Sunday, 4 August 2013

We truly Can Make the Impossible Possible

Kumari Bakhru
SGI Singapore

My mother was from Russia and my father was born in India. I was born in New York City in the United States of America. Introduced to Nichiren Buddhism by a friend of my mother in 1986, my mother has been practicing ever since. I received my own Gohonzon in 1991 when I moved from home to attend the University of California at Berkeley, near San Francisco.

Adopt the Strategy of the Lotus Sutra

My husband Louis has been a prince among men and it is one of the greatest benefits of my Buddhist practice that I have been lucky enough to call him my husband. We were married at the beautiful Los Angeles Friendship Centre on October 10, 2010. I was very happy with the date 10.10.10. And I feel as a direct result of having this opportunity to introduce so many of our family, friends and co-workers to Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism, we received the great benefit of being able to move to Singapore in March 2011.

I cannot express how wonderful our life here in Singapore has been. It has been a wonderful 19-month long honeymoon. We have had the opportunity to travel throughout the Asia-Pacific region and we have met the most wonderful, amazing and generous people - from my co-workers to the SSA members - really everyone has been so amazing. I feel very grateful to have met those wonderful role models and hope to make them lifelong friends.

This is not to say that life is without its problems. In fact, I had recent challenge which I see as a proof that I have been practicing correctly.

When I went to the doctor for a checkup, he found a 6cm cyst in my ovary that was considered to be extremely large and he suggested I had surgery right away. I knew I have to adopt the strategy of the Lotus Sutra. I wanted to emerge victorious. I turned to the Gohonzon, with the strong resolve to overcome my health problems.

I like to share a quote from my mentor in life SGI President Ikeda:

Nothing can match the strength of those whose lives have been shaped and gorged through challenging and overcoming hardships. Such people fear nothing. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to develop such strength and fortitude. To cultivate such an invincible core is in itself a victory. It is also the greatest benefit. Those we can succeed in this endeavor will savor unsurpassed happiness; they can manifest the supreme state of Buddhahood.

This excerpt is from For Today and Tomorrow, a book of daily inspirational quotes by President Ikeda. My mother had a tradition that as a family, would reach the daily encouragement after gongyo each day and it is a tradition that I enjoy and continue.

Helping others, Helping Myself

When the doctor suggested surgery on my 6cm cyst, I was very calm as I had been in this situation before. I was only in my 20s when I had a breast cancer scare that required surgery. I knew I needed to have faith. This Gosho passage really encouraged me: Though one might point at the earth and miss it, though one might blind up the sky, though the tides might cease to ebb and flow and the sun rise in the west, it could never come about that the prayers of the practitioner of the Lotus Sutra would go unanswered."

Hence below was how I responded:

- I strengthened my faith

- I challenged myself to chant more - I dedicated myself to a one-hour campaign in the morning
  before work for three months.

- I attended more activities

- When there was no activity to attend, I made one up - I would visit people or invite them over to
  chant.

- I tried to encourage as many people as possible. I shared Buddhism with a friend in the US who was
  having problems. I ran into a Young Women Division member who had stopped practicing at
  lunchtime during a weekday and invited her over to my house to dialogue and chant.

- I changed my attitude at work and home

- I studied

- I sought guidance from senior leaders.

- Most importantly, I consciously resolved to help others and be there for fellow members.

I feel that this great quote from Nichiren Daishonin really gets to the heart of the subject:

When I don this robe, take my place before the Buddha, and recite the Lotus Sutra, then all the 69,384 characters that make up the sacred text, each individual character one by one, becomes a golden Buddha. Though the robe is only one, it clothes each and every one of the 69,384 Buddhas. And because this is so, the husband and wife who presented me with this robe with be visited by all those Buddhas, who will be regard the couple as their supported and watch over and protect them. For this husband and wife in their present existence they will be a prayer, a treasure and when the husband and wife are on the moon, a sun, a path, a bridge, a father, a mother, an ox or a horse, a palanquin, a carriage, a lotus, a mountain, coming to greet and convey them to the pure land of Eagle Peak."

Each time I was able to bring food to a meeting, volunteer my time for an event, take the time to dialogue with someone, I consider my time, the food I was able to buy and my money contributed as an offering to the Gohonzon. Based on the Buddhist teaching of "practicing for oneself and for others", by helping others I was actually helping them and myself to become a better person and contribute to this fantastic practice.

As I changed my attitude and actions, spending more time focused on my practice, things gradually began to change.

Especially at work, I had changed my attitude. I refrained from complaining too much, tired my bet to stay positive and resolved to work harder and more happily, even under difficult circumstances where I was surrounded by unhappy happy.

Around this time, I had a new executive at work that moved to our office in Singapore. He had a volatile temper and would yell at me or other co-workers. Rather than getting mad or begrudging my fate, I invited him and his wife over for dinner. I felt if I could establish a strong connection and dialogue with him, things would get better. This quote by Orison Swett Marden really helped me in my attitude, "There is no investment you can make which will pay you so well as the effort to scatter sunshine and good cheer through your establishment." I also chanted for my new coworker and his family's happiness. After a while, his attitude at work also started to change. He is treating people well and we are all in the office feels completely different. I went from dreading having to interact with him to looking forward to saying hello.

I also challenged myself to take the SSA Buddhist Study Examination Entrance Level Paper in June. I am so happy and feel fortunate that I passed the exam! More importantly, I feel that the time I got to spend studying with the members of my district is a precious memory that I will keep forever. We had so much fun studying together and quizzing each other. We made what would have felt like a tough challenges into a meaningful sessions where we were always laughing and enjoying each other's company. My greatest joy was studying with some of our newer members. Each time I taught someone something, I felt as if I also learnt something myself!

After a great deal of daimoku, I decided to tell my doctor I wanted to take my time to consider the surgery. I went home and embarked on my campaign. Two months later, I returned to the doctor and to both his and my surprise, the cyst had completely disappeared! There was no need for surgery! Hurray!

My "Work-In -Progress"

Now many might think the miracle is that I did not need surgery and somehow through all my daimoku, faith and practice and study, I made the cyst disappear. But from my point of view, that was not what happened. I think chanting gave me the wisdom to wait. In that one critical moment - to make the right decision and see what would happen. Of course, I have many other challenges to solve, and I have not finished my campaign, so I am still a "work-in-progress". But I do feel very safe, calm and secure in the wisdom that this is the right path for me. I strongly believe that there is a reason for everything and with this practice there is nothing we cannot overcome. We truly can make the impossible possible.

Finally, I will like to share one of my favorite quotes from President Ikeda in the daily encouragement book for Today and Tomorrow:

Let us all set our sights on leading great lives dedicated always to truth and move towards that goal in good health, brimming with hope. Let us live our lives boldly, without regret, advancing with patience, enthusiasm and genuine spirit of friendship and camaraderie.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Believing in Myself

Michael
SGI USA

I will never forget the first time I heard my brother, Ted, chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. It was spring 1988 in Riverside, California, and I was 10. Ted explained about the SGI's mission for world peace, and soon I was chanting too.

In 1997, during my third year in college, I received my Gohonzon. Two days later, my doctor told me that I could stop taking medication for a hyperthyroid condition I'd had for a couple of years. Things could not be any better.

Then, during my summer of 1998, I hit two overwhelming obstacles. First, two co-leaders - friends with whom I was close - moved away. I felt increasingly lonely, especially with the stress of school and being the sole Student Division leader, where I practiced.

At the same time, my hyperthyroid condition hit with a vengeance. My health and emotional stability crumbled. I felt overwhelmed and angry. The easiest way to deal with everything, I thought, was so disappearing, so I stopped chanting, cut the ties with the SGI and dropped out of school, not caring if I ever returned.

Within a few months, radioactive treatment stabilised my condition. However, because I had completely isolated myself, extreme depression swept over me: I couldn't bear to leave my house for long periods, and I contemplated suicide more than once.

Antidepressants left me emotionless and robotic, so I often skipped them and depression again overwhelmed me. There seemed to be no solution,

When I knew things couldn’t get worse, I finally agreed to meet with an SGI-USA leader. He was compassionate and didn't pressure me to chant. That meant a lot to me. One month later, I went to the community centre and chanted on my own. That was the end of eight months of misery. I became involved in Buddhist activities right away, and I have never wavered in my practice since.

I took some classes to get my education back on track, including an anatomy course that awakened a sense of wonder about the mystery and miracle of the human body. That's when I set my sights on becoming a pathologist, a doctor who specializes in medical diagnosis. It would be an uphill battle, however, because after three years of college, my GPA was only 2.7, too low for medical school.

But now my Buddhist faith and practice gave me the confidence to challenge the impossible. I studied hard, chanted a lot and participated in SGI-USA activities. I completed my final year of school with straight 'A's and graduated with a 3.4 GPA.

Another hurdle with my pitifully low MCAT scores, an entrance exam for medical school. I typically did poorly on standardised exams, but this was worse than I expected. Many people - including my pre-med advisor - urged me to give up and pursue another profession. I was hurt by this, but I recalled that SGI President Ikeda has repeatedly said, for example, "The resolve to accomplish your goals is what counts." I was determined to use my practice to pursue my dream.

Sure enough, I was accepted at a medical school on the Caribbean islands of Grenada and St Vincent - the most successful foreign medical school at placing graduates in the United States.

Medical school was my greatest academic challenge, mentally and physically. It seemed I had a medical book in front of my 24/7

I was the only SGI member at the school. There was no one to rely on by myself.

When I was the most stressed, I increased my chanting of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and President Ikeda's words never failed to inspire me. I talked to several classmates about Nichiren Buddhism and, each time, felt renewed determination and energy.

After my second year there, I faced the first of three US medical board exams.

Through hard work coupled with vigorous chanting. I scored around the national average, well above my medical school average despite my difficulty with standardised tests. This, I realised, was proof that I could accomplish anything with the Gohonzon.

Two years later in preparation for graduation, I applied for a residency Cleveland. I was one of two chosen from more than 300 applicants. What a great feeling!

My first year in residency, however was one of the most difficult of my life. I was no longer a student; I was a resident doctor with far greater responsibility. I was homesick and overwhelmed by the stress of long hours, lack of sleep and intense pressure. There were times I was so tired, I forget to eat.

I strongly considered quitting. I didn't see how I could survive. Each time, however, I chanted and spoke with a senior in faith, who encouraged me to chant to bring forth my wisdom. I realised that I wanted to quit, not because things were tough, but because things were in myself. Finally, I understood that I am responsible for my life and my happiness. I refused to give up again.

President Ikeda's words especially compelled me: "Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is the struggle to overcome our own weakness and lack of confidence in ourselves. It is the act of impressing in the very depth of our being the conviction that we can change the situation without fail. Prayer is the way to destroy all fear. It is the way to banish sorrow, the way to light the torch of hope. It is the revolution that rewrites the scenario of our destiny.

"Believe in yourself! Don't sell yourself short! Devaluing yourself is contrary to Buddhism, because it denigrates the Buddha state of being within you.

I moved forward, challenging each day, one day at a time. My resident got better with each passing year, and I was successfully graduated after four years. My fifth (and last) year in Cleveland was the best, as I was appointed the surgical pathology fellow at the same hospital. It became my responsibility to help instruct junior residents who were experiencing the same struggles I had. I chanted every day that they would do so well, and that I would have the wisdom to teach them correctly.

I decided to apply for a second fellowship, but most pathology fellowships were already filled. Once again, I chanted Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo wholeheartedly and refused to give up. My final interview was at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. I was shocked and gratified when they immediately offered me the position. I now have medical licenses in California, Ohio and Wisconsin.

I felt so much joy and a warm family feeling from the members in Wisconsin. After participating in the historic SGI-USA Wisconsin Youth Summit this past September, I'm even more determined to fight for kosen-rufu, to understand with my life the fundamentals of the oneness of mentor and disciple, and to share with others my greatest lessons; to believe in yourself and never give up.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Appearing in the Role of Bodhisattva Depression

Angelina
SGI New Zealand

Six months on, I found myself locked in a deep depression. Depression was a recurring theme in my life. Since I was young it had steadily progressed from isolating myself from everyone and having no motivation in life, to serious anxiety and panic attacks. I kept attending SGI district meetings in the hope of breaking through quickly and easily, but instead found myself getting more and more depressed and dark. I started feeling very angry.

Learning to Truly Respect My Life

This time around, the depression was really different. When I was younger, I had a medical problem, which had increased my tiredness and, in turn, my depression, but it had been diagnosed and managed since I was 17. Yet, this time I felt as tired as I did back then. Also, it was different because I could not find the reason or the trigger for this depression. And I was chanting!

I had been told that the act of chanting would allow me to bring forth my wisdom, courage and compassion. So at the very least I thought, "OK, why I am back in hell again?" But I had no idea why I was so unhappy. What I did know was that I hated it. Of course I had had moments of happiness with this practice, but I did not want just moments if it meant that I would keep falling into a painful depression. Basically it was make or break for me and my faith, because I was so over it!

I received guidance, and the first line was "Nothing is impossible with Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo." If this was true, then I felt I had ultimate test for the Gohonzon. I engraved this line in my heart. Nothing is luck or fate in Buddhism. I knew it was part of my karma to experience depression in this lifetime. I understood the notion of "changing poison to medicine". I also believed it must be part of my family karma as many members of my father's family suffer from varying types of mental illness - from clinical depression to schizophrenia. As a child, I had watched my father try to take his own life several times. He had been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident when I was young. Afterwards he could not return to his job due to the physical and mental injuries he sustained as a result of the accident. He had been a very successful business man, as a husband and as a father, had been tied to his job and is earning capability. Without this, he felt a failure as a human being, and lost as how to deal with the intense physical pain he was constantly in. I became very determined to transform this fundamental darkness into something positive, not for myself, but for my family, and maybe even my future children. Family was my motivation.

Whenever I was awake - which admittedly by this point, was not very often - I chanted. My prayer was very dramatic; "I have ripped depression out of my life from the roots!" I trusted that this was happening in that very moment and with every Nam-myoho-renge-kyo it was being destroyed. I prayed it was true even though I still felt so much pain. I cried so much in front of the Gohonzon. To be completely honest, I did this for six months and nothing shifted. I wanted to give up until I realised during a chanting (and crying) session that I was not actually feeling any worse either. I must be at rock bottom, so I literally had nothing to lose in continuing. Plus I still wanted to know the specific reason why I was depressed.

I read many writings by SGI President Ikeda and in one he said something along the lines of: If you give up, you will never know how close you were to winning. So again, I persevered. And one of my realisations during my months of chanting fighting daimoku was that I had not dealt with the bullying I had endured in high school. A bunch of girls would throw things at me, humiliate me infront of the others and ridicule me about how ugly I was - constantly. And I totally believed everything they said about me.

After three years of torment at school I had finally mustered the strength to say to myself, "You are a really intelligent girl, and you are a good person!" That gave me a little more confidence to stop feeling scared. And with that affirmation, the bullying actually stopped. But fast forward 10 years later and chanting clearly showed me how I pushed through school by saying this to myself: "Yes, I am smart and a good person,"BUT, I am also still all those negative things in my bullies had told me I was as well. So in the years after school, I became a person who could not ever feel comfortable dialoguing with others. I was painfully shy and terrified of any kind of attention from people. I had not changed my karma at all. I had just completely disregarded the dignity of my life.

From there, my prayer changed from ripping depression out of my life to "I truly respect my life - the good, the bad - all of it." I wanted to break through so I could one day share and hopefully inspire others in faith. So now my motivation became SGI members. I still found it hard to leave the house, but I really pushed myself to attend all my district meeting I felt I was making a positive cause in my life. And to not go would mean putting my fundamental darkness first, rather than putting my life first (which is something I really had to learn)

"If I could Do the impossible....."

Another realisation I had was that I did not have a job I was passionate about. It was no wonder I could not get up in the morning! My best friend knew I was chanting about a job I would enjoy and randomly sent me a text saying, "I was reading magazines today and I saw a model and thought you could so that if you wanted." My immediate thought was, "Ha ha ha, wow she's so sweet! and then I closed the text and continued to chant in pursuit of a new job.

As I began to tackle my low self-esteem and depression began to subside, this idea of modeling kept fighting for attention. I'd fight back saying: "That's not a kosen-rufu job", convinced it was my ego and fundamental darkness at play. However, as I continued to chant the battle got so intense and I ended up so tired from all the fighting and negativity going on in my own head that I just had to stop. Only then was I able to honestly open up to the Gohonzon. I remember praying, "If I could do the impossible, I would like to try modeling." And in that instant, I felt SO incredibly happy! Like literally the depression (well what was left of it) had been lifted off my shoulders (Note: This was instantaneous, but I was well aware of the one year plus process that was involved in getting to that point)

I had no intention of pursing modeling. I was just turning 27 and you really needed to be 16 to 21 to start. Of course some girls are lucky to still be working at 27, but realistically most had started much younger. It is a very rare occurrence for anyone to start scratch at that age. In fact, I was maybe even a little relieved by this, as it is one thing to admit a desire for something, and completely another thing to take action towards it. From then, I chanted daily with a prayer of total appreciation and gratitude for my life. I was very happy, and still searching for another path.

Three days later, I was at a bus stop on K Road at Auckland City, when a lady approached me asking if I was a model. "Oh no no!" I replied giggling (in my mind I was thinking "Wow, this mystic law business is crazy!"). She introduced herself as a agent and said to me: "Honey, sometimes life is weird, but sometimes you just got to go with it. I know you don't know me, but just trust me. You absolutely must not get on your bus and you should come with me now." My reaction was to stare at her and laugh - I honestly must have looked like a maniac! I had just proven the power of the Mystic law to myself, that actually nothing is impossible with Nam-myoho-renge-Kyo. That was the moment I can say with certainty that I became 100 percent convinced about this practice.

Of course I did not go to the agency and it was there that a model called in to say that she was feeling unwell for her shoot. My agent looked at me and said "I'm going to do something crazy and hope I don't lose a client because of it! And she threw me into the magazine editorial. So I walked straight off the street and into my first job. I feel my protection that day was that I had shaved my legs! I used the strength and conviction from doing all that human revolution, and did more to overcome all the odds in my newfound career. I set many goals and have since achieved them all. I was signed and working at 27. I was put forward for commercial work (which is great as this is more often than not the well-paid side of modeling) but I also wanted to do the fun fashion work as well (usually reserved for the younger girls). And I had been told that because of my age, many aspects of modeling would probably be "unlikely" - such as being represented overseas and modeling on the Fashion Week runway. However, they did not know that I had a gohonzon! I did all of that, and more.

I went to every job as a disciple of President Ikeda, respectful of everyone I worked with. As a result, in an industry, which is known to be blunt and sometimes not so nice, people really went out of their way to help me. it was as if they were sincerely wanted me to succeed. For example, when I had just started, I had the good fortune to connect with Kiwi ex-ford united States of America model, who taught me so much. She ran a school for models and enrolled me in the $700 course for free. I also determined to keep my integrity at all times. I never did a job I felt would send a "questionable" message. I did kosen-rufu jobs, including advertisements promoting the Arts, for natural products and charity causes. And fortunately I could still participate freely in SGI activities and support others at the same time.

Our practice becomes a Magnet for Happiness

I share these accomplishments to illustrate Mrs Kaneko Ikeda's encouragement: "Our practice becomes a magnet for happiness - happiness follows you so you don't have to chase it...." That is, when you believe in yourself, people will rally round, and all help you need to succeed will come for you. At the end of the day, we are not necessarily chanting for things - or the job, in my case - but to elevate our life condition to attract and embrace that happiness.

The best thing in life was gratitude for my own life and experiences, enabling me to appreciate other's lives more fully. This practice taught me never to compare myself with anyone, nor to base my self-esteem on how I look. I felt very free, but also very sad watching many girls play out their careers based on comparison and destructive competition.

I do not want to reiterate that even though this can all seem to be workings of luck or fate or even magic. It is not! There was a lot of human revolution that needed to occur to enable this to happen. I had truly believed in my self-worth in the depths of my life. I had to uncover the ways I had unknowingly disrespected my own life and transform them, and it was painful at the time, but I cultivated a fighting spirit that no matter how long it took I would never give up on myself.

Nichiren Daishonin wrote: "Only by defeating a powerful enemy can one prove one's real strength.

I defeated my enemy, depression. I have not been depressed one day since that breakthrough. and somehow, neither had my Dad - even though he knew nothing about my practice! He is so great! And although there is no way to measure if this tendency has been completely transformed in my life. I feel that it had. Some people has said to me, "Well that could have happened without chanting" - and my reply to that is - "I know with absolute certainty that without this wonderful practice I never would cultivated the life-state to take up or create value from any of the opportunities that have arisen." Hence, with gratitude, I am now joyfully determined to live my life till the end (and beyond), dedicated to my own continuous human revolution and to Aotearoa New Zealand and Oceania kosen-rufu, and hopefully making my mentor President Ikeda proud!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Triumphing Over illness with the Resolve to Win No Matter What!

Motoko Nishimoto
SGI Japan

When I was in high school, I was highly insecure. I was pessimistic and harbored no hope of my life. My parents started to practice Nichiren Buddhism and joined the Soka Gakkai. Generally, I was somewhat repulsed by religion, however, I witnessed my parents becoming more and more cheerful. Furthermore, the Young Women Division (YWD) leader's warm invitations to various Buddhist activities chipped away at my resistance. Three months later I decided to practice Nichiren Buddhism and started to attend Buddhist activities with my senior.

Later, I had the good fortune to work at the Kurashiki Culture Centre as a member of the staff. In February 1972, when I was appointed the Okayama Assistant YWD General Zone Chief, Mr and Mrs Ikeda attended the "Chukoku Regional Youth Peace Culture Festival". On this day, as snow danced in the wind, they visited the Kurashiki Culture Centre. That was my first encounter with my mentor in life.

Mr Ikeda offered me encouragement; "Faith is for life. You will definitely become happy." His eyes were warm and kind. I remember making a deep vow in my heart: "I will fulfill my mission with President Ikeda as my mentor in life."

I strove with all my might for kosen-rufu during my young days, thus having no regrets. Then I married and gave birth to a boy and a girl. Although I did not have a driving license then, as a Women Division (WD) chapter leader, I took my children with me to attend all the organization’s activities. We took rides from my WD district leader and travelled along the visit members who lived across the wide expanse of land.

The struggle was tough; balancing my participation in kosen-rufu activities and nurturing my children. My daughter suffered from pneumonia and my son ran a fever soon after birth. He was hospitalizing for a month. But the days spent on attending kosen-rufu activities with my children in tow became my prime point of faith in life.

Since young I have always enjoyed good health. Then, one day I was diagnosed with diabetes. In the autumn of 2005, I decided to undergo inpatient treatment at the hospital. A further check-up revealed that I had contracted colon cancer. Surgery was carried out immediately. Fortunately, the recovery process was smooth.

In November 2006, I light-heartedly made my way to the hospital for the annual post-operation check-up. There, my attending physician said to me in somber tone: "Your cancer has relapsed." I froze and fear engulfed me. My daughter and I looked at each other. I felt lost!

A subsequent detailed examination revealed that it was multiple hepatocellular carcinomas. My mother had died of uterine cancer and rectal cancer, which has spread to the liver. Death will follow once the cancer cells spread! My mind was riveted on this thought. I felt condemned to death. The thought that "I might lose my life" filled me with apprehension and I could barely rouse myself to chant daimoku.

On December 24, I was surprised to receive a message from SGI President Ikeda. "You must get well! Let's strive together! Once you recover, please visit the Headquarters!" He also gave my husband and me a fukusa (a type of Japanese Fabric used for gift wrapping) with the word "VOW" on it. I was deeply encouraged by Mr Ikeda's immense love and concern.

I pledged in my heart: "How can I be ungrateful disciple when I have receive such strong encouragement from my mentor? I must recover and strive alongside my mentor." From that day on, the resolve to "win at all costs" roared in my heart. I chanted fervently for seven hours, eight hours, and even ten hours every day.

I was also very touched by my son's effort. He worked away from home but would do his best to offer me encouragement whenever he returned. My daughter took over all the household chores so that I could focus on my treatment and chanting. As for my husband, I could feel my spirits being lifted as I watched him pray for me. My illness had drawn my family closer.

Roused to Action by Constant Encouragement

My attending physician said I had only one tumor, so I had 50% chance of surviving for another five years. Two tumors would indicate a 25% chances, three tumors 5%. I would have only one and a half years to live with treatment. My physician wore a grim expression on his face when he said, "For a 'multiple' situation like yours, I have no idea how many tumors you will eventually have; you may even develop tens of them. I can only say that you are just plain unlucky."

Armed with resolve that 'my physician shall be my Buddhist god", I calmly replied, "Doctor, I'm a WD leader in Soka Gakkai. I'll strive to do my utmost to recover so that no one will have to worry about me. I'll definitely defeat this illness. I took forward to receiving your advice!"

Hearing that my cancer had relapsed, my seniors and comrades in faith swiftly came forth to offer encouragement. A senior who had survived terminal cancer said to me: "Chant daimuko! Your life must not end before your mission is accomplished. You must secure a great victory. Share your testimony." My family exerted even more effort in chanting daimoku.

At the end of February, I received another message from Mr Ikeda: "You must recover!" Mrs Ikeda also sent me a message: "Get well soon." Their message came with a photo of red plum blossoms heralding the arrival of spring.

Eventually, medical examinations revealed that I had three tumors. It was decided that I would undergo surgery on May 30, the 185th day of my relapse and also the day my family accomplishes six million daimoku.

On the day of the operation, yet another message from Mr Ikeda gave me immense strength with which to face the operation. "You must win! Pray to the end!" It turned out that the number of tumors had reduced from three to two and there was no metastasis. I also did not have to go for chemotherapy. I could not help but let out a cry of "Banzai!"

Later, my attending physician told me that for every three patients suffering from multiple hepatocellular carcinomas, only one would not be able to undergo surgery. And for every two patients who undergo surgery, only one will recover. As for the reduction in the number of tumors, this is seen in only one out of 8,000 patients. Through this ordeal, I gained a deeper understanding of Nichiren Daishonin's teaching: "Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo is like the lion roar. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?"

I had a smooth recovery after the surgery. By November 18 (a significant date as it is the founding day of the Soka Gakkai), the entire family had chanted 10 million daimoku and we set off daily for the headquarters to give a victory report.

At the headquarters, WD seniors who were beaming from ear to ear welcomed us. What was more joyous was that I had fulfilled what Mr Ikeda had encouraged: "Once you recover, please visit the Headquarters." I will never forget the deep gratitude I felt as I set foot in the headquarters once again. This day will forever be etched in my mind as golden memories of this lifetime.

Currently, I enjoyed excellent health and for bi0annual check-up. My family has also resolved that by November 18 this year (2009), we will achieve our target of "a complete recovery by the time we achieve 20 million daimoku!"

My two children had strongly supported me in my struggle against cancer. Both have become more caring and trustworthy. My daughter graduated from the Soka University of Japan and returned to Okayama where she received her mental health welfare worker qualification and hoped to contribute her bit for society. My son is working in the food section of a supermarket in Osaka and is also exerting himself in the Young Men Division. Based on faith he is learning all he can about the "Kansai Spirit" (the spirit of "never be defeated"). Although both have their own problems to challenge, I am filled with gratitude to see them blazing with the determination to win and to never give up; busying themselves with activities in the wonderful "garden of Soka".

My battle of cancer can be described as a valiant and all-out struggle. Now, I pray wholeheartedly every day: "I must live on!" My Triumphant actual proof has left a deep impact in the depths of my life and I am now carrying out my mission of giving hope to those who are tormented by their illness.

From today onward, I will continue to strive towards my goal of complete recovery with the "Never lose heart!" spirit. Furthermore, as President Ikeda's disciple, I will dedicate my life for kosen-rufu together with my family.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Human Revolution at Work

Jackie
SGI - New Zealand

In 2006 I was offered a position at very successful information and communication technologies (ICT) company - a 100 percent black owned company that has been voted best ICT Company for four consecutive years.

I was Over the Moon!

Within a short period I was promoted to a position in Strategic key accounts. This was a huge career opportunity one that really required me to step out of my comfort zone and exert myself. I would be dealing with accounts 10 times the size of what I was used to, and with that much more at stake there was tremendous pressure on me to succeed. But I was determined not to fail or disappoint.

Because it was such a big challenge, I chanted Nam-Myo-Ho- Renge-Kyo lots, read SGI publications and SGI President Daiseku Ikeda's guidance. I also did not best in SGI activities - supporting the group and being active as a Diamond (behind-the scenes support group) member. My determination to succeed grew even stronger.

An Increasingly Stressful Situation

My situation however became increasingly stressful. I witnessed rampant corruption and underhandedness and the very male-dominated work culture surprised me. Working in this environment was severely testing but, I determined to not take part in any transaction unless it was based on truth and integrity.

The bigger challenge though, was my boss. The trouble began during one particular meeting when I voiced my concern about something that had been tabled. After that, feeling that she had been shown up, she turned against me with a vengeance and went out of her way to make my life miserable. She wanted me out and, in alliance with two other accounts managers, did everything she could to alienate me and make my work environment unbearable.

I clearly remember her approaching my desk, which was near the manager's office. I was shocked that she was coming to speak to me after ignoring, sabotaging and ostracizing me for months. She calmly asked me to turn my desk around and faced the other way so that people coming to the manager's office would not have to see my face!

My stress and sense of being victimized mounted to the point that I landed in hospital with stomach ulcers. In hospital I continued to chant and received alot of encouragement from my fellow SGI members which really helped. When I returned to work, I came close to quitting. However President Ikeda advises that, no matter what difficulties we encounter, we should not succumb to doubt or complaint. He adds that those who maintain faith with such a non-regressing spirit are true winners.

After reading this guidance over and over, I resolved to stay the course and uncover what lessons there were for me to learn.

Facing My Karma Head-on

I went to SGI-South Africa General Director for guidance. She pointed out that I had been trying to avoid facing my karma and was instead trying to escape. She said that we have to courageously confront our problem head-on, chanting fervently to change our karma, as this is actually the fastest way to change our lives.

I chanted and look action based on this guidance. Three months later my boss approached me again. This time she apologised deeply. She admitted that she had been trying to force me to resign but had been impressed by my integrity and my refusal to be a coward. Her attitude had changed completely. She began to treat me like a colleague she trusted and admired, supporting me in my work and helping me to succeed instead of sabotaging me. I had changed poison to medicine.

Determined to Emerge Victorious

In 2008, news of fund mismanagement came to light and the company was placed under liquidation. We were all deeply shocked. A lot of people, uncertain of the future, simply stopped doing any work. I thought to myself, "What would President Ikeda do in this situation?" I remembered the story of how, as a young employee trying to save the business of his mentor Mr Toda, from bankruptcy, he had continued struggling against all odds. I decided to carry on working to the best of my ability, regardless of anything else. A week before the company was due to close I went to the Chief executive officer to ask for some work documents I required. He was shocked that I was still working seriously when everyone else had given up.

The next morning I arrived at work to find that we had been shut out of the building. The newly appointed liquidators were afraid that people would retaliate by removing company assets. I remember thinking, "What now?" Right there I re-determined not to be defeated but to carry on chanting, trusting in the power of daimoku 100 percent. A quote from Gosho kept repeating in my head: "Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law."

For a week, I chanted like those were my last days on Earth. I was determined to come out victories and that the outcome would be the best one for me. I read the following Gosho passage to strengthen my resolve: "Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because we do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in my life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when crucial moment comes." I determined to live the spirit of this Gosho and based my prayer on it.

Discovering Our Amazing Potential

That same week I received a call from the CEO requesting an urgent meeting with me. At the meeting I was introduced to the chief operating officer who represented the new investors. My CEO had told them about me and they were offering me a position. I was one of the 12 people out of 2,800 former employees who were offered jobs. I had won!

Looking back, it’s difficult to believe that I lived through this experience. It made me realize what amazing energy and potential lies dormant in each of us, just waiting to be manifested. I see now that very obstacle along the way was an opportunity and a source of growth. Based myself on this practice, not only had I survived, I had magnificently triumphed!



Sunday, 16 June 2013

How to Persevere with Hope

Marika
SGI USA

In 2004, I received an acceptance letter from the Soka University of America (SUA), a liberal arts college in Aliso Viejo, California, founded by Daiseku Ikeda. However, I visited the university rather reluctantly. It was no surprise how beautiful the campus was. What astounded me was how warmly I was welcomed and cared for by the existing students. I asked myself, "How do I become like them?"

After that, there was no question where I would attend college.

I also learned that, during the construction of SUA, SGI President Ikeda made just two requests; first that students be served good and healthy meals every day; and second, that living spaces be comfortable. He wanted to create an environment where students could focus on their studies without worry. Deeply moved, I made a determination to do my best.

The next four years at the SUA were eye-opening experiences. Through President Ikeda's profound efforts to treasures us as students - even going so far as to send messages of encouragement and provide snacks to us during final week to keep our spirits up - I came to understand that education has the power to change lives and instill immense hope in an individual. That's why I decided to pursue graduate studies in education.

In early 2007, as a junior at SUA, I spent a semester studying in Barcelona, Spain. After my return, while preparing for graduation, I became unwell. I struggled with increasingly painful symptoms, including rashes on my legs and arms, and arthritis pain that affected my ability to walk. The symptoms came and went. I had no idea what was happening, and nothing seemed to help.

Meanwhile I applied to six graduate schools and was accepted at all of them. I decided to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Education master's program to show the value of Soka Education and also express my gratitude to my mentor and to the countless donors who made my under graduate education possible.

Before heading to Boston, I attended a conference at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Centre. The moment I felt Florida' humidity my symptoms flared up in the most painful attack. Nothing helped until I was given steroids at a local urgent care facility.

I returned home immediately saw a doctor, who diagnosed me with systemic lupus erythematous, an autoimmune disease that triggers the body to mistakenly attack itself. My first reaction was relief - at last I knew what was happening. My doctor explained, however, that there is no cure and treatment could only control the symptoms.

Expanding my Prayer and Life

But I remember myself that I have nothing to fear because I have the Gohonzon. I remember Nichiren Daishonin's words "Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way". "Resolve" was my starting point: I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo that my illness would not hold me back from living a contributive life and that medication would not be a life sentence. I also spoke with a senior in faith, who reminded me that cringe for my health is also part of my Buddhist practice. I read President Ikeda's A Youthful Dairy twice and was moved by how he challenged his own health issues, and I disciplined myself to eat healthily, exercise regularly and follow my doctor's instructions.

Daily medication suppressed immune system but left me vulnerable to illness. Sometimes, my symptoms were so excruciating that the Harvard police would come in the middle of the night to drive me through the snow to the emergency room. I also experienced throat infections that made swallowing almost impossible and kept me up all night spitting into a trashcan.

All I knew was that I could never give up. As Nichiren writes: "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?"

Amid these challenges, I graduated with a master's degree in 2009 and returned to California, where I soon found a job providing intervention services to children with autism.

But the job turned out to be mentally and physically draining. Even after I reduce the hours at work, I was disheartened to realize that this job was not for me.

For the first time in my life, I was at a complete loss. My mother encouraged me that this was the time to help others practice Nichiren Buddhism and thus transform my karma.

Preparations were just beginning for the 2010 SGI-USA Rock the Era Youth Culture Festival. I plunged into the activities, including my duties as a Byakuren, the Young Women's behind the scenes training group, with the determination to show actual proof of my Buddhist practice in my daily life.

Meanwhile, I applied to 20, then 40, then 60 positions but received only rejections. By the time I had submitted more than 100 applications, I grew desperate for any job, including jobs I didn't want, and still I was rejected. I also suffered constant bouts of fever and lacked health insurance to seek treatment.

How did my classmate manage to find jobs? I am working so hard. Why have I not seen results? How long is this situation going to last? Although I managed to put on a smile when I attended activities, I was gloomy, depressed and lonely and, for a short period, could not bring myself to chant Nam-myoho0renge-kyo at home.

This was when I engraved President Ikeda's words in my heart: "there are many elements involved in a prayer being answered, but the important thing is to keep praying until it is. By continuing to pray, you can reflect on yourself with unflinching honesty and being to move your life in a positive direction on the path earnest, steady effort.

"Even if your prayers doesn't produce concrete results immediately, your continual prayer will at some time manifest itself in a form greater than you had ever hoped.

My prayer became to repay my debt of gratitude to my mentor and all those who had made it possible for me to gain a great education, and to persevere in every aspect of life. I wanted to show society what I could accomplish with that education; I wanted to make a difference for many others.

I renewed for my determination to find a job that I could be proud of. No more compromises! I listed my exact job requirements, including a good health insurance.

After 15 months and more than 120 applications, I was finally called for an interview for a position as an instructional supervisor and overseas study coordinator at a top global education company in Beverly Hills. This position fit everything I had prayed for on my list.

During the first three interviews, I was asked about my experiences in training others. The truth was that I had never supervised anybody in a professional setting, so I talked about my experiences in training Byakuren members. They were impressed to hear how youth are involved in such humbling and disciplined training group. At that moment I felt immense appreciation for my Buddhist practice and the SFI-USA for providing me with avenues to expand my life. I had finally experienced what President Ikeda has said repeatedly: Nothing is wasted in our efforts for kosen-rufu.

It had been more than one year since I was hired. I started out managing one centre; since April, I am now responsible for all the six centers in the Los Angeles area. I supervise the recruiting, hiring and training of more than 80 employees, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction. In the process, I have become somehow whom everyone can rely on.

All this while, I had been chanting just to keep my lupus under control. I realised, however, that I had been limiting my prayer, so now, I'm chanting to completely eradicate my illness.

Even when I felt my life was on hold, I was actually developing the most important of all treasures - the treasures of the heart. In the process, I learned a posture that will sustain me as I face new challenges - how to persevere with hope.



Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Little Fighter

Florence
WD Singapore

It has been seven month since my daughter Chen Hui, 10 years old, passed away. I still pine for her dearly. However, as I reflect on her 10 years with us, I realise that her journey, struggles and victories have been truly inspirational. Little did I realise, till I began to piece together the puzzles in my life, that her presence in our family has been most meaningful. It was through her that my family was brought closer to this wonderful Nichiren Buddhism.

I have been practicing faith in Nichiren Buddhism for 20 years when Chen Hui was born on February 28, 2002 through caesarean section. Before I was wheeled into the operation theatre, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach and immediately told the nurses about it. As they were rendering me unconscious, they said they could not do anything but told me to relax and await the good news of the birth.

The Battle Begins

When I woke up, I looked forward to receiving my baby. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The doctor explained that there had been placenta separates from the uterus, thereby depriving the baby of the oxygen. Chen Hui was "blue" and close to death. The anesthesiologist had to resuscitate her. She was courageous and survived; winning her first battle. Unfortunately, my happiness was short lived. The doctor said they were not optimistic about her condition as the lack of oxygen had affected he motor skills. At worst, she will not be able to walk, stand, sit and talk, they said. She was already unable to swallow. Saliva drooled from her mouth and a suction tube had to be set up to prevent her from choking. As I listened, I was in complete daze - She is my dearest new born and she cannot perform the basic functions of a human being?

The happy moments of welcoming my baby became daily visits to the hospital, progressive talks with the doctors on her impending condition and mounting hospital bills. My family and good friends became my pillar of support. I sought guidance from my senior leaders and they encouraged me; quoting from the gosho, reply to Kyo'o in writings of Nichiren Daishonin. "Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?" Encouraged by this, I chanted for Chen Hui to have a strong life force and that her karma must be transformed.

As we could not afford to continue paying the medical bills at the private hospital, we had her moved to the National University Hospital, where Chen Hui underwent several medical tests. When the results came out, our worst fears were realised. The neurologist confirmed that she would not be able to swallow, eat, talk, sit, stand and walk. He also told us to be prepared for the worst as children like her do not live long. Still coming to terms with the reality that my baby would not be able to function as a normal person, I became very confused after the talk with the doctor.

Faith Gives up Hope to Move Forward

I went back to the Gohonzon to chant earnestly for an answer and to manifest the wisdom to understand the situation. After seeking guidance from senior leaders and sharing with my good friends, I realised that was what happened was also my karma. Buddhism teaches that everything happens for a reason. As long as there was the slightest hope for her surviving, I told myself that with faith in the Gohonzon, I will never give up.

Looking after special needs child is no mean feat. After her discharge, we hired a maid to help in looking after her while my mother tended to my older daughter who was then four years old. It was challenging having to explain to her about her sister. My husband and I had to educate her constantly that we had to pay more attention to her sister because of her special condition. Still, we were glad that she adored her sister and was very protective of her.

As Chen Hui was unable to communicate with us, we had to observe her and educate what her symptoms meant. There were umpteen times when she turned "blue" in the face, deeply deprived of oxygen. We could easily lose her any time. My husband and I would speed in our car to the hospital emergency department a 20 to 30 minute drive away. During these life and death journeys, I would chant very hard to ensure that the traffic condition was in our favor, that no traffic police man would stop us for exceeding the speed limit, and to have very good and intelligent hospital staff to treat my daughter. Most important, I prayer that Chen Hui must have strong life force to fight and win.

The Young, Strong Fighter

Her medical condition was like the stock market-fluctuating between extreme highs and lows. During her many struggles with death, there were distress signs indicating that she wanted to give up. We knew she was fighting constantly to stay alive and this pained me even more.

It was during such moments when the doctors would pull us aside and tell us the signs were not in her favor and she might not pull through. They were mindful of telling us that her condition could deteriorate further and cause her more suffering. Meanwhile, our agony and medical bills continued to escalate. As parents, we were in the position to stop her suffering by letting her go. This was a tormenting decision for my husband and me. We felt helpless and torn between what was the right thing to do? And what was deemed good for her? One thing we were absolutely sure about -- that this was a difficult and profound decision for any parent to make.

Deep in our hearts, we knew that she was a strong fighter, we told ourselves that if she was not giving up, we should not. Hence, we devised "a strategy" on how to react during these life and death junctions and adopted in for the past 10 years. We thanked the doctors for their good intentions, but we knew that as parents, we should not be the ones to make that decision to end it all. Our child will signal to us when she has fulfilled her mission and that is when she will be ready to leave us. Until such time, we were determined that she must continue with all possible medical interventions to continue living.

Chen Hui had taught me about life

In April last year, Chen Hui was intensive care for a prolonged period due to pneumonia. Her lungs were badly infected. The drugs, medical appliances and frequent physiotherapy sessions were not helping her.

One day, we received a call from the hospital that Chen Hui was in distress. We rushed to the hospital and a doctor told us that things were not going well for her. Her condition had become more severe. He again asked if we wanted to pull the plug on her. Yet again, we thanked him for his good intent but asked him to continue to keep her alive.

After this episode, it dawned on me to reflect on Chen Hui's struggles and my prayers for the past 10 years. Her condition had indeed worsened. Although she had been using an oxygen concentrator to provide her with oxygen 24/7, it seemed her lungs had weakened tremendously and needed more help. A BiPAP machine, a breathing apparatus, would be needed to help her get more air into her lungs to keep her alive. Looking at her little angelic face and skinny body, I knew that she had done her very best. She had fought and won many battles and I am very proud of her. I chanted very hard, deliberating on my decision and decided it was the time to change my prayers.

It was like a dagger piercing my heart and tearing it into a million pieces when I decided to chant for her to transform her karma in this lifetime before leaving us so that she could be reborn as a normal person in her next life. If I live long enough, I am sure our path would cross in this lifetime and we world do kosen-rufu together, somehow, somewhere.

On July 18, 2012, she passed away peacefully at home. Although I was heart-broken and grieved clearly for her, I was sure that she could be reborn, lifetime after lifetime, and would continue to inspire us. I was sure her strong fighting spirit, warm eyes, cheerfulness and sweet smile, and her never dying attitude would continue to remain strong in our hearts.

Immediately after her death, my husband decided to take up faith. The prayer I had been chanting for all these years has been fulfilled! It must have been the unique mission of our daughter that through her, her dad has decided to join the Soka family.

I was very grateful to my many good friends and members of the Peony Group and Women Division Dance Troupe, who were there for me throughout the years. I am also very grateful to those who stood with me by her side till her very last moment. Without their support, I would never have walked this far on this treacherous path.

To keep myself going, I read books and come across these two passages:

Nichiren Daishonin writes, "The great good of believing in the Lotus Sutra means that we will not only attain Buddhahood ourselves, but our parents will also become Buddhas."

And in another book, SGI President Ikeda said, "In the Buddhist views, the bonds that link people are not a matter of this lifetime alone. And because those who have died in a sense live on within us, our happiness is naturally shared with those who have passed away. So, the most important thing is for those of us who are alive at this moment to live with hope and strive to become happy. By becoming happy ourselves, we can send invisible 'waves' of happiness to those who have passed away."

I was truly enlightened and comforted when I came across these passages! Chen Hui taught me how wonderful and precious life is. Henceforth, as living parents, we must live our life to the fullest and continue to send waves of happiness to her. As a testament to the Daishonin's teaching, my greatest benefit is to know that my child has definitely attained Buddhahood!