[just 5 mins to read]
You may have seen the film, A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie. In this movie the Hollywood star plays the role of SGI Buddhist Mariane Pearl (right in the pic) who faced the deepest despair when in 2002 her journalist husband Danny was kidnapped and then beheaded by Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan.
At the time Mariane was heavily pregnant with their only child. A Mighty Heart pays tribute to her husband. Mariane poignantly describes how, after news arrived of Danny’s decapitation, she resolves nevertheless to move forwards with hope:
“As the hopes for Danny’s release grew fainter, our son continued to grow inside me. Of all the journeys I had taken, none had prepared me for the one across this blurry frontier between life and death, hope and despair. All I knew was that one of the two men in my life was not born and the other might be dead. And when it was confirmed that Danny would not come home, I flew to my brother in Paris with my husband’s little legacy kicking in what felt like the very centre of my soul. I thought about a Buddhist saying I’d once heard, about how even a cave plunged in darkness for millions of years can be illuminated by a single candle. This thought gave me hope: I wasn’t powerless, I told myself. All I had to do was nurture my faith—my own flame—and inspire our son to do the same. Throughout the flight, I prayed. I prayed for the new life inside me. I prayed that Adam’s light would shine brighter than the darkness that had claimed his father’s life.”
Buddhist practice helps us develop a deeply resilient and optimistic approach to life, as Daisaku Ikeda explains: “Hope transforms pessimism into optimism. Hope is invincible. Hope changes everything. It changes winter into summer, darkness into dawn, descent into ascent, barrenness into creativity, agony into joy. Hope is the sun. It is light. It is passion. It is the fundamental force for life’s blossoming. Hope is a decision you make. Hope is a flame we nurture in our hearts that must be fanned by our determination.”
“Hope is a decision you make.” How true. Yet we tend only to feel hopeful reactively, in response to good things happening, a job interview, a wink from a pretty girl, a good weather forecast and so on. By chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo we can become proactive about hope, tapping a deep reservoir of optimism in our hearts, igniting our inner Buddha and spurring us on to keep fighting when obstacles appear in our lives.
Of course this is not easy. Twenty innocent children and 6 adults die at the hands of a gunman at Sandy Hook. Women are being gang-raped and murdered in India. We can choose to feel desperate about this. Or we can choose to fight back with the transformative power of hope, until everyone feels in their hearts the dignity, nobility and sanctity of their own and other people’s lives. So, as Mariane says: “May we all shine brighter than the darkness” that sometimes engulfs us.
This is exactly what she has since done, using the tragedy in her life to write an incredible book called In Search of Hope. It is filled with moving tributes to inspirational women around the world whom she has personally met and interviewed. All of them are battling, often under threat of death, against seemingly impossible challenges such as child prostitution, sex slavery, drugs trafficking, AIDS and extreme poverty. I bought the book this Christmas for my Mum and for my dear friend Tiffany (many of whose excellent photos appear on this site.) Please consider buying it for the women in your life. And the men. And anyone else you can think of. And one for you too. 😉
As the daffodils here in the UK begin to peep through the soil, I will end with a famous quote by Nichiren Daishonin who in a typically encouraging letter to another recently widowed mother in 1275 wrote:
“Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring. Never, from ancient times on, has anyone heard or seen of winter turning back to autumn. Nor have we ever heard of a believer in the Lotus Sutra who turned into an ordinary person.”
PS. great interview here with Mariane from Time magazine