An Important Thing that I Encountered in a Country I Love

A Russian Woman Who Became A Shinran Follower

I was born in the small town of Kirovsky in the eastern part of Russia. My family and I lived there while I was growing up. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, our peaceful life completely changed. Despite the celebration and hopes of many people in a new and prosperous Russia, the local economy collapsed, leaving many jobless. People lost their hopes and dreams for the future.

Without hope some turned to alcohol and others even thought of taking their own lives. A gloomy uncertainty about the future covered the society and my family was no exception. Waves of financial problems and illness hit us which made me reflect on the true reality of life. I had to ask myself, “Why did my family have to meet with such misfortune? What is my purpose in life and why do I have to endure such suffering? ”

In a short time I was separated from my parents. I became very lonely. I thought “At any rate, I just need to kill time day by day.” I tried to enjoy hobbies and spending time with my friends as much as possible in order to forget the hollowness inside me. But the more fun I tried to have, the soberer the voice from within became. It said, “This kind of fun does not last,” “After a moment, I will feel emptiness again,” “What does it really mean to me?”

Studying to Enter a University “It won’t work anymore. I have to take my life seriously,” I thought. So I started studying very hard. I studied from morning till late at night. And as a result, I was accepted into the prestigious State University in Vladivostok.

While studying economics and Japanese, I was chosen as a representative of Russia to take part in a Japanese speech contest of non-native speakers held in western Japan. And I won the first prize. During my trip to Japan, I was touched by the beauty of the nature, the people’s abundant kindness and the very clean cities. I fell even more in love with Japan and its culture. So in my senior year, I applied for and was awarded a scholarship to study at a well-known university in Japan.

An Incredible Encounter

Three weeks after my arrival in Japan, I encountered the teaching of Master Shinran. During the very first lecture that I attended, I heard about life’s purpose and the deep debt of gratitude that we owe to our parents. At first, I wondered “What kind of gratitude do we have to our parents?”

But then I heard that once we know the real purpose of life, we realize that we owe a lot to our parents who have given birth to us. “I couldn’t have found the answer without them.” Now I understood. My spiritual journey had begun with a resentment against my parents and since then I had been struggling for so long to know the meaning of life. I was overjoyed at finally having reached the answer.

The more I listened to Buddhism, the more I wanted to share the wonder of this great teaching. But the challenge was that I didn’t have a good command of the Japanese language. And as well, Buddhist terminology is so deep that I had difficulties conveying the meaning. I wished I had been born in Japan.

But still as I kept learning the language more and Buddhism deeper, people began to listen and understand my words. I was so happy that I had managed to convey Buddhism in Japanese.

The suffering and the rate of people who take their own lives in Russia is very high. It shows how much people are in distress and waiting for the teaching of Master Shinran. I would like to share Buddhism with my fellow Russians. This is a lifetime mission for me.”

Illona Yakimenko, from Russia, majored in economics & Japanese while at university in Vladivostok, Russia. On a student scholarship exchange in Japan, she met the teaching of Master Shinran. Here is what she had to say about the experiences that led her to Buddhism.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #27 | 2013, An Important Thing that I Encountered in a Country I Love

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