Recent Reading

This past winter I have been reading some early American/Colonial and post-Revolution history, because I am interested in the genealogical context. Understanding the settling of our country and the Indian wars does change one’s point-of-view. The books about the French and Indian War, also called the Seven Years War and the first-real-world-war, are interesting in that they are so far from the cowboy-and-indians movies that set the frame for today’s thinking. It is no longer politically correct to discuss the violence between the settlers and the Indians. Yet, through my reading of Allen Eckerd’s Conquest of America series and several other academic historians, I have had to face the reality of the hatred between the settlers and the Indians. The Indians were lied to again and again, and played off against each other by the French and British. The tribes, too, were quite willing to play the French and British off against each other, in their desperate efforts to protect their homeland. The settlers were land hungry and the clash of cultures along the frontier is a fascinating, and disheartening, story. The savages were savage, torturing and eating captives, killing viciously, etc—no wonder the settlers hated them. If your enemy is eating captured people, it is hard to see that they might have noble qualities or that their culture might have things to offer. Because my family lines were here shortly after 1620 and some, such as Captain James Parsons, fought on the frontier, I have been interested in digging into the info. That the settlers had no right to encroach on Indian territory and violated treaty after treaty is also part of the mix. The accounts of getting the chiefs drunk and having them sign paper treaties are too numerous. After all, taking land from savages was no bad thing to do, at least in the settlers’ minds.

When I tire of bloody battles with the savages in the wilderness, I read Regency novels from England—the post-Revolutionary period just after the bloody French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution, but across the sea, which tends to give one an interesting context of both sides of the pond. Fops were equally savage in their social wars, but they only maim and eat others metaphorically.

So then, I move forward in time and read British novels written and set in the mid-20th century—post WW I through the 1950′s. My favorites are Angela Thirkel’s 37 volume Barsetshire series, an up-take on the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope set in the Victorian times. What she does is start with the grandchildren of his characters and go forward. Her father was a poetry don [professor] at Oxford and her literary references and allusions are marvelous. Since I taught British poetry and literature for 28 years, I can actually see where she has taken phrases from Hamlet or Macbeth or Dickens or whatever and woven them into her dialogue. It’s delightful, but probably most enjoyed by those with a solid foundation in British lit. I re-read her books every couple of years—in order. She writes during the time of WWII and the post war years—-a severe look into what happens with the loss of empire through the eyes of those out in the provinces [i.e. us out here in the Midwest].

In the past six months, I have read 25 + books about American Colonial history and settlement, British novels, British biographies and autobiographies, and books about British culture—in addition to a number of American novels for my book club and books dealing with my other interests. I also read a lot of web articles from progressive political sites, plus magazines such as The Atlantic, Harpers, Newsweek, The American Spectator, genealogy periodicals, not to mention that great American entrepreneur, Martha Stewart’s magazines: Living, Body & Soul, and Food. My sons think I am an idiot, but actually I am quite well read in my particular interests, which are not their interests,
as I loath philosophy as a discipline [well, European philosophy is what I loathe, as I find Buddhism fascinating] and I seem to be unable to deal with numbers at all—-son #1 is an Assistant Professor of Buddhism at U. of Calgary and son #2 is a number crunching businessman. One of the delights of retirement is time to read—and the ability to delve into my interests instead of reading endless student-written journals and essays.

In May and June, I began reading and re-reading many books about the Mitford sisters, which I discuss in my next posts.

Tibetan Lamas

Geshe is a Buddhist academic degree for scholars, requiring about twenty years of study. The geshe degree is a scholarly degree and should not be confused with the spiritual function of a “lama”; a lama is a person with spiritual insights which allow him or her to spiritually guide disciples. A geshe, on the other hand, is a keeper of the Buddhist knowledge. [Wikipedia]

I hate to admit how this got started, but when I was a freshman in college at Purdue in 1962, I read a book by a “Tibetan Lama” named Lobsang Rampa. He turned out to be a plumber from Scotland writing channeled misinformation about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Still, I was enthralled with Tibet and read what other books I could find. There wasn’t much information about Tibet available in the early 60′s, though I enjoyed reading a number of books about India, including my favorites, The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin and The Far Pavilions. Deep in my heart, I formed a wish to meet a real Tibetan lama. Living in the American Midwest, I did not think that much of a possibility.

It is interesting to experience how wishes are granted as one journeys through life. In 1982 and 1983, I went on retreats at Bethany Springs, a retreat house close by Our Lady of Gethsemane monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. One of the monks who had lived at Gethsemane was Thomas Merton, the famous writer and peace activist, who in 1968 journeyed to Darmsala, India, to visit the young Dalai Lama, who had escaped in 1959 from the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet. In his Asian Journal, Merton wrote about his arduous trek to northern India and his profound meetings with HH, the Dalai Lama. The two, speaking through translators, found a common bond, and one meeting turned into several. Merton died of an accidental electrocution a couple of weeks later in Bangkok, Thailand, but he had set in motion a dialogue between Buddhist and Christian monks that continues to this day.

In his sophomore year at The College of William and Mary, my oldest son Jim took a class in Buddhism. He then returned home at the end of the semester and swiped my entire shelf of books on Buddhism. I was gratified to have my child become interested in a particular interest of my own, though he has still not returned the books. Jim then discovered he could study Tibetan through Indiana University’s outstanding foreign language department. He subsequently discovered a “gift” in the ability to read and translate Tibetan and later Sanskrit. Before he graduated from IU with a degree in Religious Studies, he met a lama named Geshe Sopa, who was the Director of Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, Jim went to live and then to study with Geshe Sopa, earning his Ph.D in Buddhist studies from the University of Wisconsin in 2001.

While Jim was a student at IU, I attended some functions at the Tibetan Cultural Center and met [receiving line kind of meeting] the Dalai Lama’s brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu, Buddhist monk, professor of Central Eurasian Studies, oldest brother of the XIVth Dalai Lama, and the 26th reincarnation of Takster Rinpoche. I read his autobiography,Tibet is My Country, which whetted further interest. I was fascinated with the ancient Tibetan beliefs, including the idea of Rinpoches, “precious ones” who incarnate again and again into the same position. According to Tibetan beliefs, the Takster Rinpoche, Professor Norbu, had incarnated 26 times as the abbot of the Kumbum monastery. How amazing to be a reincarnated lama, to be discovered while the child of a peasant as the incarnation of a high lama, and to be educated at the highest level at an important monastery, to have inherited the wealth and position of abbot, to escape from Tibet with the help of the CIA, and to end up as a professor at a university in the Midwestern United States.

Of course, Jim knew of my desire to speak with a Tibetan lama, so in 1993, when he was living at Deer Park, Geshe Sopa’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, he arranged for me to have an audience with Geshe Sopa. One does not just sit down for a chat, I discovered. When I arrived at Deer Park after an eight hour drive from Salem, I was ushered into the kitchen where four monks were making tsampa—butter sculptures made of salted tea, yak butter, and toasted barley flour. These sculptures are especially made for the December Butter Lamp Festival. When I saw what they were making, I said “tsampa,” which brought delighted smiles to their faces—-probably from my mispronunciation. I was visiting during Thanksgiving weekend and they were deep into preparation for the coming festival; the table and counter were lined with small sculptures. I later learned that one of the young monks was a rinpoche and the old monk was a high lama named Geshe Topgay.

Soon, I was escorted into Geshe Sopa’s presence; he received me formally, in monk’s robes, seated cross-legged on a platform in his room. The platform, about five feet high, was draped in crimson silk and colorful thangkas with gold embroidery. I had the disconcerting feeling of being in another time and another place. After I had bowed a greeting, he kindly asked me to sit and inquired about what I wanted to know. I was overwhelmed and could not think of anything to ask but finally managed a question about how he escaped from Tibet. I am sure that is not a question with which to use a high lama’s time, but he told me about his journey over the Himalayan mountains four months after the Dalai Lama’s, a frightening, hunger-filled journey through the high mountain passes. Then I asked him about the Neuchung Oracle, Dorje Drak-den (Nechung), the principal protector divinity of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama (see History of Nechung Monastery), the one who told the Dalai Lama he must leave Tibet and named the places on the path of the safe journey to India. The Dalai Lama explained this oracle’s directions in his autobiography Freedom in Exile. Again, this was an unexpected question, but Geshe Sopa responded by explaining. Slowly, I relaxed and he began to question me about my beliefs. I think he grasped that my knowledge and thoughts were very fragmented. He began to tell me the basic teachings and tenets of Buddhism, speaking gently and kindly. Eventually, Jim helped me back away from his presence and leave the room properly, still facing Geshe Sopa. I remember being dazed the rest of the evening. I met Geshe Sopa several times after that and he was always smiling and cordial. I have never forgotten that profound hour in his presence—a dream fulfilled and a true honor for me to be in the presence of this holy man.

http://www.ualberta.ca/~japple/

Why Did I Get on this Mitford Kick?

Why the Mitfords?? They are about as far as one can get from the settler-Indian wars of American Colonization and expansion. When I tire of reading about the Native Americans and settlers hacking each other to death for the very land I live on today, I revert to my other great love—-England and its Empire days.

My reading this past spring and into the summer has been about the Mitford family–a family of six daughters and one son, children of Lord and Lady Redesdale, he an English baron. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitford_family The children were born between 1904–1920. The oldest daughter was Nancy, writer of delightful satirical novels and later of historical books. I read some of her books back in my college days which is where I developed a fondness for the Mitfords, disguised in her books as the Radletts. Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love are semi-autobiographical satirical novels, funny and frothy, which depict the siblings’ upbringing by their eccentric father, a land owning minor aristocrat, and their rather distant, and somewhat eccentric but very proper, mother. In the 1970′s I read and admired Jessica Mitford’s book, The American Way of Death, but did not connect her with this British family. A few years ago, I read The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. Lovell, which whetted my interest in reading the other biographical books and autobiographical books about the family. One could hardly get any father from savage American Indians and colonists than the Mitford family, minor aristocrats whose adventures in politics and romance drew headlines in their time.

Nancy married late and had no children. Her marriage was not a success and her happiest years were spent in France after the war, where she enjoyed Society and wrote her most successful novels. Later she wrote successful historical books about Voltaire, Madame Pompadour, and others. She loved chat, brilliant conversation, Dior gowns and couture clothing, anything French, and elegant social life. The second sister, Pamela, was married to the scientist, jockey, and war hero, Derek Jackson. She loved to raise dogs, farm, cook, and garden and was totally uninterested in politics. The only son was Tom Mitford, a lawyer and musician who was killed in the war in Burma in 1945; he joined his sisters Diana and Unity in loving Germany and German culture and requested to serve in the Far East rather than be part of the occupation army after the defeat of Hitler. The third sister was Diana, Lady Mosley, wife of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, both of whom were imprisoned by her cousin-in-law Winston Churchill during WWII for over three years. [Lord Reddesdale was a first cousin of Clementine Churchill, so Diana was Clementine's second cousin and the age of his older children.] The fourth sister was the infamous Unity Mitford, who developed a fascination with Hitler and went to Germany at about age 20 where she became his friend and chatting companion. She was an emphatic and loud “Jew-hater” and a Fascist; the day the war broke out between Germany and England, she shot herself. Gravely wounded, she was taken home to England, where she lived impaired for some years and died when she was 34. The fifth sister, Jessica, was called “Decca”; however, in the US, where she emigrated, she was known as Jessica Mitford. She eloped with Esmond Rommily right before WWII began. He was the nephew of Lady Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston, and the rumored love child of Winston Churchill and his sister-in-law. He was a pilot and was killed returning from a bombing run over Germany. Jessica remained in the US and later married an attorney named Bob Trefhauf. Both were leaders of the US Communist Party. Eventually they left the party but continued to be active in labor and civil rights fights. She became an author, writing The American Way of Death, an expose of corrupt funeral practices, among other muck-raking books. The youngest sister, the only one living, is Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, famous for her magnificent restoration of the Cavendish family home Chatsworth and other family properties. She has written books about Chatsworth, its garden, and country life. The Duchess, pithy, pragmatic, fun-loving, a sportswoman, lover of horses, dogs, and chickens, a countrywoman at heart, held the far-flung sisters together through all the later tribulations and disasters.

The Mitfords, like many British aristocrats, were drawn to Fascists during the middle part of the 20th Century, their mother more than their father, as he, a thorough patriot, rejected Hitler and the Nazis when the war began. The parents lived separately after the war due to their political disagreements. Unity and Diana were the “Right” extremes, both confidants of Hitler and associates of the Nazi leadership. On the other end of the spectrum was Jessica, early drawn to communism. She and Unity shouted party slogans at each other as teenagers, from the poster-decorated bedrooms of their country home. Deborah, on the other hand, was uninterested in politics. She preferred riding, raising ponies, shooting, gardening, and restoring old homes. She often entertained her husband’s uncle, Prime Minister Harold McMillan, who at the end of his life lived with them at Chatsworth for months at a time. Married to a duke, who was also a member of the British foreign service, she and her husband moved in the top political and social circles. Her brother-in-law, Lord William Hartington, married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of President John Kennedy. Billy was killed four months after their marriage in 1945, leaving Andrew, Deborah’s husband, as heir to the dukedom. Deborah knew John Kennedy and his siblings in London when his father was the American ambassador before the war. Her friendship with John Kennedy, cemented by her love of and relationship to his favorite sister, continued until his assignation; she attended both his Inauguration and Funeral with the family. 

The Mitfords are an absolutely fascinating family with eccentric, aristocratic parents and brilliant, creative children, all going in different directions, but connected with their love of reading and writing. Their books and the biographies and analysis written about them create a detailed and informative view of upper class life in Britain in the mid-20th century. As they were growing up in the teens, 20′s, 30′s, the ideas about socialism and communism were sweeping across Europe and being discussed and argued by everyone from the working classes to the aristocrats. Communism took over Russia and socialism/fascism took over Germany, Italy, and France. These ideas were explored and discussed—and fought over. It was not illegal at that time to belong to any of those parties, though Sir Oswald was imprisoned in the war, along with many of his followers, mainly because it was thought Germany would invade and he would be Hitler’s stooge. Diana was a close friend and chatting companion of Hitler for some years before the war, which further incriminated the couple. To be disloyal was not Mosley’s intention, but Winston was forced by public opinion to imprison them, without charges, which later resulted in serious discussions in Parliament about war time powers and panic. [note to US citizens----war is never the time to cast off hard-won freedoms]. Diana found Hitler a fascinating character and liked him as a friend, a point-of-view that repulsed most of Britain. She was not one to be deviated by the opinions of the masses.

So, I read all of this, which forms a framework for understanding the political issues of Western civilization for the past few centuries. In the Regency, the backdrop for my favorite novelist, Jane Austen, the British Empire is being developed and expanded. In Victorian times, Trollope’s time, the sun never sets on the Empire. In the two world wars Britain is threatened and during WWII bombed dreadfully, fighting for its very life. Its ally France is occupied. The British aristocracy sent its sons to fight in both wars and was decimated. Almost every aristocratic family lost sons—note that the Devonshires lost their oldest son and the Mitfords lost their only son. The Mitford’s claim on the baronetcy died with Tom and the title passed to a cousin. Thus, was the political landscape of Britain re-shaped. England is an ancient land and the cradle of American ideas about law and democracy. Americans, in contrast, are new to the world stage and very adolescent in behavior and thinking—brash, pushy, uninterested in history, prone to mass hysteria on issues flamed by an ignorant and callus news media, full of bombast, bluff, and hot air. The British Empire lasted some 300 years; the American Empire is crashing in flames as we speak, and power is shifting to Asia.

Articles about the Mitfords
http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2169205,00.html
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/

Mitford books, by and about Mitfords, which I have enjoyed reading:

Books by Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire

Chatsworth: The House (1980; revised edition 2002)
The Garden at Chatsworth (1999)
Counting My Chickens and Other Home Thoughts (2002) — essays
The Chatsworth Cookery Book (2003
Round and About Chatsworth (2005)
Memories of Andrew Devonshire (2007)

Novels by Nancy Mitford

Highland Fling 1931
Christmas Pudding 1932
Wigs on the Green 1935
Pigeon Pie 1940
The Pursuit of Love 1945
Love in a Cold Climate 1949
The Blessing 1951
Don’t Tell Alfred 1960

Books by Jessica Mitford

Hons and Rebs
The American Way of Death

Books about the Mitford family

The House of Mitford, Jonathan Guinness (Hutchinson, London 1984)
Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler’s Angel, Anne DeCourcy, October, 2004
The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, Mary S. Lovell
The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters, Charlotte Mosley, editor, November 2007

Little House on the Prairie

When I was a girl, my mother gave me The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the first of the “Little House” books, which were favorites of hers when she was a girl. I loved that book, and the rest of the series, dearly and read each book several times. It is my family’s story: all four of my grandparents were children of pioneers who arrived on the prairies of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa in covered ox wagons after long treks across Indiana, Illinois, or Wisconsin or in wooded southern Indiana after long treks through Tennessee and Kentucky. I use the term “pioneer” here to mean “people settling and farming on land which had not previously been settled by Europeans.” The parents of my grandparents came from families who were in the Appalachian Mountains at the time of Daniel Boone and Lewis and Clark, frontiersmen who fought in the boarder wars before, during, and after the Revolution, early settlers of Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina. The family of my grandmother, Hazel Lewis Parsons, carried the story of their descent from the same Lewis family as Meriwether Lewis down through the generations and across the plains. I have not yet “proved” that fact, but old family stories often have elements of truth.

A couple of years ago, I purchased the entire set of Little House books and re-read them. I was astonished at what I understood from an adult perspective: a layer of sadness and failure grips the stories. When I was reading the books as a child, I was enthralled with the adventures and the sense of exploration as the family moved to new homes. As an adult, I saw the little family struggling to survive, to find success, to find a place to thrive. Pa moves the family from here to there, looking for land and work. A good carpenter, he is not a successful farmer. Ma grows more careworn as the years pass, losing a child [not in the books, but in real life] and coping with their daughter Mary’s blindness.The hardships they endure in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Kansas are so typical of pioneer families, including my own. Some thrive in the new settlements on the prairie, but others wither, crushed by hardships and deaths.

Like Laura’s family, all of my pioneer lines were farmers, farming land they received from the government in land patents for military service or bought after working/renting first. Very few had the cash to plunk down to buy a farm. They lived close to the land; it was their livelihood, their insurance, their inheritance. From the old pictures, the family farms are modest and neat, not hard-scrabble. However, the families who settled in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and North Carolina at first lived in Abe Lincoln type log cabins, building more prosperous frame homes later.

In the Colonial days, some Old Virginia families practiced primogeniture, the land going to the oldest son; at first, German families followed similar practices. Quakers generally divided their inheritances equally. The old farm families followed the traditions of their native lands, but as the young democracy took hold and grew, dividing the land equally among the children became the common practice, or at least finding a way to make the inheritance equal became the practice, such as affluent fathers buying more land to help their children get started. With such large families, often 10-15 pregnancies in a woman’s lifetime, the older children had to strike out on their own, with one of the younger children staying on the “home” farm or perhaps a grandchild remaining to care for the family land and aging parents. Often, though, in my family, aging or widowed parents were taken along as the family migrated. The 1850 U.S. Census is the first to record everyone’s name, age, and birthplace, making it possible to see the migration patterns. It is interesting to see these practices in my family lines across many generations. Several of my mother’s family lines meet in Ohio–Patton, Marsh, Lewis–including one marriage in Hamilton, Ohio [now Butler County] in 1792–and other lines settled in Southern Ohio around 1800-1820. By 1810, the Indiana Territory is opened for settlement, and my mother’s Lewis, Starry, Patton, and Riner lines are settlers in the mid-to-late 1820′s. By 1850, the younger generation is moving on to Illinois and by 1870, many are moving on to Kansas. In 1848, my father’s grandfather, Davis Rogers Doud, D.R.’s mother Martha Rogers Doud, and several brothers, sisters, cousins, and spouses, migrate from Trumbell County in eastern Ohio to Illinois and settle in Grundy County. D. R. Doud and his two younger brothers were farmers and Methodist circuit rider ministers. After the Civil War, the younger generation in most of these families moved on to Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Interestingly, a Doud line lived right down the road from the Lewis-Riner families in Jewell County, Kansas, although no one knew the connection until I began researching. That Kansas Doud was a first cousin of my grandmother Harriet Doud Shafer, son of her father’s older brother Israel Doud, who settled in Iowa.

In re-reading the “Little House” books, I was also struck by her family’s isolation from their extended family. Reading the later biographies of Laura and her daughter Rose, I learned that was not completely true; the connections were just not included in the stories. Both of Laura’s parents came from large families and occasionally they visit with relatives or relatives stop to visit with them. Still, they did not travel in family groups the way earlier generations of my family traveled. When I studied the 1880 plat map of Burr Oak Township in Jewell County, Kansas, I was startled. Down two roads are farm after farm of Lewis and Riner cousins or siblings—Pangborns, Drakes, Skeels, Millers, Grubbs, Lewis. They came in small groups over a period of 10-12 years from Onarga, Illinois, settled, raised their families, and died; their bones rest in the beautiful old Burr Oak Cemetery. Earlier generations of these same families had traveled together in groups from Ohio and Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois. Some in the next generation, like my grandparents, my mother and her sister, moved back east, while others of their cousins moved on to Colorado and California. Inferring the isolation of the Ingalls family made me sad, just as I have been heartened to trace the intertwined relationships of my Riner-Lewis families and their cross-country, multi-generation, migration with family and friends. Quite a few of us are still out here in the heartland.

The Gift of Giving

President Daisaku Ikeda, the leader of Soka Gakaii International: SGI, is a man I greatly admire. From the ashes of WWII, he took an organization called Soka Gakaii (Value Creating Society) and became the third leader, rebuilding after the wartime imprisonment of the first two leaders had devestated the group. Through Ikeda’s leadership, this Buddhist society, which works for world peace, has spread around the globe.

My introduction to SGI and President Ikeda came through my beloved daughter-in-law, Shinobu, a native of Japan, who has given me many books by President Ikeda and who has also taken me to the Florida Nature and Culture Center, the SGI conference center in Weston, Florida. It was at FNCC that I first heard the story below from Shinobu, a “fortune baby,” or birth-right SGI member. 

Shinobu’s parents, Tadashi and Yoneko Arai, who lived in Nagoya, Japan, grew up during the suffering of WWII. Following their marriage in 1957, they raised a family of three daughters and together built a prosperous business. Mrs. Arai, a loving mother and a dedicated member of SGI, loved the sound of the koto harp.

After Mrs. Arai’s untimely death in 1991, Shinobu and her two sisters presented a koto to President and Mrs. Ikeda during a visit they made to Nagoya, as a tribute to them and to the memory of Mrs. Arai. The koto was given to honor Mrs. Ikada, who, though not a public performer, often plays the koto for her husband in their home. Some time later, President and Mrs. Ikeda presented the koto to a visiting scholar of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism from India named Prof. Lokesh Chandra, Director of the International Academy of Indian Culture

In 1992, Shinobu came to United States as a “study abroad” student. Jim and Shinobu met in a Sanskrit class, which was part of the Buddhist Studies program at the University of Wisconsin, and married a few years later. After Jim received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 2001, he took a teaching position with Antioch College’s Study Abroad program, escorting a group of students to Bodh Gaya, India for a semester of study. Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment, is in Bihar, a remote part of India, a ten hour train ride from the capital of New Delhi. Jim and another young professor taught the classes and accompanied the students on tours to various holy sites and cities.

http://www.antioch-college.edu/news/gallery2/v/aea/buddhist-studies-india [Jim is on the left in the mauve shirt].

On their return journey, the group stopped in New Delhi. Before they left the U.S., Shinobu had written to Professor Chandra, telling him the story about the koto that she had given to President Ikeda, which eventually went to Professor Chandra’s institute, and mentioning that she and her husband would be visiting in India. Remembering meeting with President Ikeda and receiving the koto from him ten years before in Japan, Professor Chandra invited Shinobu and Jim to his institute. They spent several hours discussing Indian Buddhist history and iconography. Jim was able to take many photographs of Buddhist and Hindu artwork, including statues and paintings, greatly adding to his knowledge of 10th and 11th Century iconography. 

The part I love best about this story is the way the gift itself, the koto, travels and creates energy that brings people together over time and great distances. The memorial gift and President Ikeda’s giving of the gift set in motion a series of events in which eventually three scholars met in a far away land to share knowledge and fellowship, a meeting that Jim and Shinobu will always remember. Shinobu’s mother would have been overjoyed to know of her daughter’s journeys and of the happiness brought by the gift given in her name. This story is also a metaphor of how President Ikeda has sent in motion the energy and activities that have developed SGI into an international organization, empowering people to work for world peace.

After accompanying her husband to India, which interrupted her studies somewhat, Shinobu returned to the University of Wisconsin, completing her Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies in 2003. Her dissertation, Value of Simple Practice: A Study of Tiantai Zhiyi’s “Liumiao Famen,” was highly praised by her major professor, Professor Charles Hallisey, of Harvard and UW. In my family, there is a refrain repeated when a child or grandchild accomplishes a major educational or other goal, “Mamma Jeanne would be so proud!”, referring to my dear mother and her deep love of education and of her family. With the completion of her daughter’s educational journey, I think the same refrain would fit Yoneko Arai—she would be so proud!