My Small Step
by Shin Won-suk
I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism since 1973, and by engaging in SGI activities I have learned the importance of living a contributive life--to be concerned not only for myself but for others and for society as a whole. Taking to heart SGI President Ikeda's constant encouragement to become an asset to our local community and society, I began to think deeply about what I could do to contribute.
It occurred to me that there was no need to start with something big, but there must be something I can do using my skills and background as a landscape gardener. There is a river, the Taehwa, that runs through the city of Ulsan, where I live, which is heavily polluted. I decided to somehow help restore this river.
Throughout history, the Taehwa River has been considered a lifeline for the city's residents. However, Ulsan is one of the most industrialized cities of South Korea, and because of heavy pollution from industrial waste, the Taehwa came to be known as "the river of death."
I realized that in order to nurture a healthy environment, we must be prepared to actively protect it. Thinking of myself as "the protector of the Taehwa River," I began making time to care for the environment around the river, doing things such as developing bamboo fields, removing waste and pruning branches of trees along the river, inviting local residents and fellow SGI-Korea members to join in.
In 2008, I began serving as chair of a local ecological restoration group with over 700 registered volunteers. Once a week, I engage in volunteer work such as picking up trash from the river, cleaning up hiking trails and recycling waste materials. I also take part in educational activities to raise awareness about environmental protection in the local community such as giving lectures at universities.
Seven years have passed since I began to take action and, as a result of our efforts, the beauty of the Taehwa River has been restored. Fish are once again swimming in its waters, and herons now also make the river their home.
I hope to continue encouraging my fellow SGI-Korea members and local residents to become involved in these activities.
The challenge of reviving the environment requires a lot of time and effort. We don't always see immediate results, and at times, I do get frustrated and weary. However, what has kept me going in my efforts to help restore the environment are the simple words of appreciation we get from local residents. Moreover, as I chant every night upon returning home from a day of volunteer work, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment, which in turn becomes a source of energy to continue my efforts. As Nichiren Daishonin states in his writings, "If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one's own way."
In Buddhism, we uphold the principle of "oneness of self and environment," meaning that life and its environment are inseparable. It is deeply rewarding to know that the small step of deciding to do something positive, and my efforts to convey to others the spirit of coexisting with nature, have led to a revival of the environment and the lives of those around me. While it's easy to be overwhelmed by problems in our communities, each of us can do something to make a difference.
[Courtesy January 2013 SGI Quarterly]