04 Jun 2019 Becoming a Soldier of Peace
Young Men Division Leader
My family was under dire financial circumstances when my mum was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism and subsequently, took up faith. I was just three years old then. Due to business failure and influence from bad friends, my dad had to sell off our house and declared bankrupt. Thankfully, we were fortunate that my uncle was willing to put us up at his place for two years. However, with our limited household income, my mum had to always pray for her three sons to be in good health and to excel in studies, so that we would not have to spend money to visit doctors or attend tuition classes.
It was also my mum, who took the lead, conscientiously chanting many hours of daimoku (repeated chanting of the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) every day for the happiness of our family, and participated wholeheartedly in various Singapore Soka Association’s (SSA) Women Division (WD) functional groups, National Day Performances and cultural festivals. She also went on to shakubuku (sharing the practice of Nichiren Buddhism with others) her siblings who eventually took up faith. Inspired by my mum, my brothers and I became active in SSA activities too. As we strove in faith together as a family, our financial karma was steadily transformed. We eventually earned our own home to stay in, and my brothers and I all successfully graduated from the university.
Prior to my National Service (NS) enlistment, I had a lot of misgiving about it. I seriously reflected on my mindset towards National Service and I decided then to challenge myself and do my utmost to make the best out of the situation. At that time, while I was already actively attending meetings, my faith was far from being strong or independent. My daily practice was also not consistent.
As the days went by and the training got tougher, my daily chanting during my in-camp days went from infrequent to almost nil. After my Basic Military Training, I was successfully admitted to the Officer Cadet School (OCS). That meant even more gruelling training, and even lesser time for my daily Buddhist practice. Faith eventually became a low priority in my life. Despite slackening in my Buddhist practice, I excelled at OCS, befriended several good buddies and successfully graduated as an officer with a sword of merit. I also received the good news of my successful admission to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Given my comfortable environment, I began questioning if Nichiren Buddhism was still relevant in my life. It seemed like I could still see benefits in my life without the faith. My fellow buddies, who were not practising Nichiren Buddhism, were enjoying similar if not better lives than me. I started to contemplate if I should give up my Buddhist practice altogether.
As the end of my National Service period drew closer, I began to ask myself about my goals at NTU. Should I base them on faith in Nichiren Buddhism? Or should I strive in my studies based on my own values and beliefs, like how I went through my NS days? Fortunately, I was surrounded by good leaders within the SSA who took care of me and encouraged me. Just before I completed my NS, they linked me up with NTU Student Division (NTUSD). I was also urged to undergo a one-year faith training in the third batch of Young Men Division (YMD) Vanguard.
On hindsight, another important factor that brought me back into faith was my mum’s sincere faith and fervent practice. I was too young then to appreciate the depth of the hardships my family weathered, or the good fortune that I had enjoyed through our family’s practice in Nichiren Buddhism. Even after overcoming our family financial karma, my mum would continue to chant 2-3 hours every day, and contribute towards kosen-rufu (peace and happiness of all people). She may nag at us to chant, but she never forced us when it came to chanting. For many years, she has always been so sincere and strong in her faith and practice that I wondered if I have been missing out on the essence of this wonderful and great Buddhist practice. Should I give it one more try? Eventually I decided to do so and based my first year of NTU studies on serious faith, study and practice. I told myself that if I were not able to see any significant change in my life after a year of fervent practice, I would just give it up.
For what purpose should one cultivate wisdom? May you always ask yourselves this question! Only labour and devotion to one’s mission in life gives life its worth.
- SGI President Daisaku Ikeda
That one-year trial ultimately became my prime point of faith. I developed deep and strong bonds with my fellow Soka comrades in NTUSD. We studied together, chanted abundant daimoku, and read the Gosho (writings by Nichiren Daishonin). I started to learn more about the Buddhist concept of “Human Revolution”, the true meaning of world peace, and the mission of a Bodhisattva of the Earth. Most importantly, I learnt more about Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Ikeda and the noble exertions of each of the three founding Presidents of Soka Gakkai. Consequently in my second year in the university, I took up the mission as a district leader, student campus leader, and a Young Lion member (a logistic functional group comprising Young Men Division members for supporting SSA events). In the process of serving and encouraging members, while striving in my studies and Soka activities, I grew to appreciate our mentor at an even deeper level. It was through the wonderful training that I received in the Student Division (comprising students in tertiary education) that I began to forge a deep bond with President Ikeda.
In the Student Division, we studied deeply into Soka Education and the Soka University. One of the guidances by President Ikeda on the values of Soka Education that I had come across then remains deeply etched in the depths of my life: “For what purpose should one cultivate wisdom? May you always ask yourselves this question! Only labour and devotion to one’s mission in life gives life its worth.”
After university, I began to chant and pray fervently about the career path that I would like to pursue. I wanted a job that would allow me to prove the validity of this faith, perform my own human revolution and fulfil my mission in the pursuit of humanistic peace.
Mystically at that point of time, I received a recruitment letter with a university sponsorship offer from the Army. I thought about how male citizens tend to harbour negative sentiments towards National Service, and in turn waste two precious years of their lives during this period. I finally decided to sign on with the Army where I hoped to create a positive influence on these Full-time National Servicemen (NSF) and National Service men through my own human revolution.
I soon found myself becoming a para-counsellor in the Singapore Armed Forces. Para-counsellors are volunteers who are trained to identify and manage personal, emotional and psychological issues faced by servicemen. For the past few years, I have managed to counsel and help many soldiers adapt to life in the Army, especially during the initial period of their enlistment.
When I looked back at my time as an NSF myself, I was focused only on the results I could achieve and because of this, I tend to succumb to my environment. I lost my patience easily and used vulgarities frequently as was the norm in the Army. Returning to the Army however was a totally different experience for me and my colleagues. They observed that I am now cool-minded and calm, and do not lose my temper and patience easily. And when one of my colleagues learnt that I am a member of SSA, he began to understand the values underpinning my good behaviour. He remarked that some of the common traits he observed among SSA members he had met included being patient, being a good listener, and always striving to encourage the people around them. Through first-hand working experiences with SSA members at the National Day Parade, he also found that we are enthusiastic, positive and always seeking to inspire hope in others.
A humble victory I am proud to report was to be selected to attend an US Army Artillery course in 2015. Throughout the 8-month course, I had the opportunity to meet other military professionals from the US, South Korea, Germany, Israel and Latvia. There were many opportunities to share about peace efforts and what our respective countries were engaged in with respect to the security threats. Through these wonderful open dialogues, I discovered that we all had a common understanding, of how valuable peace is and how barbaric war can be.
My buddy at the course was an officer from South Korea whom I would engage in dialogue with almost every lunch time, on topics as wide-ranging as casual ones like soccer or local food delicacies to more serious subject matters like peace and the tension between North and South Korea. A particularly interesting topic of discussion was our respective outlook on Japan given that both Singapore and Korea were occupied by Japan during the Second World War. Despite this painful historical past, Singapore has successfully moved on to build and maintain a very cordial and close relationship with Japan for the past 70 years. On the contrary, the Koreans have continued to harbour deep resentment towards the Japanese, refusing to move on from the war crimes the Japanese military had committed during the occupation of Korea. Till today, many Korean army officers are still refusing to acknowledge the need for Japan to maintain her own military force. The suspicion towards the Japanese was so evident that my buddy could not even bring himself to communicate with our Japanese course mates.
Through the series of wonderful heart-to-heart dialogues, I cherished every precious opportunity to share my values on peace and the noble peace movement championed by our beautiful Soka Gakkai organisation. My buddy was surprised to learn about the existence of SGI-Korea and began to express interest in SGI-Korea. I then boldly shared with my Korean counterpart that Soka Gakkai believes that true peace is not the absence of war, but achieved through expanding friendship and engaging in sincere, mutual respect for the dignity of all lives regardless of race, language, religion or culture.
Our families who were with us also joined the regular social gatherings and dinners, and my Japanese wife grew close to a Japanese officer’s family. After much interaction between my Korean buddy and the Japanese officer, my buddy began to realize that we are all working for the same cause, that is, the peace and security of our countries and regions. Towards the end of the course, the three of us – Singaporean, Japanese and South Korean – became good friends and we continue to keep in touch with one another till today.
My victory was made even sweeter when I learnt that I had excelled in this US Army Artillery course and was awarded the Distinguished International Honor and the Commandant List Honor Graduate for being the top international officer and for excelling in every subject in the course.
I am currently enrolled in another military course at the Goh Keng Swee Command and Staff College and working on a research paper on the Regional Security and Cooperation in ASEAN. I am very excited to learn that ASEAN is actually one of the leading regional communities in the world in promoting peace and dialogue. For the past few decades, ASEAN has not only enjoyed peace and a conflict-free era, but through dialogue and numerous engagements, integrated Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos in a very peaceful transition. In 1995, ASEAN also successfully established a Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. President Ikeda once mentioned, “Regrettably, war and violence continue to rage in many parts of the world, and attempts to divide people based on religious and ethnic differences persist. That is all the more reason for us to increase our bodhisattva dialogues to unite people based on the philosophy of respect for the dignity of life and the equality of all human beings.
While respecting and humbly learning from each other’s differences, let us continue to joyfully develop the value-creating realm of Soka as we strive to realize happiness and peace for ourselves and others.”
By virtue of my military career, I am determined to exert myself in promoting peace among countries through dialogue and diplomacy. 2016 is designated the Year of Expansion in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu—a year in which we will strive to make even greater efforts to spread the philosophy of respect for the dignity of life and the movement of human revolution, for which the twenty-first century humanity yearns. I vow to work tirelessly to encourage all members to achieve absolute happiness and inspire one another to spread this great Buddhism.
(Adapted from the Young Men’s testimony book Hero of the World published in 2017)