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I live in Milan, Italy, and, inspired by being part of preparations for a showing of the SGI anti-nuclear weapons exhibition “From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit,” I began to think about what I could challenge and transform in my own life.
I decided that my goal would be to fight against the mistrust I saw in society and find a way to bring hope to people, but where could I start?
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda is always encouraging us to start where we are, to take care of the people right in front of us. There are several apartments in the building where I live. The situation there was dire—we had problems in maintaining the building, a lack of communication between us and then there was the “mystery” apartment. A lot of people seemed to live in this apartment, although we never saw any of them. They were clearly involved in some illegal activity, such as drug dealing. The police regularly came to the building looking for them and sometimes knocked on our door very early in the morning to ask for information.
Another problem was that there was not a separate mailbox for each of the apartments. Sometimes my neighbors would open my post, or I would find my mail—and sometimes my Buddhist magazines—abandoned in the courtyard between the apartment buildings.
I started to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the happiness of all the residents in the building, including those living in the mystery apartment. I also started talking about Nichiren Buddhism with my neighbors. It wasn’t hard because some people had already read my Buddhist magazines when they were left in the courtyard!
I realized that nobody smiled at each other. It wasn’t surprising, given the situation. There were not many reasons to smile. Indeed, I found it hard myself. Sometimes the biggest challenge is to do the simplest things. President Ikeda writes:
As the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944) wrote: “A smile is often the most essential thing. One is repaid by a smile. One is rewarded by a smile. One is animated by a smile. There are smiles that are worth giving your very life for” . . . A sincere smile is a kind of “switch” that puts you, your family and your community on the track to developing a higher state of life.
I understood that smiling was the cause for change, rather than the result of change.
I understood that smiling was the cause for change, rather than the result of change. In other words, I didn’t need to wait until I had something to smile about. So I decided to make the effort to smile and to speak warmly to people in the building, even when I was in a hurry.
I talked with many people in my building, and, over time, every one of them became more and more open and friendly. One day, a woman who used to look through my Buddhist magazines, gave me a present—a little Buddha statue. It was her way of showing me her appreciation. A few months later she passed away. I learned from this that the time to open up and encourage others is always right now. As Nichiren says, “Though one may live to a great age, in the end one cannot escape this impermanence. In this world of ours, life lasts a hundred years or so at most. When we stop to think of it, it is a mere dream within a dream.”
related article Victory Over Violence—SGI-USA by Nicolás Aragón, USA Victory Over Violence (VOV) is a campaign that exists not merely as an opposition to violence, but to educate young people about how to recognize and counteract the root causes of violence in their lives. I continued to chant with strong determination and to carry out small acts of friendship. I began to see the results of my efforts with the people in my building. We got together as residents and, between us, solved some problems ourselves and resolved other issues by communicating with the caretaker. Suddenly, the people living in the mystery apartment all disappeared and now a wonderful family lives there. On top of this, we all now have our own mailboxes. This means that I have to find new ways to introduce people to Buddhism!
The final proof of the effects of taking action based on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo came when one day a woman in my building commented, “When I meet you I feel better!” I think that this is part of our Buddhist practice of respecting others. When people meet us, they should feel better.
[Adapted from an article in the May 2013 issue of the Art of Living, SGI-UK; photos courtesy of SGI-UK]
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