Erendro LeichombamErendro Leichombam

I was born and raised in Manipur, India, where my parents ran a small restaurant on a college campus. My parents, though hardworking, were always fighting with each other. My father was violent and had a drinking problem. I was an angry kid and got into fights.

In 1999, when I was 16, a family friend introduced me to the SGI. I sensed the genuineness of SGI members, but practiced inconsistently.

In 2001, I hit rock bottom. My high school results were so poor that I couldn’t get into a college of my choice. My father was furious. Having grown up in tough conditions, he wanted his son to succeed in a way he never could. One night he got very drunk and beat me up. My mother cried bitterly but could do nothing. Life became hell.

I decided there was only one way out: to leave my family and start a new life. With some cash from my mother, I arrived in New Delhi, thousands of miles away from home, alone and directionless.

It’s important, therefore, to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should be doing now at this very moment.

I would have suffered alone had it not been for the SGI members’ support. They prayed with me, and we studied Nichiren Buddhism and SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s writings together. Their sincerity, courage and compassion lifted me out of the darkest hour of my youth, gradually filling my heart with hope.

Asking myself, “What do I want to do in life?” I sought answers in President Ikeda’s writings. His words pierced my heart like an arrow: “You must challenge yourself in something, it doesn’t matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally. It’s important, therefore, to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should be doing now at this very moment.”

Six months later, I heard about Soka University of America (SUA), which had just opened that year. My heart leapt at the idea of studying at a university founded by my mentor, but a part of me said: “Poor you, you will never have the chance . . . maybe in the next lifetime.” How could I, who could hardly afford the next bus ride, dream about living and studying in America?

But the more I practiced Buddhism, the more daring I became in my hopes. I started practicing seriously, praying and summoning up courage to pursue the impossible.

After almost two years of hard work, I completed the challenging application process. In March 2003, I learned that SUA had accepted me as a member of its pioneering third entering class with a full scholarship and grants.

related article Transforming Educational Practices Transforming Educational Practices by Nigel Straker "Transforming Educational Practices". By Nigel Straker, UK. Nigel Straker's practice of Nichiren Buddhism opened up his role as a pathfinder in education. At SUA, I encountered students who were not only brilliant but also deeply committed to the cause of world development. I gained lifelong friends and teachers who constantly motivated me to think deeper, work harder and create value in any and all circumstances.

Based on Mr. Ikeda’s philosophy of peace and individual empowerment, upon graduation, I decided to become a socioeconomic development practitioner who can help initiate a peaceful solution to the problems in northeast India, where I’m from, which has been plagued by insurgency and poverty.

I determined to go to the institute where some of the best development practitioners gather, the school that would best equip me to carry out my vision—the Masters Program in International Development at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. With every challenge, the courage I gained from my Buddhist practice was behind me. In 2010, I was accepted to Harvard University with a full scholarship.

In March 2012, while still a student, I founded a nonprofit organization, The Manipur International Centre, with the mission to help realize peace and development in Manipur and northeast India. I intend to lead this organization in line with the Buddhist principles of nonviolence, courageous dialogue, human rights and the sanctity of human life.

I have also mended my relationship with my father, who has transformed from a reckless man into the most loving dad who cares deeply for and enjoys his family. I have realized that with faith, one can transform any circumstance.

[Courtesy, July 2012 SGI Quarterly]

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