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Graphic Designer on Wheels

by Shohei Yasuda
Japan

"Since I became a member of Soka Gakkai ten years ago, my attitude towards life has totally changed," says Shohei Yasuda, who suffered a debilitating brain tumor twenty years ago. Shohei, 40, a Soka Gakkai young men's leader in his local organization, talks about how he transformed his inner life and his outward circumstances.

Having competed in the National Kendo Championship as a junior high school student, I had always been supremely confident in my athletic strength and prowess. At 19, I moved to Tokyo from my home in Akita Prefecture to study at a vocational design school. It was then I began to notice that something was not quite right about my health.

Shohei and his wife Emiko at work on a project in their office at home
Shohei and his wife Emiko at work on
a project in their office at home

I began stumbling for no discernable reason and also experienced extreme exhaustion. After some tests I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I went through two 20-hour surgeries. Although the tumors were successfully removed, I was left with a motor function disorder below the knees in both legs.

After two years of rigorous rehabilitation I finally returned to my daily life--but in a wheelchair. I had some very trying moments and I often felt bitter. But thanks to my classmates at the design school who were always encouraging and supporting me, I somehow persevered. One of those classmates was Emiko (39) (currently a local Soka Gakkai women's leader), whom I married in 1994 at age 27.

With her family joining the Soka Gakkai soon after she was born, I knew Emiko was devoted to her practice of Buddhism. I was quite surprised, however, to see her bring her Buddhist altar along with her furniture when she moved in with me in my hometown in Akita Prefecture where I had returned upon graduation. Gradually, though, I began to respect her faith and was able to deepen my understanding of Buddhism. She took me to see a video of a Soka Gakkai leaders' meeting where SGI President Daisaku Ikeda was giving a speech. I was deeply touched by his warmth and compassion. I began to feel that there was something quite unique about this religion.

Looking back, I remember having an overwhelming desire to discover and live with genuine hope even while in the depths of despair at my condition, and it was President Ikeda's encouragement and my direct interaction with Soka Gakkai members that became the wellspring of that hope. Everything about Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai went straight to my heart. "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?" This passage from one of Nichiren's letters of encouragement to a believer hit me like a thunderbolt. I learned from this that by practicing Buddhism one can achieve a life state of absolute happiness and remain strong without being affected by external circumstances. Amazed, I thought, "Maybe I too can lead such a life." I began to believe that my life had tremendous potential that I had to reveal.

But when I was being more realistic, I would tell myself, "No, it's not possible." To be honest, I was simply worried whether I could actually recite the Lotus Sutra every morning and evening. The more seriously I thought about giving the practice a try, the more I lost confidence. But I also realized that I was just making excuses. I seemed to lack the courage to take up this practice with which I could create and realize my dreams. I was putting limitations on my life.

I'm embarrassed to talk about this now, but I couldn't even bring myself to say I'd like to give the practice a try. Instead, I waited for my wife to ask me, and then played the part of a reluctant husband who had been browbeaten into taking up her faith. It was the third year of our marriage. Although the step I took to join was a small one, the change that I experienced was dramatic. I found myself feeling, "I want to become a designer who can convey my message to the world!" "I want to create designs that move people's hearts!"

Until then, I always thought of my work merely as a way to earn a living. After I started practicing Nichiren Buddhism, my work became much more meaningful. I found myself aspiring toward a distinct dream. It was as if a candle was suddenly lit within my life. With the belief that "no prayer will go unanswered," I put my full effort into even the smallest project.

Eventually, I became acquainted with a senior designer working in Tokyo who entrusted me with a project for a major company. This became the breakthrough in my career. After that I received several offers for major projects that marked important milestones in my work. New avenues were opening in my life but the excitement was short-lived.

My wife, who had been unable to adapt to the harsh climate in the north, became increasingly frail. I was torn between my concern for my wife's health, which meant moving to a warmer area, and my blossoming career. By then with my Buddhist practice I was a stronger and more positive person. I decided to pray and search for a way to achieve both. I chanted with the "roar of a lion." I finally made the choice to leave my home in northern Japan. With the support of my family and friends, we moved to my wife's hometown, Matsudo City, in Chiba Prefecture where the climate is warmer.

I realize now that having a sound philosophy made a huge difference when I had to make the "right" choice at a pivotal crossroads in my life. There are so many people who shy away from making daunting decisions and just let their life take them wherever it leads. Changing directions in life, though, brings new challenges. Being disabled, I was always battling the anxiety of whether I could find a new job. To my surprise, things turned out smoother than I had anticipated. I secured a job at a design firm in a barrier-free environment. The conditions were great. The firm even arranged a private parking space for me.

Five years have passed since we moved to Chiba. Every day at work has been a series of trials and tribulations and victories. My wife is also a designer, and she and I have cried together, laughed together and rejoiced together. Our life has been one big roller coaster ride. Now, after five years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I feel my horizons have expanded and I have developed a higher and deeper perspective on life, which I believe is reflected in my work.

In January 2005, I took another courageous step and launched my own design firm. I have been blessed with stimulating projects such as creating an official website for an art museum. The Shizuoka Tourism Board gave me an award for the website I designed for a recreation facility. Through my work, I have conveyed my message to many people, which has been my heartfelt dream. This is all because I was able to cultivate my own life, for which I am deeply grateful.

Last year marked my second decade of becoming disabled and the tenth anniversary of my joining Soka Gakkai. I may be physically disabled but in my heart I am freer than anyone else! In partnership with my wife, I am determined to develop myself even more and live my life together with my fellow SGI members and my mentor, who taught me how to put the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism into practice.

[Adapted from an experience appearing in the September 6, 2006 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan]

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