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I went to my first Buddhist meeting in January 2001 and received Gohonzon in May 2002. I was a bus driver at the time and had to be up very early, so finding the time to do the morning chanting was a real struggle. I did feel immediate benefit but nevertheless, years went by and my practice remained sporadic to say the least. I knew that when I was consistent I felt better and more positive but I still really struggled to chant in the mornings. I was also finding it hard to go to Buddhist meetings, and if they clashed with the football there was no contest.
My life seemed to be stagnating. I worked on average 50 hours a week, and the early starts plus the lack of respect I experienced, not just from some members of the public but also the managers, could leave me feeling quite angry and stressed, especially if my practice was weak, which it often was.
I felt trapped and undervalued and couldn't see what other job I could do. I had previously been self-employed as a painter/decorator/carpenter. But the insecurity of working for myself had been the reason I'd gone back to the buses. I really didn't know what to do.
I was fortunate to be renting a flat in Richmond, but I had to rent out my spare room to help pay the bills. In July 2007 the room became free but a lot of money was owed to me. This gave me the opportunity to do some much-needed decorating, and I decided to chant to change the situation with both my flat-mates and my finances. I moved my Gohonzon into the living room and chanted for a Buddhist flat-mate. I upped my daimoku and started going to more meetings. related article Deepening Conviction by Shikha Singh Shikha Singh from India describes how she and her husband were able to transform the family's financial situation and human relationships through their Buddhist practice.
In October, I was asked if I would accept the responsibility of being men's leader for Richmond district, which I did. This made me decide to throw myself into my practice and challenge myself. I studied more, which made me want to chant more, which in turn deepened my faith. I started going to district planning meetings and had meetings at my flat.
Although my practice was picking up, I still had the on-going issue of sorting out my rent, which my landlord wanted to raise by 40 percent in order to pay for much-needed improvements. I felt the increase was a bit excessive and, considering all the work I'd done over the years, unjust. From January 1, 2008, they started charging me the increased amount even though no work had started or even been arranged. And, despite all my correspondence about this since October 2007, we still hadn't agreed on a figure. I seemed to be getting nowhere.
I went to my first leaders' meeting at the SGI-UK national center, Taplow Court, in January 2008, and found it very inspiring. After that I decided to write down some determinations for the first time. At the top of the list was to get the rent sorted out to my satisfaction and to increase the number of men practicing in Richmond district.
I also started going to SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's monthly video guidance. It was while I was attending one of these video meetings that I heard of a member who was looking for a room. He moved in on February 1, 2008, and I felt things were really turning round. I started chanting to realize my full potential.
In April, I upped my chanting by a considerable amount, and that month hosted a discussion meeting at my flat, which went really well. Chelsea had been playing in the champions' league that night, and there I was indoors talking about Buddhism!
The following night I went to the pub to watch the football and a friend told me his boss was looking for someone to work as a chauffeur-cum-caretaker-cum-handyman-cum-gardener. I said it sounded interesting and could he arrange an interview? His boss seemed pleased with my experience of painting and carpentry. I also told him I'd worked as a courier and had a good knowledge of London. The hours were 9am-6pm with some evenings and occasional work at the weekend. related article Committed to Justice by Alvin Sykes Civil rights activist, Alvin Sykes says his practice and study of Buddhism strengthened his determination to fight for justice and deepened his belief in the power of dialogue.
At the interview the boss said he liked his employees to live in his accommodation and was planning to buy a studio apartment. In the past I would have just accepted this, but I had to be true to myself. I told him I couldn't sleep on a sofa bed as I have had back problems in the past and also that my teenage daughter stayed with me at weekends. He said he would look for something else.
We arranged a test drive because the job hinged on my ability to drive smoothly as my employer's wife suffered from car sickness. I drove his wife and grandchildren up to town. She was very pleased and told me she felt very safe and wasn't sick at all.
At the second interview my boss told me he'd put an offer in on a two-bedroom cottage just around the corner from my old flat, which I could stay in rent-free, and he would also pay all the bills. He didn't want me to have a lodger and since my flat-mate was moving out to live somewhere else, neither did I. Whilst I was still living in my old flat, he said he would pay me extra to cover my share of the rent.
He said it would be all right for my daughter to stay at weekends and, as I'd always wanted a dog, I asked if that was also all right. He wanted to know who would look after it while we were away on shooting trips. I told him my daughter would be very happy to. He then asked what kind of dog was I thinking of getting. I said probably a Labrador or a spaniel. He said that if I got a spaniel we could take it with us and he would pay for it to be trained. Of course, I accepted the job.
I started at the end of May and have a real variety of work pulling on all my experience and in a lovely environment--three acres of garden--for people who genuinely appreciate and value me. And there's plenty of time to chant in the mornings.
In July 2008, I moved into a lovely two-bedroom cottage. I don't have to worry about the rent, and my old landlord agreed that my rent arrears could be settled at the old rate.
When I looked at my list of determinations, right at the top was to get my rent sorted out "to my satisfaction." I think you would agree the result is pretty satisfactory and the job comes very close to fulfilling my potential. I really feel I've changed my environment through transforming myself and I'm grateful to everyone in my local area for their support and encouragement.
[Courtesy of Art of Living, SGI-UK, February 2009]
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