Mariane Pearl has been a model of fortitude and determination in numerous interviews since the Jan. 23 abduction of her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Even after Pakistani investigators told her of the gruesome videotape confirming his death, she barely faltered.
"From this act of barbarism, terrorists expect all of us to bow our heads and retreat as victims forever by their ruthlessness," she said on CNN on Feb. 22. "What terrorists forget is that they may seize the life of an innocent man or the lives of many innocent people, as they did on September 11, but they cannot claim the spirit of faith of individual human beings."
Mariane Pearl's words and demeanor have impressed millions of people around the world, none perhaps more so than her fellow Buddhists.
For the 12 million members of her sect, Soka Gakkai International, she has become a champion of Buddhist practices and beliefs, a quiet spokeswoman whose words of courage come directly from Buddhist philosophy.
"When I saw her on CNN [last month], I was stunned by her composure," said Nicoletta Nencoli, 40, Washington correspondent for Il Gazzettino, an Italian newspaper.
"She has been a great example of the religion and the practice of it," said Nencoli, who joined Soka Gakkai five years ago. "She found a way to turn poison around us into medicine."
"I'm incredibly proud of Mariane because of the inner strength she is developing, the character she shows," said Michael Aiken, 50, a member from Bowie. Despite her painful loss, he said, Pearl embodies the Buddhist belief that whatever challenges and disappointments life brings, a person needs to transcend urges for retribution and focus on "developing a culture of peace."
Pearl, 34, has not made an issue of her faith. For the most part, she appears to have avoided talking about it.
"I don't have anything to hide," she said in an e-mail interview this week. "But I have been surprised at how irresponsible the media and people can be, misusing information for . . . . Well, actually I don't always know why they do it."
She also said she has not spoken much about her religion because "Danny is not a Buddhist and I was not talking about me . . . . I don't overpublicize my being a Buddhist but try to live up to my ideals. I mean, you know, it's a lifelong task."
But practitioners of Soka Gakkai, who call themselves "socially engaged Buddhists," say their movement's philosophy has been evident in a half-dozen television interviews and other public statements Mariane Pearl has given.
Most prominent has been her emphasis on dialogue as a means of bringing understanding and peace between opposing parties -- echoing the teachings of Soka Gakkai President Daisaku Ikeda, who is based in Tokyo.
"Overcoming negative forms of attachment to difference -- discrimination -- and bringing about a true flowering of human diversity is the key to generating a lasting culture of peace," Ikeda wrote two years ago in "Peace Through Dialogue: A Time to Talk." "Dialogue must be pivotal in our endeavors, reaching out to all people everywhere as we seek to forge a new global civilization."
Building bridges through dialogue also was one of Daniel Pearl's natural instincts and one of the couple's shared passions, his wife said. In a CNN interview on Jan. 31, she made the first of several appeals to the kidnappers to release her husband, calling him a "gentle" person who wanted to help break down political and religious barriers in Pakistan.
"We are two people who met and fell in love because we have the same ideal, you know," she said in that interview. "All of my life, all of his life and our life together is just a big effort to try to create dialogue between civilizations."
She called her husband's search for truth "his almost religion" and said she was confused because the kidnappers had "broken" the dialogue that the two of them had started on behalf of the Pakistani people. "What exactly do you want?" she asked.
She said this week that her husband, 38, "trusted individuals, not groups" and had no interest in joining Soka Gakkai or any other religious organization. If he needed spiritual input, he would look first to his own background, Judaism, he once told her. But she said it made him happy that she found fulfillment in Buddhism, and he encouraged her daily chanting as a means of solving problems.
Chanting is one of the features that distinguishes Soka Gakkai from better-known traditions that emphasize meditation, such as Tibetan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. The repetitive chant is often directed toward victims of catastrophic events, such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Fundamentally, each individual has the ability [to achieve] absolute enlightenment," said Jean Rosenberg, 54, of Rockville, who joined Soka Gakkai 34 years ago and chants daily with her husband, Philip. "While doing inner transformation, also at the same time you make efforts to transform society around you as a private citizen and collectively as a member of SGI," she said.
Mariane Pearl said her husband would offer support during especially difficult times by chanting with her. "Once, as my mother was dying from cancer, he sat down and chanted to help her pass away," she said. Another time in Bombay, where he was stationed as the Journal's South Asia bureau chief, "he felt I was lonely so he sat down and chanted with me to be my mate -- a gesture that really touched my heart," she said.
In speaking about her ordeal, Pearl also has expressed the Buddhist philosophy that all life and all people are interrelated and that each person has responsibility for his or her actions, said Bill Aiken, national spokesman for Soka Gakkai, which has about 100,000 practitioners in the United States, including 3,000 in the Washington area.
Of the effort to stamp out terrorism and evil, Pearl said this after learning of her husband's death: "This responsibility rests with each one of us no matter our age, our gender, our nationality, our religion. No individual alone will be able to wage this battle."
Pearl said her worldview comes from 17 years of practicing Buddhism, to which she was introduced in France by her older brother, Satchi. "It was sheer curiosity that brought me to a Buddhist meeting," she wrote in the e-mail interview. "I remember being utterly impressed by the variety of the people there and wondering how such different people could be brought together by a single faith.
"It was the first time I witnessed that, especially that those people were not trying to be like each other. They all preserved their identities but used the same tool, which was Buddhism."
On March 9, in California, Mariane Pearl was able to speak face to face with many of the people who had offered support through e-mails and by starting prayer chains to chant for her and her husband.
At her request, no media organizations were present for the event, a memorial service attended by more than 500 people at the SGI Los Angeles Friendship Center. The next day, about 450 people attended a more publicized service at the Skirball Cultural Center, also in Los Angeles.
Not only was Pearl gracious in her thanks, she also felt a need to offer comfort to family and friends gathered there. She began with assurance that her husband never gave in to the terrorists.
"From certain positioning of his hands from the photos sent to us . . . he tried to communicate as much as he could," she said. "From these clues, he was communicating to us that he was not defeated. More than that, the profound feeling I got despite the anger and the pain was that Danny did not lose. . . .
"I am convinced he did not submit to fear, and the best proof of that is that I am talking to you now. If that had not been the case, I would not have been able to survive that. So if he did not give up, I can't give up myself -- it would be betraying his courage.
"That's his own spirit, that's my spirit, and that's the support we got from all of you. I am absolutely convinced that even though he lost his life, he received each and every prayer that you sent him, and I did, too." Soka Gakkai International Soka Gakkai International, the Buddhist sect to which Mariane Pearl belongs, was founded in Japan in 1930 as a branch of the ancient Nichiren Buddhist tradition. It has 12 million members in 165 countries.
As a lay organization, Soka Gakkai has no priests, lamas or other holy figures. Practitioners consider themselves more humanistic than ritualistic, emphasizing the overall goodness of humanity and the responsibility of the individual to act morally and ethically. Monthly meetings are held in community centers rather than temples and consist of lectures and discussions, not worship.
Daily devotionals, practiced at home every morning and evening before an altar holding a scroll depicting the life of the Buddha, consist of recitations from the Lotus Sutra and continuous chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Literally translated, the words mean "devote oneself," "mystical law," "lotus flower" and "sutra," the voice or teaching of the Buddha.
Practitioners believe that chanting, rather than the meditation central to Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, will help them comprehend and act on such universal Buddhist teachings as the interconnectedness of all things and the need for selflessness and compassion.
Chanting also helps overcome forces of evil, they believe. When something bad happens to a member of their organization, an immediate call for a daimoku, a chant, for that person shoots across the globe via Internet and telephone. Chants for Daniel and Mariane Pearl began immediately after his capture and continue today.
In 1986, a chanting chain was formed for "Dallas" actor and Soka Gakkai member Patrick Duffy, whose parents were murdered while closing their bar in Boulder, Mont.
-- Bill Broadway