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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
73 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly ur daughter, now thirty, is autistic, non- verbal, and has pervasive communication issues. She was an infant when diagnosed in 1981. Back then there was little knowledge of autism, even among health care profes- sionals, and not much in the way of support. As we worked to find ways to help her, my wife and I realized we needed to find a source of strength and spiritual support in our daily lives to stay positive for her and the many other responsibilities and relationships in our lives. Above all, we needed to find a way to love our autistic daughter as much as we loved our other three children. There was never a question of our being committed to our daughter’s well-being and proper care. But physical care doesn’t fill the void each of us feels—even those who struggle with conditions like autism. My wife and I soon learned that our journey to raise her in the way we envisioned would chal- lenge every definition of love we ever thought possible, and would eventually lead us to the profound Buddhist teachings on emptiness. Like many parents whose child has just been diagnosed with autism, we turned to our local minister for help. While he was empathetic, the only guidance he could offer was that it was “God’s will” and we are never given more than we can handle. Unfortunately, this offered little solace for our daughter and no help for our sagging spirits. We abandoned Christianity, along with its lure of receiving a miracle if only we prayed long and hard enough. I had been introduced to Buddhism as a boy while living in Japan in the fifties, but had hidden it from my family because they would have put a stop to my long hours at the monastery and temple near our home, during which I pestered the monks and nuns endlessly with questions. Although I remained intel- lectually interested in Buddhism over the years, the problem was that I had never needed Buddhism—until our daughter’s birth. At first Buddhism did not seem to be a path that would help us with the difficult day-to-day struggle we were immersed in as we tried to help our baby girl. But we continued to search, and found help in the Buddhist values of self-reliance and the teachings on emptiness. The Daughter I Love With the help of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on emptiness, Stephen Holoviak realizes that to fully know and accept his autistic daughter he must let go of his hopes and dreams for her. (Opposite) Brooke, Stephen Holoviak’s daughter, learning to ride a bike at age six. SHaronHoloviak