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Birth by Aspiration: Why We Are Born
Hiroko Magara
Head of the Chapter Wives Group at the Chichibu Dharma Center

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I was born the second daughter of the Tomita family in Tomé-Açu, in the Brazilian state of Pará. My parents had crossed the ocean from Yokohama to Brazil on the Japanese emigrant ship Argenchina-maru in 1963. They settled in Tomé-Açu, in the highlands of the Amazonian jungle. Just before their first harvest of pimenta (a kind of pepper), my father died of liver cancer at the age of twenty-six. My mother was just twenty-five at the time, and was left with three children: my brother, five years old; my sister, two; and me, just six months. Farming virgin land was much too hard for my mother by herself, so she decided to go back to Japan. However, shortly after the ship sailed, she handed her wallet to her five-year-old son and committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea. Following our mother’s death, we arrived in Japan safely, thanks to the help of many people.

My brother was taken in by relatives on our mother’s side in Tochigi Prefecture, and my sister and I were taken in by our paternal aunt’s family in Saitama Prefecture. I was raised by my adoptive parents, but when I entered junior high school, I was taken in by another uncle’s family. I felt sorry for myself, unable get over the feeling that my parents had abandoned me in childhood. This state of mind lasted for years.

At the age of twenty I married a young man and, like my mother, before long I gave birth to three children. After several years of marriage, my husband and I had an opportunity to own a home, exactly what I had wished for. At my aunt’s suggestion, I went to the Chichibu Dharma Center of Rissho Kosei-kai for the first time to receive advice about the direction in which the new house should face. I met the chapter head and the area leader and told them about my childhood and how I had grown up. They listened intently and urged me to join Rissho Kosei-kai.

Right after I became a member in 1995, the Chichibu Dharma Center marked its thirty-fifth anniversary, and I was assigned the responsibility of sharing my spiritual experience during the ceremony. On this occasion, Rev. Masuo Nezu, a former vice chair of Rissho Kosei-kai’s board of trustees, who had been invited to give religious guidance at the Chichibu Dharma Center, kindly sent my manuscript to the Brazil Dharma Center beforehand. On the morning of the ceremony, I received a fax from the Brazil Dharma Center saying, “We, your brothers and sisters of your birthplace in Brazil, always watch over you and pray that you will carry out your important responsibility during the ceremony. Please come back to Brazil someday to pray for your parents to rest in peace.” I remember how moved I was to realize my good fortune in having such encouragement from sangha members on the other side of the planet who hardly knew me.

After that I had a chance to meet Rev. Yoshikazu Mori, a former minister of the Brazil Dharma Center, at Rissho Kosei-kai’s headquarters in Tokyo. He looked at a receipt in Portuguese found among my father’s belongings and said, “Your father bought cans of baby formula every time he traveled a long distance to shop. At that time it was difficult to get baby formula on a plantation in the jungle. Even in such a difficult situation, your father took many days to get to Belém, which was very far from home.”

That impressed me deeply, and my heart went out to my parents. I had an immediate opportunity to install a focus of ancestor appreciation at home, and was overjoyed to be able to venerate my parents personally through chanting of the Lotus Sutra. Then I became involved in the practice of leading and guiding others to cultivate our minds in the light of the Buddha Dharma, because I wished to share the teachings of Rissho Kosei-kai with others. Since the time I was made head of the chapter wives group, like-minded members of the group have offered me mental and spiritual support. Now two of my “children in the faith” have received the focus of devotion.

Five years ago in 2005, when the Chichibu Dharma Center celebrated its forty-fifth anniversary, we welcomed Rev. Norio Sakai who came to give us religious guidance. He is now an emeritus member of Rissho Kosei-kai’s board of trustees. I had a chance to talk with him about my personal history. After that, Rev. Sakai traveled to Brazil and when he returned he brought me some soil and seawater from the area near where my parents are buried. This helped me renew contact with my brother. We had been out of touch for nearly twenty years, and we three siblings could finally meet again.