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Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
Actors Marina Salas, Ferran Vilajosana and Roser Vilajosana (who are siblings), living in Madrid, talk about how their Buddhist practice has helped them flourish in their careers.
Marina, you were the first to practice Nichiren Buddhism out of the three of you. How were you introduced to this practice?
Marina: While I was filming a TV series for Televisión Española with actress Esther Ortega, we became close friends. One day, I was at her home for dinner and asked her about her Buddhist altar. She told me that she would explain it to me in more detail at a later date.
It was some time after this that a close friend of mine named Marc had a car accident and fell into a coma. Around that time, I was having dinner with Esther again, and she happened to mention her Buddhist practice. She asked me what I desired the most at that time, and I told her about Marc. From that desire for him to get better, I started practicing Buddhism. A new world opened up to me, a new way of living, and slowly but surely, I started to deepen my understanding of Nichiren Buddhism.
Ferran, we heard you found out about Nichiren Buddhism from Marina. Can you tell us about that?
Ferran: We were both working on the same movie. I don’t really remember how I heard that Marina was a Buddhist, but I remember asking her about it and her explaining about chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which seemed so simple and concrete. It was a very stressful period of my life. I was doing too many things at the same time, and I couldn’t handle it all. I determined then to make more time to take care of myself, and I began chanting.
I had associated Buddhism with incense and things like that and had a completely different idea of what it was. Marina’s words spoke to me on a different level. It was as if she was telling me, “Do you realize the kind of things that we can change by ourselves?” It really made me want to test this Buddhist practice, especially toward my goal of becoming completely happy.
Roser, what was your initial response when Ferran told you about Buddhism?
related article The Inoue Brothers—An Ethical Future for Style by Satoru and Kiyoshi Inoue, Denmark and UK “Style can’t be mass-produced.” The Inoue brothers discuss the ideas behind their brand and their vision for the future of fashion. Roser: At first, I didn’t pay much attention. He would send me words of encouragement by Daisaku Ikeda, and I remember thinking, “Here he goes again with his messages.” But I do remember being happy that he didn’t give up and that he continued to send me messages. He was encouraging me to take action for my life.
When I was young, I was very introverted, and from time to time, I wondered about life. I found myself opening doors to many questions but not being able to find any answers and feeling that I had no one to share these preoccupations with. So, for many years, I simply went with the flow. Ferran was challenging me to decide for myself and to take responsibility for my actions. This pushed me to come to Madrid from our hometown of Barcelona for two months. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I decided to give the practice a try.
Ferran: The moment for me was when, while having dinner at home, I said something about Buddhism and told Roser, “You really should try it one day,” to which she replied, “Yes, I’ve been doing it every day.” I remember I was cleaning the dishes and nearly dropped them!
It’s natural to want to share something that makes you happy. The more I practice in the Soka Gakkai, the more I realize the importance and richness of seeing how different people experience the practice. Doing that helped me expand my perspective.
How has your Buddhist practice impacted your life?
Marina: The practice has literally changed my life. Or rather, it changes my life every day. It has allowed me to become successful in my profession, to experience things that I would never have thought possible otherwise and to be the person that I want to be. It has empowered me to say yes to things. Even when what I want is something seemingly impossible—so far removed from my reality—my Buddhist practice pushes me to not give up. It makes me believe in possibility.
Roser: The other day, I read something by Daisaku Ikeda that said if we never challenge the impossible, we will never know the true power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. When I set objectives, I aim for the “impossible,” not things that I feel I can achieve easily. Then, the satisfaction of achieving them is even greater.
Ferran: I have many examples of actual proof that this practice works. I’ve been wanting to be the protagonist in a movie for a while. I challenged myself to chant and take part in Soka Gakkai activities and gave myself six weeks to achieve my goal. It really seemed like an impossible task because it’s usually a long process with castings and such. However, it happened! This is just one example of many. It’s wonderful to be able to face challenges with the conviction that you will definitely win—that you have already won—even if you’re not sure when or how it will happen.
Roser: Yes, it’s very rewarding to chant with that conviction. I used to look at myself and see things that I didn’t like. The practice has allowed me to think about who I want to be and to take action to actualize that. Slowly but surely, you start getting closer, falling many times along the way, but knowing what it is that you want.
Marina: Exactly! Now I wake up with eagerness, with a will to live! There is a joy in liking life. It’s a sensation I love.
Roser: That happens to me sometimes too. I know that I have to go to sleep because my body needs to rest, but I want it to be tomorrow sooner. And not because there’s something special the next day but because I’m excited about the day to come.
How does the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism support you in your work as actors?
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is a Soka Gakkai member and a successful film and television actor, whose career includes credits in Mission Impossible III and recurring roles in ABC’s Injustice and CBS’s Three Rivers. After making her mark as an actress and TV presenter in the UK, Sabra moved to the US in 2002, where she created the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. Launched in 2006, the project employs highly physical theatrical techniques based on the emotive 16th-century Italian “people’s theater” culture of commedia dell’arte. The work has proved transformative for inmates of the California prison system and has significantly reduced recidivism rates. Sabra was recently honored as a Champion of Change by the White House. Marina: I was in a play by Chekhov, and during the preparations, a fellow Soka Gakkai member gave me the idea of studying the writings of Nichiren Daishonin in the same way that I was studying the play. Studying Nichiren’s writings in this way really inspired me, and with this fresh inspiration every day before I had to go to the theater, I challenged myself to chant abundantly. I did this almost every day for a period of about four months. It had an amazing impact. You have no idea what a positive response I received from the public—telling me that my work was beautiful and great! It has been the best experience of my life. It was the first time my work got that much acclaim, but the thing was that I wasn’t thinking to myself, “What amazing work I’m doing,” because it was greater than just being about me.
Ferran: What a great experience. In my case, Buddhism has helped me see my arrogance about my “image” at work. With photo shoots and that type of thing, it’s easy to become arrogant. Thanks in part to my behind-the-scenes volunteer activities with the Soka Gakkai, now I feel that I can better understand the hearts of others—whether they are working behind the scenes or in front of the camera. You start valuing yourself and others more. The practice helps you dismantle your prejudice. It has also made me more grateful and appreciative.
Roser: In our line of work, you have periods of a lot of work and periods with no work at all. My Buddhist practice has helped me accept the outcome when it’s negative, to leave complaints behind and to confront my situation, regardless of whether or not I have work. I have learned not to let circumstances determine my happiness. I have been able to leave behind this idea that I’m only happy when I have work. My practice also really helps me decide what kind of plays I want to do. I want projects that will contribute to bettering the world; stories that can plant a positive seed in people’s lives.
Each of you has mentioned Daisaku Ikeda. What does he represent for you?
Roser: I feel a lot of appreciation for the work that he has done and what he is still doing. I believe that he is like a mirror. Once someone told me, if you are awed by another actor that means that you see in him something that you also can do. Applying the same idea, Mr. Ikeda inspires me. He represents something that I can also do.
Marina: A mentor doesn’t tell you what you must or must not do. Rather, he talks to you about something more significant, about a stance in life. Mr. Ikeda talks precisely about encouraging you to create your own criteria. Some people think that having a mentor means having a relationship of dependency, but it is the opposite—it’s about giving you autonomy in life.
Ferran: I believe the mentor-disciple relationship is not about what you feel but, rather, about what you do. I’ve been reading Mr. Ikeda’s writings for years, studying and trying to apply them, and the universal application of his words continues to surprise me.
Can you share any goals you might have for the future?
Roser: My determination is to value myself and to have an agent by a certain date. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to limit myself, and I want to continue learning and turning every moment into a new beginning.
Marina: What I can share, and what I hope is inspiring, is that the most important thing is the inner transformation that we make when we challenge specific objectives. And this year, I have some new objectives I’m striving to achieve.
Ferran: My most precious memories are those created in the midst of trials. What I want the most right now is to continue surprising myself, discovering more and more the capacity to change beyond what I imagine is possible.
Adapted from an interview in the March 2018 issue of Civilización Global, Soka Gakkai of Spain.