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Barbara Fellman
Fiber Artist Pittsburgh

barb with pizzas

In the Gosho, "On Itai Doshin, Nichiren Daishnin says, "Even an individual at cross-purposes with himself is certain to end in failure." (The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 153). That quote described my entire life.

When I began practicing Buddhism in 1977, I was an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, one of the top art schools in the country. After transferring from two other art schools, I had decided not to pursue this field as a career. I didn't have the confidence, self-motivation, ego, perseverance, focus -- or any other personal qualities an artist needs to survive. I didn't even want to try. I never had a clear-cut goal to be an artist. I fact, I never had any strong goals to do or be anything.

It was frustrating because deep down I knew that I had the ability and creativity. My self-doubt would prevent me from developing any of my ideas.

When I started chanting, for the first time I started to have hope that someday things would change and that I would eventually find the direction, motivation, and confidence that I lacked.

One of the first tangible benefits of my practice was a new career as a technical writer--a "real" job. Although I was never thrilled with the job, I was amazed I could earn a living at all, in light of my art background and my lack of career focus. Through a lack of commitment, I switched from job to job. I always wished I was doing something else, but I didn't know what that was.

Cherishing the goal that someday I would find the correct direction for my life, I decided to commit myself 100 percent to activities for kosen-rufu. Activities were my perfect training ground, and I tried never to miss one, applying myself fully to whatever I was doing. Although it seemed like I wasn't making any progress, I was encouraged at how no effort in Buddhist practice is wasted.

From time to time, I would fantasize about starting my own business with an idea I thought of while I was in art school--creating pillows in the form of fabric pizzas, painting and then thickly quilting them to create a cheese-like effect. I made several prototypes and sold them at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. I know it was a good idea, but I could never motivate myself to produce and market them in quantity.

Because I had no real agenda for my life and little self-esteem, it was easy for me to be swayed by obstacles. I found out that I had inherited a large debt from a loan that I had reluctantly co-signed for my ex-fiance's business. He had defaulted and it became my responsibility.

I went into a deep depression over several other major problems arising at the same time. I received guidance from a visiting senior leader who immediately perceived my confusion and pointed out that I lacked "unity of mind." She saw that all of my current problems stemmed from a lack of determination and mission for my life.

She suggested that I concentrate on this looming financial crisis as a first step. I was determined to appreciate this situation and use it as an opportunity for my own growth, to finally face the deeply rooted self-doubt. I sensed that out of this misfortune I would finally face the deep problem I had struggled with all these years.

In August 1987, a woman who was opening up a gallery that October sent me a letter soliciting new and creative fiber art. I decided to se this opportunity as a motivating force to start the business I had previously just fantasized about.

The deadline was two months before the gallery would open, so I had to work quickly. The only way to succeed was to sincerely focus on my practice. I chanted hours of daimoku to develop my focus tht I could follow through on my plans.

Soon I developed a complete line-pot holders that looked like pizza slices; hot pads the size of "personal pan" pizzas; pillows, in small, medium and large sizes; and miniature slices for pins. I named the line of products "PIZZArt," created a logo, naming the company "Inedible Art."

I also designed an order form from which customers could choose their desired size and "toppings"' -- pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and "designer toppings" such as shrimp, broccoli and asparagus--just like at a real pizza parlor.


The whole project excited and motivated me. I worked very hard, knowing that now I need to make extra money. Suddenly I had the beginnings of unity of mind and determination. I began sending press releases and contacting public figures to promote my products. Through my enthusiasm and new-found motivation and confidence, everyone I contacted responded positively.


In the year since I began, my products have been featured in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Pittsburgh Press, on a local food critic's TV show and in a fundraising event for the March of Dimes called the "Annual Best Pizza in Town" contest.


I am also working with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food bank to donate a portion of my sales and participate in special art projects to benefit the hungry.

Because of all the publicity I had received, it was easy to convince the owner of a gourmet cooking shop to carry my products. She has them prominently displayed above the cash register where many people can view them. After many years of living a direction-less life, I am finally using my artistic and creative talents.


When asked about how to live a creative life, President Ikeda gave an analogy about fish and birds--it seems as though they swim and fly at random and with total freedom, but they actually follow a path that is invisible to the eye. The do not deviate; if they did, they would collide and fall.


"Likewise," he said: "there is a path toward happiness and a creative life for human beings and Buddhism elucidates it. Therefore, as you embrace the Mystic Law and earnestly move forward; you will naturally follow this path, thus expressing your own supreme wisdom and creativity."


This guidance has deeply affected me. Upon reflection, it seems that I had lived my life like a bird or fish who always deviated from the set course and encountered misfortune. Today, based on many years of steady, consistent practice, I finally f eel like I am living that creative life in a way that is natural for me. I am much happier because I am developing my talent and working toward a goal for the first time in my life, using every moment productively and in a value-creative way. I truly feel like a victor in life.

I am so grateful to the Gohonzon and SGI-USA for the opportunities to challenge my negativity and finally live dreams that I didn't even have before. I the future, I hope to expand my company to include other items in the InedibleArt product line, and I also wish to contribute my artistic and creative talents to society on a larger scale.