17 Oct 2019 Falling Down Seven Times, Getting Up on the Eighth
Foong Chee Leong
Men Division Leader
4a.m. – that was the time every morning when I would hear my mother’s sonorous chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I was in Primary 5 then and my mother was suffering from some health issues. Fortunately, a neighbour of ours had shared Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism with her. This was how my mother started this morning routine of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo before washing dishes; and she did this every morning, without fail. My mother was also very active in attending the Buddhist activities in Singapore Soka Association (SSA). Through her persistent and sincere efforts, my mother eventually overcame her illness. I am forever grateful to this neighbour who has enabled my family to come into contact with this wonderful Buddhist practice that has transformed our lives. Mine included.
For a long while, I had been an introvert and a very pessimistic person. At a very young age, I was already pondering deeply about the topic of death. I would often question myself why was life so short, what happened after a person passed away. Everything seemed so bleak and hopeless. I would get so deep in such negative thoughts that my heart rate actually slowed down and my body would turn cold. This is in line with the Buddhist principle of “Oneness of Body and Mind” i.e. the physical aspect is a manifestation of the spiritual aspect of our lives. Our inner mental state also affects the physical functioning of our bodies.
Gradually as I deepened my Buddhist practice, I learnt about life-affirming Buddhist principles and philosophies such as, “Ten Worlds”, “Eternity of Life” or “Creating the Highest Value in Life” through reading Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Ikeda’s guidance. These have changed my pessimistic tendency, allowing me to view life with the correct perspective. This is my greatest benefit.
However, it does not mean that, by practising Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, life would be problem-free. My greatest challenge came after marriage.
Although my wife, Ivy, and I have been married for ten years, we were not able to have our own children. We began to seek help from different doctors. In fact, we saw more than 50 doctors during that period! At one point, we would leave our house in Sengkang at 6 a.m. on every Sunday morning to visit a renowned doctor in Jurong. This continued for nine months, but it did not work out.
As Nichiren Daishonin once stated: “The greater the hardships befalling him, the greater the delight he feels, because of his strong faith. Doesn’t a fire burn more briskly when logs are added? All rivers flow into the sea, but does the sea turn back their waters? The currents of hardship pour into the sea of the Lotus Sutra and rush against its votary. The river is not rejected by the ocean; nor does the votary reject suffering. Were it not for the flowing rivers, there would be no sea. Likewise, without tribulation there would be no votary of the Lotus Sutra.” (WND- 1, 33) While it was a physically tiring period for my wife and me, it did not sway our resolve. We chanted daimoku (repeated chanting of the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) with a vow to be victorious in overcoming our challenges. It was then that a few doctors advised us to try out the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) approach.
Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?
The IVF approach required Ivy to go through a process of injecting hormones twice a day for a period of one month, and to undergo a series of clinical procedures. We were very apprehensive after learning these: the IVF was not only an expensive process, but it also imposed much physical and physiological pain to Ivy. Moreover, less than one in three IVF cases is successful. Much as I wanted to have our own family, this was just too much for me to bear as a husband. Ivy, on the other hand, was very determined. So we went ahead with the IVF process.
After one month of injections and a series of clinical procedures, we had to endure the arduous weeks of waiting for the results. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, the initial blood report was out: Ivy was pregnant! The joy and relief were beyond anything that we have ever felt!
But our happiness was short-lived.
In less than three months, we lost our baby. Ivy and I were devastated. However, we somehow managed to pull ourselves together and continued with our lives; we continued to work hard in our respective jobs and as leaders in SSA. On hindsight, it must have been the solid foundation that our Buddhist practice has laid in the depths of our lives that Ivy and I were able to brave through this dark period.
Six months later, we mustered enough courage to go for a second attempt at IVF. Despite a lot of daimoku, our hearts were clouded with apprehension; one thought constantly crept into our mind: what if we failed this attempt again? This second round of IVF turned out to be successful! But like some sick joke that life decided to play on us, Ivy had a miscarriage again.
This was a great blow to us. To this day, I could vividly recall my wife’s tear-filled face. I had never felt so tired before as well. How could this have happened? We decided there and then that we would not try IVF ever again.
Nichiren Daishonin shared in “Reply to the Lay Nun Nichigon”: “Now there is no need to attempt to surmise yourself how things will go. Whether or not your prayers is answered will depend on your faith; [if it is not] I will in no way be to blame.” (WND-1, 1079)
Later on, we came across a guidance from President Ikeda that gave us great sustenance: “Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength of that determination fades in time. The moment you feel that is when you should make a fresh determination. Tell yourself, “OK! I will start again from now!” If you fall down seven times, get up an eighth. Don’t give up when you feel discouraged. Just pick yourself up and renew your determination each time.” And we decided to do just that – get up on the eighth.
In our second attempt at IVF, it was very fortunate that Ivy had five embryos frozen. We decided to use these embryos to complete the implantation process. During this attempt, we started afresh and chanted abundant daimoku to transform our lives. Our prayers were answered and Ivy was pregnant! Although the pregnancy was not smooth sailing, through our daimoku, we managed to keep the baby and successfully deliver our first child, Kevan Foong!
The good fortune one receives from simply chanting the daimoku is beyond measure.
About a year later in 2012, we wanted to have a second baby. Ivy took up the courage to go through the fourth round of IVF. This time, not only was her IVF successful, she did not experience any symptoms of feeling cold or pain during the entire pregnancy. In other words, Ivy completely overcame her karma of a weak health and infertility. On June 2013, she gave birth to our second son, Darren Foong.
As we basked in happiness on the arrival of the second baby, the doctor informed us that Darren had a 6mm hole in his heart, known as ventricular septal defect or VSD. According to the doctors, having a hole in the heart is a common heart defect that is present at birth (congenital).
The condition would cause the blood to flow directly into the lung, causing it to enlarge and accumulate fluid easily. The undue pressure from these accumulated fluid around the lungs would cause “wet lungs” or pneumonia. Because of this, Darren could not have normal milk intake and would get breathless easily. While some medication were being prescribed by the doctor to drain off the fluid from Darren’s lungs, we were informed that it was likely that Darren had to undergo an open heart surgery before he reached his third month. At the same time, the doctor opined that he would rather the hole to close by itself than to perform an open-heart surgery which entailed risks like heart failure and other complications.
During one of the visits to the doctor, he said that the situation has improved, though the need for the open-heart surgery was still above 60%. Ivy and I continued to chant and did not give up. However, we were at a loss on how we should set our prayers for Darren.
It was then that a senior leader advised us that we need not worry about whether our son need to do the open heart surgery. He shared that Darren had a great mission to be fulfilled by being born with a hole in the heart and we just had to focus on our daimoku to chant for his recovery. The question on whether Darren should be left to recover on his own or through surgery would be decided by the doctor.
From then onwards, Ivy and I mustered strong courage to chant abundant daimoku and pray to transform Darren’s karma, and that he would be a happy and healthy child.
Taking care of Darren then was a tough period for myself and my wife – watching carefully over him, waking up in the middle of the night to check on him or rushing him to hospital whenever he did not seem to be breathing properly. This happened almost every week. In spite of these, Ivy and I did not waver in our SSA Buddhist activities.
Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength of that determination fades in time. The moment you feel that is when you should make a fresh determination. Tell yourself, “OK! I will start again from now!”
Nichiren Daishonin shared in “Reply to Kyo’o”: “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (WND-1, 412)
There was an incident during one of the doctor’s visit, when the weighing machine was having some problem and it was reported that Darren has lost 400 grams since his last visit. Based on that, the doctor assessed that Darren has to be scheduled for operations as soon as possible. Fortunately, the doctor was alert, and requested Darren to be re-weighed again, and by doing so, they detected the error made in the measurement. Nichiren Daishonin quoted in “The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra”: “The good fortune one receives from simply chanting the daimoku is beyond measure.” (WND-1, 143)
Eventually, Darren’s health got stronger with each passing day and his condition stabilized after 5 months later. We were informed by the doctor that Darren need not go for surgery and medicine in May 2015 and it was a total victory for us!
Due to his condition, Darren was significantly smaller in built and weight. When we sent him to childcare, the teachers commented that his mobility and physical development was very good for his age. It was our strong daimoku that bring forth the protection of the Buddhist gods (positive functions in life and environment) from the ten directions.
Nichiren Daishonin mentioned in “The Fourteen Slanders”: “There are many people who set their hearts on enlightenment but only a few who continue their practice and in fact attain the true way. The aspiration for enlightenment in common mortals is often hindered by evil influences and easily swayed by circumstances.” (WND-1, 758)
Through these challenges in life, Ivy and I further strengthened our faith. We come to realise that while there may be many things that will happen in our life, we have the courage not to be defeated by our problems and continued steadfastly in our Buddhist practice without fear to lead a total victorious life. We are not weak.
We resolve to dedicate ourselves even more in kosen-rufu (peace and happiness of all people) movement, and to foster our children into capable leaders of kosen-rufu.
(Adapted from the Young Men’s testimony book Hero of the World published in 2017)