trip to Japan in the spring of 1989 to strengthen my faith, where I received a sign that something in my life needed to be cleaned up, I begrudgingly made a half-hearted determination to kick my addiction — and then proceeded to get more deeply into it than ever. In the weeks leading up to that September evening I smoked hash all day, every day. As a result, I made some horribly bad choices that made my situation much worse. But I was also strong in Buddhist practice and study and very active in SGI. And so…
Out of nowhere, I felt unwell. So unwell that I had to stop smoking for a few days. For the first time in months, hashish didn’t control my thinking — I did. This benefit cleared the way for my life-changing realisation on that auspicious September evening.
I won my life back that day. My back rent got miraculously paid off, and I found employment. After a few months I parted from my boyfriend. For a few years I occasionally dreamt that I’d smoked up and awoke in anguish. When I realised that I only dreamt it, relief flooded my system each time.
The World Tribune* quote I opened with continues:
As we begin chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and carrying out correct Buddhist practice, we awaken to the true potential of our lives, find the wisdom to take the most effective actions, and advance freely and joyfully toward the lives we envision.
This is how we break the negative cycle of suffering and delusion, and enter a new positive trajectory of happiness. The Mystic Law [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] not only has the power to change the direction of our lives, but also sets us on an infinite upward climb toward a life of genuine happiness, limitless wisdom and absolute freedom.
*World Tribune is a U.S. Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism publication