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In March 1977, I graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with a degree in mechanical engineering. Shortly after, I discovered I had tuberculosis and had to go through daily injections for three months. A severe allergic reaction to the medication, however, left my optic nerves badly damaged, and my vision was permanently blurred in both eyes.
As I wallowed in anguish and hopelessness, my aunt introduced my mother to Nichiren Buddhism. Two Singapore Soka Association leaders visited me often during my month-long stay in the hospital. I started attending SGI meetings as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.
Meanwhile, doctors prescribed a new medication. The treatment was supposed to take one-and-a-half years, but as I applied myself to my Buddhist practice, my treatment was completed within a year. That was my first benefit of faith.
In June 1979, the eye specialist referred me to the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped, where I trained to be a telephone operator. In February 1980, I started working as an operator in one of the world’s largest banks.
If my determination is weak, my body will lose the battle. I must have courage to win!
Over the years, I have been fortunate to have good, understanding bosses. At the same time, I’ve also made efforts to show actual proof of the power of my Buddhist practice in my work. I was determined to show that, through my practice, I could win over any limitations and lead a life of value and happiness.
In September 1999, just when I thought my life was becoming “happy ever after,” I discovered a lump in my neck. I had surgery to remove it, but a week later I learned that it was cancerous and had already spread. I was diagnosed with lymphoma.
I began chemotherapy and underwent a month of daily radiotherapy. The only side effect I experienced was losing all my hair. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for several hours daily. During the remaining hours of each day, to keep myself encouraged and motivated, I read SGI President Ikeda’s guidance, Nichiren’s writings and members’ experiences of victory in faith. A passage from Nichiren was a great source of encouragement: “A sword is useless in the hands of a coward. The mighty sword of the Lotus Sutra must be wielded by one courageous in faith. Then one will be as strong as a demon armed with an iron staff” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 412).
I thought, To have faith means to have courage, hope and a strong fighting spirit. If my determination is weak, my body will lose the battle. I must have courage to win!
While I was undergoing further treatment, a senior in faith visited me and explained that “with strong faith, you will eventually understand the significance of your illness.” Later, as I reflected on his words, I realized that my illness had enabled me to deepen my faith in the Gohonzon and become stronger.
related article Bridge from a Soundless World by Shin’ichi Yoshida, Japan As a baby, Shin'ichi Yoshida was diagnosed as being deaf, but he practices Buddhism in the Soka Gakkai through sign language, chanting and the warm-hearted support of his group who also learned to communicate through sign language. I recovered so quickly that I was soon back at work. I even took a trip with my family to Hong Kong to enjoy the beauty of spring, made more glorious by my victory over cancer.
Then another challenge presented itself. In mid-2001, I learned that the bank where I worked was cutting down the number of telephone operators.
With the wisdom I gained through my practice, I found the courage to take initiative in improving my computer skills, which led to support for further computer training. I started with almost no computer skills and soon became proficient, enabling me to stay on at the bank.
In May 2003, however, my colleagues and I learned that our jobs were being eliminated, and we would be transferred to the call center for other job functions. After three months at the center, I was encouraged to consider early retirement. Instead, I pressed for a transfer to the sales section. I was told that sales is not suitable for everyone as there is a lot of pressure to meet monthly targets.
Despite this, I felt a strong determination to prove my capability, and I chanted to overcome everyone’s objections. My prayer was realized when I was transferred.
related article Buddhism in Cuba by Joannet Delgado, general director, SGI-Cuba Joannet Delgado, general director of SGI-Cuba, shares her journey of discovering Nichiren Buddhism and how it took root in her country. For the past three years, I have met every monthly target. I received several awards as the best telesales agent, including the Super Achiever Award for 2004. I attribute all these to my faith in the Gohonzon and deep conviction in my Buddha nature. I faced every challenge with courage and won.
Then, in October 2005, I was hospitalized with stomach pains. The doctor could not determine the cause even after exploratory surgery. Nevertheless, I was relieved that it was not a relapse of cancer. I was on medical leave for a month, but my sales result was still above the monthly target.
In November 2006, I was nominated by my manager to receive the Brand Hero Award, which is given to the employee who exemplifies qualities such as good team dynamics, friendliness, open-mindedness, fairness and responsiveness. Out of 24 Brand Heroes, I was one of five short-listed for the Best Brand Hero award. During an interview to select the winner, I shared President Ikeda’s guidance with our top management. I was chosen as the Best of the Best Brand Hero and represented our bank in the regional convention in Dubai this past March.
President Ikeda writes: “It is important to continue your faith for first 10, then 20, and then 30 years. If you sincerely and straightforwardly strive in your faith, continuing to do so for 30 years, the roots of good fortune will sink deeply into your life and a great flower of happiness will definitely blossom.”
These words bear the profoundest meaning for me as I look back at how my life unfolded over these 30 years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism.
[Courtesy of World Tribune, SGI-USA, June 22, 2007]
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