Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
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I am 28 years old and have the good fortune to have been born into a family that practices Nichiren Buddhism. However, I have had an ongoing struggle with actually practicing this Buddhism, in other words I had an abundance of doubt, asked a lot of questions and had a lot of encouragement from other people. For most of my life, I have had a practice "like fire," which means that when I felt inspired or had a big problem, I would chant. The rest of the time a couple of minutes' chanting a day was more than enough. I really believed Nichiren Buddhism worked for other people--just not for me.
In 2006, I decided to join the group of young women who support the smooth running of activities from behind the scenes at the SGI-UK national center, Taplow Court. I really enjoy this activity and I think it was a last-ditch attempt to develop a solid Buddhist practice. Everyone told me it would change my life but I didn't want my life to change. I already had a great job, a great family and a great boyfriend!
As part of our activity we were encouraged to study the first two volumes of The New Human Revolution, written by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. This is an account of how Nichiren Buddhism spread across the world. I found the books very inspiring but I was initially uncomfortable with so much of the books being about Mr. Ikeda's activities.
I work as a pediatric nurse in the children's emergency department at a South London Hospital, which is on the border of Lambeth and Southwark, two of the more deprived London boroughs. There are many children whose lives are affected by violence and other problems associated with such deprivation. We often deal with unpleasant situations, which I found I started getting used to. I seldom felt sad about the things I saw. My colleagues also seemed to be unaffected too. And they felt bored and unappreciated. On the whole we were quite an unhappy bunch. related article Deepening Conviction by Shikha Singh, India 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.
At the beginning of this year my mum was part of a group who went to Japan for a Buddhist study course. I was surprised by how her trip affected me--I found that I wanted to chant more. I also felt that I really should begin to understand the mentor-disciple relationship, an important concept in Buddhism.
It became clear to me that I had very little faith in my ability to make a difference. And I began to see why President Ikeda writes so confidently. He has done amazing things, met great people and works hard to create a peaceful world. He has done all of this because he had a great mentor in Josei Toda. Why wouldn't somebody write proudly of those experiences? Also, he achieved these things as an ordinary human being, with lots of problems and struggles along the way. So he is in a sense saying, "If I can do these things, so could any of us!"
Soon after this realization, I very quickly had an overwhelming sense that something needed to change at work. How could I make a difference? I found myself writing a proposal, which I called "A Vision of Peace," for the children's area in the emergency department.
This proposal came directly from my chanting and from my heart. It began with a quotation from President Ikeda: "If we seem to be weathering an endless winter, we must not abandon hope, as long as we have hope, spring will come without fail."
One of my ideas was to create a "dream tree" where all the children, parents and staff could write a hope or dream on a leaf and put it on the tree. I decided to give the proposal to the Accident and Emergency consultant, the matron, the nursing manager and all the people I work with.
I chanted, then went to work the next day, armed with my vision of peace and a trembling hand. I walked in to find that there had been a terrible death overnight. So I had a moment of doubt, which I overcame and then began giving out my vision.
Later in the day the matron came down to tell me how inspiring he found my ideas and asked when I could get started. The consultant was pleased that somebody was thinking outside of the box. related article Committed to Justice by Alvin Sykes, USA 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.
A young woman in my local SGI-UK district painted a beautiful tree, which I attached to the wall in the middle of the night in February, along with the quote from President Ikeda that had originally inspired me. The staff on the night shift were so excited and they wrote amazing dreams for the future.
The tree is now literally full of children's, parents' and staff's dreams and we are planning to paint a dream sea.
I want to make even more of a difference with my life from this moment onwards. I will not accept that children are born wanting to kill as some seem to think--it must be learned behavior. I'm determined to use my life to ensure that somehow the children of Southwark and Lambeth learn a different way, as after all prevention is better than cure. If we are able to change just one person's day or give one child the ability to believe in their dreams, then we have been able to do so much more than just treat an illness or fix a wound. At the end of the day, health is much more than just the absence of illness.
Now I can see that even the small amount of chanting I did, along with the continuous support of my family and many SGI members has not been wasted. With a growing appreciation for the mentor-disciple relationship, I now have the kind of commitment to my Buddhist practice that I have always wanted and this is my greatest benefit. I can't wait to see what happens next!
[Adapted from an article in the January 2008 issue of the Art of Living, SGI-UK]
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