I believe in the simple magic of saying the words Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.
I was homeless for a while. I spent the first week of my homelessness with my girlfriend, who had flown in from New Mexico to Connecticut to see me. I took a bus up from New Haven and met her in Hartford. We stayed in an international youth hostel called America House, which was run by an old Taiwanese couple, Grace and David.
Grace enthusiastically regaled us with her descriptions of a Buddhist group she belongs to called Soka Gakai, the mission of which is to get people together and chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. “When you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” Grace would intone, smiling at us through that cute accent of hers, “you get good things coming to you.” My girlfriend and I smiled back at the anthropological curiosity of a real live Buddhist.
At the end of the week, as I was kissing my girlfriend goodbye, I realized my wallet was missing. I patted myself down and ransacked my suitcase. The bus came, my girlfriend went. I was utterly alone and penniless and homeless and adrift in a town I knew nothing about. I returned to the hostel to scan the room in which we had stayed. No wallet. No ID card, no Social Security card, no nothing. No money to get back to New Haven. I screwed up my courage to leave, and said goodbye to Grace for the second time.
“You wait,” Grace said, disappearing into the hostel. She emerged with three dollars and a baggy full of change. Suddenly a cloud lifted from the woman’s face, which took on an otherworldly gravity and locked eyes with me. This serious side of Grace was new to me. I froze. She spoke.
“I am old woman. I have seen a lot. You are young. You are strong and you are smart. You get yourself good job. You have to be good man for your girlfriend. You get yourself good job and live good life. Chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo every day. When you chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, you get good things coming to you. You are going to be okay.”
Her sternness melted to a sad smile. I looked at her and bit back tears, cupping the money she had given me between my hands, involuntarily holding them chest high and bowing my head as if in prayer. “Thank you. Thank you.” I walked away chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, not because I believed, but because I was too afraid to think.
I found the wallet ten minutes later. It was sitting undisturbed in a restaurant booth where my girlfriend and I had sat the night before. I made a mental note to phone Grace with the good news. She would be sweet and kind and terse and prescriptive and brief and busy and beautiful like an old woman who has seen a lot in her long life.
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