Changing Poison into Medicine

Changing Poison into Medicine

Shareen (center) with her business partners.

Lim Chiu Ling Shareen
Women Division

Pursuing My Career Path

My life before I began practising Nichiren Buddhism did not start off in a derelict state, unlike many inspiring testimonies that I heard of. In fact, it was not a life that one would complain, as I was the only child growing up in peaceful Singapore with adequate financial support and with both my parents practising Nichiren Buddhism. However, being born in a relatively comfortable environment, I was often reliant on others for happiness. In 2007, I went into a tumultuous relationships for three years with a boyfriend who upheld a traditional mindset. He was an obstinate man of few words who did not know how to express himself. He would leave me all of a sudden if he was angry, and would strongly voice out his disagreements when others did not share his views. Throughout our three year relationship, I had to tread carefully, fearful of triggering his displeasure or wrath.

It was during a trip to Europe when I visited him in the midst of his study exchange that things took a turn for the worse. Any unhappiness that he felt towards me would cause him to explode with anger. He would hurl harsh and demanding words at me and stomp off, leaving me very often trying to look for him in the foreign land. Towards the end of the trip, it got so bad that I locked myself in the bathroom. I wept and chanted as much as I could. It was at this moment that I decided I had enough.

Upon returning back to Singapore, I immersed myself in SSA activities, and with strong support from my comrades, I slowly regained my confidence. I plucked up the courage to end the relationship with this boyfriend; a move that my previous weak self would never had done.

I decided to chant to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer. I started to plan and spend the following years working as a real estate agent in the booming industry, saving up to fulfil my dream. A few days before submitting my application to the school, I prayed to find out whether the school was right for me as I did not know of anyone who could advise me. Mystically the next day, I found out that the instructor of a course that I was attending was an alumni of that school. She shared her experiences and encouraged me to attend the school. My prayers were answered! With the support of my family and friends, I set out to study Fashion Design in Los Angeles in 2011.

A Challenging District in Los Angeles

Within three months of being in Los Angeles, I became a Young Women Division (YWD) District Leader in the ‘Ichinen District’. Then, some members in the district were wavering in faith as a charismatic leader had left. I was assigned there to inject fresh hope into the district. During my time there, I learnt the importance of always following one’s mentor. Though some leaders could win the hearts of the members through their charisma, however, if their hearts were not closely aligned to the mentor’s, they could lead others astray instead.

It was a rocky start with very few members remaining in the district. Together with my Women Division and Men Division leaders whom I regarded as my family, we conducted weekly three-hour chanting sessions with the aim of uniting and growing the district. With the warm and friendly atmosphere we injected into the meetings, we saw a gradual increase in attendance after a few months and people who had left started coming back. We were all extremely grateful for this achievement through our prayers and hard work.

Shareen with members of the 'Ichinen District' in Los Angeles.

One memorable training in faith was at the YWD Florida Nature and Culture Centre (FNCC) course where I made a strong determination to plant good causes that would lead to my future victory and demonstrate the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. A leader’s encouragement in the training course struck me: “There is no need to over-analyse what is happening to us. We have the power to change anything as long as we take ownership of these happenings. Just tell yourself that I can change whatever that is happening now, I can pull out the roots, the negative causes in my life by creating the good causes for future victory. No problem is too big that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo cannot overcome.”

Learning to Be Strong

Then came an opportunity for me to take part in a team event in a fashion design competition. At first, things were all exciting and fun, but during the course of the project, one of my teammates constantly doubted if we could finish the project in time as all of us had very packed class schedules and assignment deadlines. Soon, this negativity crept into every meeting we had. At times when she wanted to give up, I had to urge them to move on. Eventually, however, this teammate dropped out of the team and we managed to get someone to replace her.

Nevertheless, our team still faced several tough challenges. It was difficult to gather all the team members as each took turns to travel out of town. One teammate even overslept and did not turn up on the day of one of the preliminary presentations. When it was time for submission, our fabrics could not be delivered on time and we were close to dropping out again. We would not be able to receive a reimbursement for the fabric if we could not submit our work for the competition in time. It was exasperating facing all the obstacles, but at the back of my mind, I told myself not to give up. This was what Buddhism had taught me all along, and I was pretty certain that if we could tide over this difficult period, it would be something we could be proud of, regardless of winning the competition. I prayed that my team could win the competition, and that I could make monetary contributions to SGI with the prize money. As there were many good entries in the competition, I prayed that we could win second or third place. To my surprise, we won the first prize! It was the most amazing and indescribable feeling to feel the power of the Gohonzon manifested through the myriad of obstacles. I knew then that the training in faith did not take place over that few days at a training course. Instead, the real faith training was about applying what I have learnt at the training course to achieve ultimate victory.

It is crucial that you become strong. If you are strong, even your sadness will become a source of nourishment, and the things that make you suffer will purify your life.

- SGI President Daisaku Ikeda

At the same time, I started to face relationship problems again. I struggled for many days with Gohonzon as my companion, praying for a resolution. I read The New Human Revolution, and often cried myself to sleep. It was one of the toughest moments in my life. I could only hold on to faith while being tormented by heartache and the uncertainties around my rocky relationship. One night whilst reading The New Human Revolution, a realisation dawned on me when I read about President Ikeda encouraging a group of young women division members who were facing challenges in life. It was then that I realised that the reason why I had to undergo this relationship challenge was to become stronger person. It was also my mission to use my life experiences to encourage others and give hope to others who are unhappy or suffering. Life is about proving to others and ourselves the limitless capacity that we have.

This realisation gave me the courage to let go of my attachment to the relationship which had caused me so much anxiety that it had affected my work. I was grateful to have this ex-boyfriend as a “Buddhist god”, allowing me to polish myself to become a stronger person. As President Ikeda says, “It is crucial that you become strong. If you are strong, even your sadness will become a source of nourishment, and the things that make you suffer will purify your life.”

Thereafter, I gained the courage to share Buddhism with others. I have always been praying for the opportunity to share Buddhism with others – I started sharing it with my boss, my friends, my roommates, my car mechanic whom I spent hours talking about Buddhism, and with many shuttle bus drivers as well, often bringing them to SGI meetings. I believe that all of us assume different identities in this world, and yet at them same time, we are all Bodhisattvas of the Earth who have inherited the ultimate wish of the Buddha to spread happiness by sharing this profound philosophy of life with others.

I participated actively in students-led Buddhist Meeting in the University of Southern California and joined the Byakuren Group (a YWD behind the scene function group that serves the member). We took care of the members on behalf of President Ikeda and shared his happiness in welcoming members to the meetings, cleaning up and taking care of them.

Shareen with members of the Byakuren Soka Group in Los Angeles.

Advancing Confidently Based On Faith

Looking back, I’ve learnt many things through these experiences. If we are uncertain of our path in life, chant to reveal our mission and continue devoting ourselves in activities for kosen-rufu. We should not allow money or love to dictate our lives, for they are transient and will never lead us to absolute happiness in life. We need to base our lives on a reliable core, and to me that is none other than faith in Nichiren Buddhism, which will guide us with a heightened sense of wisdom and clarity; leading us on a path towards absolute happiness which may not be immediately apparent to us.

My experience in America broadened my perspective, deepened my faith, and made me realise how fortunate we are. With my parents across the globe at that time, I also realised that one’s earnest prayers had such far reaches as I often saw how my prayers for my parents had manifested even though I was not physically beside them. I have met wonderful people from all walks of life who had faced and overcame a vast array of problems like family abuse, illnesses such as AIDS and cancer, dire financial straits and depression. From their experiences, I have developed absolute conviction of the magnificent and transformative power of one’s prayers to the Gohonzon.

After returning to Singapore, I continued to pursue my dreams to do Fashion. However, I started to wonder if there was more to Fashion Designing.

Starting a New Journey

While working in the US, I was especially fortunate to have immersed myself in a culture of sharing and openness. In particular, I had seniors at work who would openly share with me how they did things, the lessons they had learnt and various insights into the industry, even though they were not instructed to do so. As a result, my passion grew because I had people who sincerely guided me with their years of knowledge. It was extremely enlivening. I went to makerspaces where people openly share their tinkering projects and what they had learnt, just so to “contribute” to the community. People collaborated, shared knowledge and this open culture made me realize the direct and rewarding impact of one’s contributions to another’s pursuits for the greater community.

In Fashion Design, the process of designing and finally getting your clothing produced and sold was a very self-fulfilling process. However, if no one actually bought the product, then what is the value that you have created? I thought “Why not teach these skills instead?” This started me on a journey to start-up a commercial fashion school in Singapore in 2014 after working here in the Fashion industry in sportswear design. I brought on 3 partners and we decided to teach others the skills of sewing, pattern making and digital designing. We had no idea who would be interested, but we started small, and even conducted free classes in rented spaces to see where it could lead us.

In the beginning, it was extremely tough to achieve any results despite all our efforts. With rent to pay, we could barely pay ourselves salaries. One of our partners eventually left us as it was a hard struggle with a lot of time spent with little monetary rewards. However, time and time again, I relied on my prayers to carry me through the dark times, especially when I could not find my direction. Since then, we have had countless benefits and I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful partners with whom I have struggled together with for more than 5 years. As we continue to grow, improve and advance, we are grateful to have employed amazing youth with great attitude and talent to help us grow the business till this day. We believe this could not have happened without the close relationships we have built, as well as the respect, care and consideration we have for one another.

This lifetime will never come again; it is precious and irreplaceable. To live without regret, it is crucial for us to have a concrete purpose and continually set goals and challenges for ourselves. It is equally important that we keep moving toward specific targets steadily and tenaciously, one step at a time.

- SGI President Daisaku Ikeda

As SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, “This lifetime will never come again; it is precious and irreplaceable. To live without regret, it is crucial for us to have a concrete purpose and continually set goals and challenges for ourselves. It is equally important that we keep moving toward specific targets steadily and tenaciously, one step at a time.”

As we advance in this fast-paced society seeking our purpose, it is not only important to keep learning and adapting, but being grounded in life with strong faith will enable us to find our direction and overcome any obstacle; living vibrantly as true disciples of President Ikeda in our fields of work. With this, our journey of passion will continue unabated.


(Edited from the Soka Women’s testimony book A Friend in the Orchid Room)