Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
“I found the Rorschach test* you took in 1978, do you remember?” my mother recently told me over the phone. She then read out the psychiatrist’s conclusion: “This is an intelligent young man who is on an inner journey to seek out a way for himself.”
The fact that I’d visited a psychiatrist at all was a result of my mother’s anxiety over my deteriorating health and loss of joy and energy. For two years my family, and especially my mother, had become more and more desperate watching me struggle with anorexia. I had lost 30 kg and weighed 50 kg. I had been hospitalised for a week, and on being discharged had isolated myself. I no longer answered the phone or met with anybody, neither friends or family.
What had started as an attempt to lose weight had ended up as a vicious circle of hopelessness and loneliness dominated by the fear of getting uncontrollably fat if I started to eat. I had agreed to meet the psychiatrist and do the test because I myself had begun to wonder if there was something seriously wrong with me.
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. Two years later, towards the end of 1980, anorexia still had a firm grip on my life. At that time, I was a 22-year-old student studying business economics at Stockholm University. Each day, as soon as my lectures finished, not wanting to socialize with other students, I would hurry home.
For one assignment I was paired up with Johan, an old acquaintance who I hadn’t seen for many years. We had to write an essay on small businesses together and we often met at his place to discuss it. Soon we were discussing religion, specifically Buddhism. After a while he told me he was a member of SGI and practiced Nichiren Buddhism. He and his wife asked if I wanted to join them in chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for a few minutes. I agreed, even though I thought it was very strange.
They obviously realized that I had problems, and encouraged me to chant for anything I really wanted to happen, even if I couldn’t begin to imagine how it would come about. We chanted for five minutes. I chanted for two things, to overcome my anorexia and to meet a girl, but as I had totally isolated myself for four years, finding a relationship seemed impossible. With hindsight, I can emphatically say that on that day my life totally changed direction.
In April 1981, I received my Gohonzon. By then I knew that when I chanted a lot, the resulting strong sense of joy I felt kept the anorexia at bay. It was a daily battle. In this way, I learned to trust Nam-myoho-renge-kyo from the very start of my Buddhist practice.
Shortly after I had enshrined my Gohonzon, I moved in with my father for a month so that a friend of his, who was in Stockholm on business, could stay in my apartment. I did this reluctantly; after all I had been isolating myself and thought it would be harder to chant while living in someone else’s place.
During this time, of course my father noticed that I was “mumbling” in the mornings and evenings, and that’s how he found out that I had become a Buddhist. I suggested he chant about his financial difficulties and, probably just to make me happy, he began to chant the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo just three times a day. He did this every day for six months. He didn’t really feel anything special, but neither did he experience anything negative, so he decided he would now chant the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo precisely nine times a day and study Nichiren’s writings to find out more about Buddhism.
In October 1981, I was invited to two parties on the same night and, although I hadn’t been to a party for four years, I decided to go to one of them. This is where I met Susanne, who later became my wife. At that time my anorexia had less of a grip on my life and looked more like a diet. So in the first year of chanting, I had completely changed my life and achieved both my determinations.
I met SGI President Daisaku Ikeda twice in 1981, first when he visited Europe in the summer and again in October when I went to Japan on an SGI course. I was so inspired by the Buddhist study, the experiences and encouragement from many leaders and members that when I came back home I just wanted everyone to start chanting so that they too could experience the same joy I felt.
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. However, in 1981, Stockholm only had one SGI district made up of some twenty five members, most of them Japanese women. There weren’t any youth apart from Johan, who was the youth division leader, his wife and me.
By this time, Susanne had also starting chanting and in 1982, she received her Gohonzon. My father, impressed by Nichiren’s writings, started to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo more because he felt that chanting had raised his life-state, so that when he was hit by a big problem he wasnt so affected by it. This made him more hopeful, creative and free. The following year, he too became an SGI-Sweden member. One year later we went on an SGI course in Japan together. Throughout the 1980s, Susanne and I continued our efforts to introduce our friends and family to Nichiren Buddhism.
In 1989, my friend Johan helped arrange a meeting between President Ikeda and the King of Sweden. In many ways, Johan triggered my curiosity about Mr. Ikeda as a mentor, as I could see the positive effects that developing this bond was having on his life. I found I was able to deepen my understanding of the mentor-disciple relationship through my Buddhist practice.
Many times I read Mr. Ikeda’s explanations of Buddhist terms and concepts and felt absolutely convinced that there is no contradiction between established knowledge or proven scientific truths and Buddhist philosophy as he explained it; on the contrary, new scientifically proven truths always confirm the Buddhist view of life. So reading his works inspired me intellectually and helped me understand the importance of applying Buddhism in daily life. I also had the opportunity to attend seminars given by Mr. Ikeda and was inspired by the way he talked to people; he was always warm, encouraging and humorous as well as interesting to listen to. These meetings encouraged me to deepen my faith and challenge my own situation at work and in every part of my life.
On June 3, 1989, President Ikeda arrived at the new Swedish Culture Centre near Stockholm, and both my father and I were able to attend a meeting with him there. Sitting down to take a photo with my father, Mr. Ikeda asked his permission to give me some guidance. His guidance was: “You should make every effort to be a good son to your father while he is alive, because things can suddenly change and then it will be too late.”
related article Illness and the Middle Way by Meri Everitt, UK Meri Everitt describes how her Buddhist practice enables her to hold onto determination and hope and make wise choices as she lives with a health condition that causes chronic pain and fatigue. Seven years later things did change and my father died from cancer. During his last week we talked a lot. I asked him if he remembered Mr. Ikeda’s words to me. He did, and replied that he could not have had a better son. He was very content with his life and had no regrets.
The 1990s were difficult times in many ways in Sweden. On a personal level, the real estate and financial crisis that hit Sweden hard in the early 1990s led to my redundancy in 1992, and the next company I started to work for went bankrupt in 1996. Susanne and I were married and had two children by this time. We struggled to keep things together financially, but continued to do SGI activities and, along with the other members in Sweden, tried to establish a solid and joyful organization.
A dramatic turn of good fortune started in 1998, both in my personal life and in SGI Sweden. The organization started to grow and, ten years later, we reached 500 members. At the same time, my career started to blossom and my family’s financial situation greatly improved. I started a business in central Stockholm that has now developed into a very popular conference and business center that employs 39 people.
Looking back on the last 30 years, I’m very grateful that I was able to develop an understanding of the importance of the mentor-disciple relationship and establish a bond with Mr. Ikeda early on in my practice, as this helped me to keep going during the hard times of the 1990s. With his encouragement in my heart, and the many experiences of using Buddhist practice to win over difficulties or challenges I have accumulated over the years, I hope I can encourage people in Sweden to challenge the tendency to depression which seems to be one of the major sufferings in this country.
In my own life, my initial motivation for chanting to overcome anorexia has turned it into an awareness of eating healthy and keeping fit without being controlled or scared by it. Such a feeling is, I think, an absolute dream for someone in an anorectic state of life. I am looking forward to continuing to share this great Buddhist practice with others over the next ten, twenty and thirty years.
*Rorschach test: a psychological test in which subjects’ perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analysed. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning.
[Courtesy of Art of Living, SGI-UK, April 2012]
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