The Long Road Ahead
by Atsuma Ueda
In 1954, when I was 33 years old, I opened a clothing store in Mihara city, Hiroshima Prefecture. Business thrived and I was eventually able to open three stores around Hiroshima.
However, the new stores didn't enjoy the same success, and six months later I was on the verge of bankruptcy. I felt I could no longer go on living. All this time, my wife, Teruko, had been encouraging me to begin practicing Nichiren Buddhism. Convinced that faith had nothing to do with business, I had shown little interest.
I was intrigued, however, by the Buddhist concept of "human revolution," that a change in the inner life of a person will create a change in their circumstances, and began to read up on it. I thought, "Well, it's true that transforming myself is the basis of everything."
I started practicing Buddhism and felt full of life. I realized that my problems weren't as bad as they seemed. Around the same time, my friends began to offer their support in taking care of matters if I went bankrupt. Surprised by my optimistic attitude, they instead began to help me pull my business back together. As a result, I was able to avoid going bankrupt and business began to look up. Later, my company merged with a supermarket chain, and I was appointed company director. I went on to serve as the chief of its West Japan headquarters.
In 1983, the year before I was to retire, I received a poem of encouragement from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda during one of his visits to Hiroshima. This had a profound impact on me. It was as if he was telling me, "Your true stage awaits you!" Approaching retirement, I had been feeling as if I had reached the end of the line. However, I realized, "Yes, I am only 60 years old! There's no reason I can't go on making an active contribution until I'm 100!"
I threw myself into voluntary advisory work which I had begun doing for corporations, helping people start up businesses as well as offering advice on post-retirement life to retirees. I also dedicated myself to listening to and supporting younger colleagues.
I tell retirees, "You're still an active part of society for 30, 40 years to come. All the experiences you've gained in your busy careers are your life's treasures."
Seeing the importance of revitalizing one's community, I helped launch a local revitalization committee in my hometown of Mihara. In 1996, when I was 75 years old, I became the first general director (and currently serve as the president) of a social welfare corporation that helps people with physical and mental disabilities join the workforce.
In January 2005, when I was approaching the age of 84, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. This was a shock, but I told myself, "There is more work to be done. I'm still in the middle of helping revitalize my local community. I mustn't die yet." I underwent treatment, and when I was tested again in October that year, all counts were back to normal.
Often, young employees come to me with their problems, telling me they want to quit. I share with them my analogy of the cup, which represents one's capacity as a human being. I tell them that they have to expand their capacity from that small cup: first to a large bowl, then to a bucket, a barrel, a pond and eventually a lake. My Buddhist practice has taught me that this is the most significant undertaking of life.
I'm 91 years old now, and the older I become, the more my horizons expand. I still have a lot of unfinished "homework" to take care of--this is what keeps my life force strong. I have a long road ahead of me. I have decided that I must win in life, no matter what. This is what keeps me vigorous.
[Courtesy October 2012 SGI Quarterly]