Photo by Author, Tateyama in Japan
Thirty years ago—in January 1990, one month before I departed from Japan to the States—I had a memorable conversation with my new American friend, Nancy.
This English conversation teacher at Berlitz Ichikawa had become one of my best friends in a short time. I adored her for not only her glamorous beauty but also her mystical charisma. Her eyes sparkled with her curiosity, intellect, and senses of being a talented painter and photographer back in her home country.
A couple of months earlier, I’d received the official letter of invitation from my future boss and a molecular biologist, Dr. Marian Young, to work in her lab at the National Institute of Dental Research (now the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research). To prepare myself for the forthcoming research opportunity and life in the States, I’d begun to take private English lessons from Nancy.
That day, she came to my apartment on her break between lessons.
“So, Kyomi, tell me about your new job? What are you going to do?” Nancy asked, her body leaned forward, her narrow, almond-shaped eyes fixed on me. In our short yet quickly developing friendship, I’d learned she wouldn’t let me escape from anything until she got an answer. She wasn’t an ordinary conversation teacher, nor was she interested in asking me about anything superficial.
“I don’t know exactly,” I said, “but because I’m joining Marian’s lab.” Declining to be specific, I responded in the way a typical Japanese woman might. It wasn’t the right answer. “I may continue what I’ve been doing here but more focused on molecular biology,” I tried again.
No. I still wasn’t answering in the way she wanted.
“What is your goal in your research? What do you want to discover?” She was unyielding. She really wanted me to think deeply.
Yes. She was right. She tried to help me shed light on an area that I tended to hide from, the hard reality I wasn’t facing. I needed to sail a boat with a clear direction in mind.
In a few seconds, I quickly searched for the answer inside of me . . . My desire for spiritual pursuit and seeking truths since my childhood. And my interest in developmental biology. I felt I needed to make things up in my answer by combining these two things.
After another fifteen minutes of talk with Nancy, the words recklessly slipped out of my mouth: “I would like to discover the mechanisms of spiritual development and enlightenment in the human mind.”
By that time, some research had begun to analyze the electric wavelengths in the brains of Buddhist monks of high virtue. They had compared the data between laypeople and the monks in various activities like meditation, chanting, resting, etc. But I believed this type of research and science would bring very little benefit to people in the world. My interest was how science would bring applicable benefits and outcomes—in this case, awakening experiences—to all people.
“How long would it take you to find an answer?” asked my best friend.
“For the first discovery, at least for ten years?” I responded.
I stopped our conversation there, but its impact stayed in my mind for all these years. As the tenth anniversary from that day was approaching, I wrote a letter to Nancy, letting her know that I’d left research in 1995 and become a pediatric dentist a couple of years later. But along the way, I’d pursued esoteric Buddhism, through which I’d discovered a true self. My whole personal journey had become the answer to Nancy’s original question. Scientific decipherment of enlightenment has not been achieved, but I no longer believe that to be important. Rather, the liberation and awakening of individuals and people at large are what will bring us a better and brighter future.
Since the day I left Japan, life has taken me on a journey of discoveries. Since writing my letter to Nancy, I have lost my husband of twenty-six years. From time to time, bad weather and difficulties may assail anyone’s boat. But the journey I chose to embark upon all those years ago continues. Holding a torch of love, hope, and joy in my hand, I am up to all challenges.
I humbly invite you to join me in this journey of discovery.