10 Jul 2019 Making Everywhere I Go the Buddha Land
Ratna Indra Putri
Young Women Division Leader
I grew up in the capital of West Kalimantan in Indonesia. Since young, I often pondered why some of my friends and relatives were so poor that they had to share their food with neighbours. There was also a friend who was born into a rich family, and yet plagued with illness, she passed on when she was only 16 years old but her twin, who was healthy and talented, continued to do well in life. Once, on the way to school in my father’s car, I looked out of the car window, and I noticed many children of my age riding battered bicycles and wearing worn-out school uniforms, making their way to schools. I touched my neatly pressed and fragrant blouse, and wondered why life could be so different for me and the other children.
My family was already practicing Nichiren Buddhism then. Through the dedicated efforts of my parents, I started to chant and do gongyo at a young age. We also attended meetings at the local centre, even though I hardly understood their significance. The membership was small with just a few households with very few youth members. Having overcome many obstacles in life through faith, my parents was exceptionally patient in encouraging their four children to practice diligently every day. Their compassionate efforts proved to be a crucial cornerstone of my life as I grew up.
The ‘Most Annoying’ Student
I was an impatient and fierce person. I often threw tantrums when things were not done the way I wanted them to. I would also constantly compare myself against my sisters and worried deeply about my seemingly lack of talent and intellect. I was constantly anxious about scoring well for exams and winning competitions. I did not even notice I was alienated by all my classmates. One day, I walked into the classroom and saw these words: “Who is the most annoying? RATNA!” written boldly on the blackboard.
When I was in high school, I suffered from insomnia for one year. With just two or three hours of sleep every night, I struggled to carry out my daily activities. It got so bad that my father decided to bring me to see a local specialist. The doctor told my father that I might be suffering from intense stress. At that time, I could not understand what the doctor meant. I had a perfect family, I went to a good school and scored top grades too. Yet, there would be times when I had to wake my mother up during the nights because I experienced mild anxiety attack due to sleeplessness. However, their daimoku and patience only grew stronger. My mother encouraged me to chant rhythmic daimoku, and she also made time to talk to me daily. The insomnia eventually reduced to a few sleepless nights every now and then, but I was still physically drained and exhausted.
Realising My Mission in Singapore
I had not fully overcome my emotional struggles when I came to Singapore in 2007 to continue my studies. Looking back, it was the right time for me to be awakened to the essence of the Buddhist practice. My sisters, who arrived in Singapore earlier than me, linked me up with Singapore Soka Association (SSA). I started to practise more seriously and studied Nichiren Buddhism together with fellow members. The many dialogues and numerous daimoku we chanted together gradually strengthened my faith.
The greatest turning point of my life was when I encountered my mentor in life, SGI President Ikeda. From then on, the dots started to connect, things started to make sense, and my questions were slowly answered. I discovered Buddhist concepts such as the principles of ‘Ten Worlds’ and ‘Changing poison into medicine’. Experiencing these Buddhist concepts in daily life, infused with faith and guided by President Ikeda’s words, burst the suffocating bubble I had been living in. I finally could breathe properly and was immediately greeted by fresh waves of hope of the present moment.
I wanted to know my mission in life. This quest burnt intensely in my heart. I started to notice how overprotected, how short-sighted and lackluster my life had been. The decisive point came when I encountered a passage by President Ikeda, “A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all.” I recalled myself in freshly-washed school uniforms, my classmate who died at 16 despite fighting the disease ever since her birth, and a few of my good friends, wrecked by poverty, struggling to survive in various foreign lands on their own. I became aware of what I truly wanted then – to create positive differences in the lives of those who suffer the most! However, the scale of such thought overwhelmed me, and I did not know how to achieve such a grand mission. I sought from my pillar of faith – my parents, and seniors in SSA, revisited the guidance above and decided to simply chant to open my heart, employing not the mundane thinking, but “the strategy of the Lotus Sutra” (the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo). I began to truly practise from the heart. The changes were immediate – I became more patient, I listened to my friend’s worries and would offer encouragement based on faith. I spoke more slowly, clearly and confidently, I learned to apologise and smile more. I started making friends. I recovered from my insomnia completely and developed a habit of showing care and concern to many people beyond my family and friends.
Creating Positive Causes at Work
After my graduation, I found a fulfilling job at a community hospital, which aligned with my hope to render support to those who were vulnerable and who were in need. Initially, I encountered difficulties working with my colleagues. I remembered breaking down in anger and disappointment over people. Nevertheless, I continued to chant diligently, and seek from my mentor, this time through “The Youthful Diary”. Reinvigorated by his undefeated spirit, I determined to create positive causes at work, no matter what!
I started volunteering to attend their meetings to see what challenges they faced. Noticing that the team needed administrative support, I volunteered to put together reports and data analysis to provide clarity of various projects. Through these, I noticed how judgmental I had been, and how noble these clinicians actually were. They were human beings who tried to relieve the pain of others and save lives. They are sometimes wronged by patients and caregivers, and still, they continued their quest day after day. I started to thank them every time I saw them in the wards, in the meeting, in the cafeteria, when we were going home or coming to work. I made an effort to meet them one-to-one to talk and to learn from them. I sought them out so often that they started looking at me in the eye and told me that they were very impressed with my resilience and good heart. My work became a joy ever since.
In the same year, I was offered by the hospital to further my study overseas pursuing Masters in Health Management in Sydney. I accepted the offer with much gratitude. With unflinching support from my parents, family and comrades in faith, I returned from my overseas studies in July 2015. It has been a rich experience of countless dialogues with many humanistic champions of intellects and clinical professionals from all parts of the world! It was with great joy as well that I have shared about SGI President Ikeda and SGI to many of them including my professors. One of them, who attended the SGI Australia friendship meeting, was a Muslim friend!
An Art Exhibition Depicting “Human Revolution”
In 2014, I held a group exhibition and displayed a series of paintings that depicted “Human Revolution”. Since young, I loved to create art and dreamt to be an artist. I drew a lot in my younger days while trying to cope with insomnia. This exhibition was a breakthrough! Firstly, I managed to overcome my fear in meeting new people. I recalled I was so hesitant to attend the first meeting of the group exhibition as I had to meet many strangers! Also, I manifested courage to display my artwork to the public for the first time. Finally, these paintings sparked ice-breaking conversations and dialogues with many new friends on how individuals could spearhead a peaceful society amidst turbulences. Deeply touched by the message, my boss, who saw my exhibits, purchased and displayed them in his office – the paintings are now enjoyed by many of his guests.
Feeling immeasurable debt of gratitude to this practice, I resolve to do one thing that would have been unthinkable eight years ago. I resolve to forge genuine friendship with people from all walks of life, through one-to-one dialogue so that more lives would connect to this life-transforming philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism!
(Adapted from the Soka Women’s testimony book A Friend in the Orchid Room)