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Challenging Every Obstacle

by Bill Ponce
USA

Bill Ponce (center) with his family
Bill Ponce (center) with his family

I was 19 when I came to the United States from Mexico, not speaking English and with only a seventh-grade education. By 27, I was married and had two beautiful daughters--and a drinking problem. At 33, my marriage ended in divorce, and my life plunged into chaos and despair.

I realized my mistakes, but I did not know how to change. I overflowed with anger and resentment. At the same time, what mattered most to me were my daughters, who were then 7 and 2. They needed me as much as I needed them.

I was deeply depressed and desperately searching for a change when Windy and her son and daughter moved next door to me. We became friends, and she invited me to a Buddhist meeting. I started practicing Buddhism with the SGI-USA, and my life changed.

Specifically, my despair changed to hope and my anger to happiness, and my resentment faded away. My daughters and I attended SGI-USA meetings with Windy and her children. Soon after, Windy and I were married.

I also came to understand more about the importance of the mentor-disciple relationship and how one supports the other. I felt I had found a mentor in SGI President Ikeda--a man who, like me, had little formal education. Yet he had educated himself under the tutelage of his mentor, Josei Toda; he went on to challenge every obstacle and stand up for the sake of humanity, never letting anything stand in his way. There was much I could learn from his life.

Before I started practicing, I had been working in a company for about nine years with good benefits and a fair salary. With little education, I felt I had no chance of moving up, nor did I care.

But once I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I became more positive at work and more involved with my coworkers, and I cared more about the success of the company. As the years went by, I received promotions and finally became the site manager.

Things were looking so good that Windy and I decided to purchase a home. The same week that we closed escrow on our house, I was told that, in several months, the company would close the distribution center where I worked--I would be out of a job. I was shocked and discouraged.

I talked with my SGI-USA leaders, who encouraged me that this obstacle would lead to something better. I was reminded that, as Nichiren Daishonin writes, "Those who believe in the Lotus Sutra are as if in winter, but winter always turns to spring" (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 536). This would become my "spring" because, at the very least, it would help me grow as a person.

Regardless of the encouragement, however, I still thought there was nothing better out there for me. On top of that, I had a mortgage to pay.

I found a job, but it lasted only three months before I was let go. I went through the same scenario repeatedly for years. Every time I was let go, my confidence and self-esteem crumbled, along with my savings.

Around February 2004, my brother-in-law and fellow SGI-USA member, Chad, mentioned that there were morning chanting sessions every day at the SGI-USA Los Angeles Friendship Center. I began attending and was consistently the first person to arrive and start chanting.

Each day, after chanting, I went job hunting. Evenings, I participated in my SGI-USA district activities. I wanted to learn more about the spirit of Buddhism, so I studied more and tried to apply SGI President Ikeda's guidance to my daily life. My practice became stronger, and I naturally and wholeheartedly shared Buddhism with others.

Within a few weeks, I interviewed for a dream job as distribution supervisor for a Fortune 100 company. I had all the qualifications except for a bachelor's degree. The interviewers said they would let me know their decision in a few weeks. I continued to attend the morning chanting sessions and put my heart into Buddhist activities.

Weeks later, I received a call from another company with which I had previously interviewed--they invited me for yet another interview. It was a good company, but I was determined not to give up on my dream to work for the Fortune 100 company.

As I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on the morning of the interview, I gathered my courage and called the Fortune 100 company. "We're glad you called," they said and offered me my dream job!

I started right away, working long hours and learning as much as I could. I also continued participating in many SGI-USA activities. A year later, I was called into my manager's office and told to close the door behind me. My heart sank--I thought it was going to be bad news.

Instead, my manager said, "Bill, you have done a good job, and we want to promote you to a better position." I was so happy, not only because of the promotion but because I had finally changed my pattern of losing jobs after only a few months.

Last year, my supervisor moved to another division, and his position became available. I chanted to get his job but was told that a bachelor's degree was a minimum requirement.

With the confidence gained from my previous experiences and remembering my determination to make the impossible possible, I continued to chant for the job. Earlier this year, I was promoted to manager while celebrating my third year with my dream company.

After 19 years of marriage, Windy and I continue to be very happy together, and we are proud of our four children.

Choosing President Ikeda as my mentor has allowed me to move my life in the right direction. I hope to respond by continuing to help others practice Nichiren Buddhism and by showing actual proof of this practice in my daily life.

[Adapted from World Tribune, SGI-USA, June 29, 2007]

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