Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
I was born and grew up in Philadelphia, USA.
Nichiren Buddhism and SGI have been part of my life since I was 3 years old when my mum received her Gohonzon. My aunt introduced her to the practice. However, I never remember seeing my mum chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
My mum was addicted to illegal drugs for most of my life. She had four children—my sister, me and my two younger brothers.
When I was 12 years old, my aunt brought me and my sister to California to stay with her for two weeks. I think she just couldn’t watch our lives unfold the way they were any more.
During our stay we chanted and went to Buddhist meetings. But when I returned home, I left Buddhism behind in California. My sister, however, took mum’s Gohonzon out of a closet and set it up in her bedroom. This was the start of her Buddhist practice.
Around the same time, my little 9 year-old brother tried to hang himself.
Our whole family was suffering constantly. My father could not find a job and was battling severe depression while trying his best to be there for us. Mum was in and out of drug addiction and on the occasions that she came home it would be to steal what little we did have to pawn it for drug money.
A few years passed and both my sister and I became teenage mothers. My sister used her Buddhist practice to never be defeated, whereas I took the path of self-destruction and tried to escape by using drugs, just like my mother had.
Although it may be covered in mud and dirt, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can make that diamond shine.
My sister never gave up on me and always encouraged me to chant. She would tell me: “You have the same potential as me, it doesn’t matter what family we come from, you have the power to change your life.” She also told me that we all have a diamond within us and, although it may be covered in mud and dirt, by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo we can make that diamond shine
By the time I was 20 years old, my life was a complete mess. Every day was a struggle to even get out of bed. I had a beautiful 2 year-old daughter. Her dad was physically abusive and both of us were in the heights of addiction.
I worked in a bar and most nights, driving home after work, I felt like slamming on the brakes so that someone would crash into me from behind and bring an end to it all. I felt completely hopeless.
After I ended up in hospital again as a result of being beaten up my boyfriend, my daughter and I moved in with my mum who was still addicted to drugs.
One day, I answered the door to an SGI-USA women’s division member who was trying to contact my mum. My mum went out, but the woman decided to sit down and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo until she came back. I pulled up a chair behind her and joined in.
related article Rewriting My Destiny Through Prayer by Leslie Mancillas, USA Leslie Mancillas describes how, on her journey to become the mother her daughter needed her to be, she learned the true meaning of prayer. That was the beginning of my own Buddhist practice. My mum was so blown away by the woman’s kindness and her nonjudgmental attitude that she also began chanting again.
A few months later, when I was 21, I received my own Gohonzon.
I finally summoned the courage to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and get sober, learn how to be a wonderful mum, go to college, be independent and go after my dreams.
My family and I had lived in Ireland for three years when I was a kid. When we moved back to America, I never stopped dreaming of moving back. However, after my life went on a different path, that dream seemed impossible.
But when I began practicing Buddhism, I learned that nothing is impossible and we must go after our dreams with all of our might. I set strong determinations and chanted with all of my heart. I was chanting to meet my soul mate and be living in Ireland by 2009.
In 2008, I met an Irish man and on August 2, 2009, my daughter and I moved to Ireland and a few weeks later I was married.
I spent nearly three years married to someone who wasn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol, but he had other problems and the marriage broke down. This created a lot of suffering and I even found it difficult to chant.
In 2011, when I was asked to take on the responsibility of being a young women division’s leader in my area, I remember wondering why they had asked me—I felt like I had so many problems and was so unhappy. Accepting that responsibility was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
One morning, I was chanting with tears pouring down my face and a pain so deep in my heart that I actually felt nauseous. But I continued with a strong determination that I would never suffer because of a relationship again. I chanted with all my heart to truly respect and cherish my life and to become the happiest woman in the universe.
related article “I Am Master of My Mind”: Unleashing the Power of Transformation in Prisons by Sabra Williams, USA Sabra Williams is an SGI 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. Even though the next few months were painful for me, I was not defeated. I threw myself into my Buddhist practice, SGI activities and my responsibility as young women’s leader, visiting members and planning our monthly youth meetings.
I began supporting a young woman who lived about an hour away. Regardless of how bad I felt, I would arrive with a smile on my face and put my whole heart into encouraging her. By the end of every visit I was always filled with hope again. Through supporting her, I learned how to support myself.
That first year on my own with my 12 year-old daughter was probably the scariest year of my life. She accompanied me each time I visited a young woman. After a few months, she would interrupt me and begin encouraging the person herself! She also helped me plan our monthly youth meetings.
At the end of that year, I had the biggest victory of all. My daughter’s teacher pulled me aside on the last day of school and told me I had done an amazing job as a mother and that she has never met a 12 year-old with as much empathy and compassion. She said that my daughter was the light of the classroom and when she was absent it made a big difference to the class.
This showed how my daughter had benefited from my Buddhist practice and, for me, was actual proof of the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
For generations, there has never been a happy marriage in my family. After my marriage ended, I determined with all of my heart to transform this situation in my own life and have a happy and harmonious relationship.
related article Discovering My Abilities by Blandina Happiness Sembu, Tanzania As a single mother who had lost her right arm in an accident, Blandina Happiness Sembu faced severe challenges. She describes how her Buddhist practice has given her the confidence and courage to tackle all her problems as well as her work as a spokesperson for women with disabilities in Tanzania. After some time, I attracted an amazing man into my life. I know that this happened because I finally respected and cherished my own life. My boyfriend respects me, loves me unconditionally and is helping me work through my deepest fears of rejection.
A few years back, I wrote a list of all of the qualities I wanted my partner to have. Along the way I realized that I would also needed to acquire those qualities if I wanted to attract someone into my life with them.
I had always used alcohol or drugs to get rid of my fear of intimacy. After a few dates with my boyfriend, he tried to kiss me, but I couldn’t. Instead, I found the courage to be honest and open my heart to him.
I explained how I had tried to stay sober for the past twelve years, but every time I began dating someone, I had always turned to alcohol again to get past the initial unease of getting to know someone.
I told him that I never wanted to do that again. I had determined in front of my Gohonzon that I would change that tendency and here was my chance. He said that he would wait forever to kiss me!
I totally believe that my family’s destiny has been transformed because of Nichiren Buddhism. Owing to our upbringing, all four of us siblings were destined not to achieve anything, but we are all, including my brother who tried to kill himself when he was 9, now thriving and practicing Buddhism in SGI.
Mum passed away from lung cancer four years ago. Although this was incredibly sad and painful, I believe that her destiny was to die in an alley somewhere from a heroin overdose, like she had almost done many times before.
However, she had transformed so much of her life through her Buddhist practice that she died sober, in a hospital, surrounded by all of her children and my dad.
My daughter’s father has been sober for many years now and a few months ago, she decided she wants the chance to live with him before she is grown up and he also wants the same. After months of chanting for both of their happiness, I decided to let her go. She is moving over there this summer.
Both my mum and my dad, and of course Daisaku Ikeda, have taught me the most important lesson of my life that is: no matter how many times you fall get up and try again.
Nothing is impossible with this Buddhist practice. As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda points out:
“As long as we look at our situation only with our reason, there won’t be the slightest chance of our winning . . . If we think that we are true disciples of the [Nichiren] Daishonin, we first have to pray fervently to be able to carry out the kind of courageous practice that can make the impossible possible.”
Adapted from the August 2014 issue of the Art of Living, SGI-UK; photo courtesy of Robbie Fry.