13 Mar 2020 Manifesting Buddhism in Daily Life
Kiyoko Ong Kai Xuan
Young Women Division Leader
“Go away! I hate you!” I said angrily, slamming the door at my mother’s face. I can still remember the many occasions I fought with my mother. Since young, we did not enjoy a good relationship. I always felt that my mother was biased towards my brother. Even though I had more attention from my father, it was not enough and somehow I always got mad with my mother. Most of our conversations would not last more than a couple of minutes. And it usually ends up with one or both persons shouting at each other.
Things got worse in secondary school. At that age, friends meant the world to me. I started hanging out with a group of friends and would come home really late. Soon enough, my grades started to plunge, and this caught the attention of my mother. Of course, I did not say anything when she asked about my results. Because of that, she resorted to checking my phone and texting my friends to ask them to leave me alone. When I found out what she had done, I was extremely upset. I felt like I could never trust my own mother ever again. This soured our relationship further.
Once when I was facing some issues with my friends, I became very emotional. Often, not knowing what to do, I would hide myself in my room and cry. As a means of relieving the emotional turmoil I was experiencing, I even tried cutting myself. My mother eventually caught me on to what I was doing and pleaded me to stop hurting myself. I could see the pain that she felt too when she looked at me and the scars on my wrist, and since that day, I never did it again. I somehow ended up breaking off from the group of friends whom I was close with.
Challenging the problem in my studies
Thereafter, I was extremely worried to face the looming ‘O’ levels as I had earlier neglected my studies. Feeling alone, I felt very lost and hopeless, thinking that I would probably not make it for ‘O’ levels.
Even before I was born, my parents have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism and attending Singapore Soka Association (SSA) activities. So, from a very young age, my brother and I would get pulled along to chant or attend SSA meetings. I was not really interested in Buddhism and so I was an inactive member. But I was fortunate to have Young Women Division (YWD) leaders – whom I call “Jie-Jies” (elder sisters) – visiting me, listening to my problems and sharing Buddhism with me. Touched by their warmth and sincerity, I started to attend more SSA activities.
I also began reading SGI President Ikeda’s writings. I was particularly inspired by this guidance, “When your determination changes, everything will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fibre will immediately orient itself toward your success”. This encouraged me to pray to realize my dream to become a physiotherapist. My parents and leaders always encouraged me to chant as they said “no prayers would go unanswered.” However, they also shared that “Buddhism is reason,” chanting alone would not bring about anything if I did not take action. I studied what I could in the remaining months while I continued to chant. I was overjoyed when I got my ‘O’ levels result and was eventually accepted by a Junior College (JC).
From JC to studying physiotherapy, I really struggled at each chapter of my education journey as I lacked self-esteem and confidence. I often harboured thoughts of giving up, and I realised that running away from my problems was a habit in my life. Nevertheless, through fervent prayers and President Ikeda’s encouragement, I was able to advance each time I reached a deadlock. After four years in Nanyang Polytechnic, I finally graduated as a full-fledged physiotherapist.
Changing myself from within
After graduation, I got a job immediately at a private hospital. Initially, I thought that working at a private hospital was prestigious and was happy that I was getting paid more than my peers. But the dream job soon turned out to be a nightmare. With a very demanding boss, poor learning environment and long working hours, I dreaded work very much. I would hide myself at home with no motivation to do anything, not even wanting to chant or go for meetings. Going to work felt like being in prison. My initial thought was to quit this job. I wanted so much to leave this horrible workplace as I thought once I was out of there, I would be much happier.
My father shared with me one of President Ikeda’s guidance: “True happiness is to be found within, in the state of our hearts. It does not exist on the far side of some distant mountains. It is within you, yourself. However much you try, you can never run away from yourself. And if you are weak, suffering will follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you don’t challenge your weaknesses and change yourself from within.” He warned me that quitting will not solve the problem and encouraged me to face the challenges head on.
Through the encouragement of my family and SSA members, I picked up chanting again. I turned my fears to prayers and started chanting fervently for the courage to face the challenges at work every day. I also chanted to have wisdom to improve my relationship with my boss. Eventually, my relationship with my boss improved and I even started to enjoy going to work. According to Buddhism, “everything happens for a reason”. Because of my perseverance, I received a great benefit that was totally unexpected. I was accepted by a local university after receiving recommendations from a doctor at work!
Even though the quarrels with my mother got less as I grew older, I was still very hot tempered. Sometimes she would broadcast our family affairs to other family members and relatives. Feeling humiliated and embarrassed, I would scold her and a quarrel would ensue. It got to a point where I felt, “Fine, do whatever you want, I’m never going to tell anything again.” I avoid telling my mother things as I felt she did not understand. She would always try to insist on her point of view and we would end up quarrelling once again.
Although I was not as affected by my mother as before, I was not truly happy. My father always said that in order to change my mother, I had to be the one to change first. I scoffed and brushed aside this advice. I felt that it was not my fault and so, “why did I have to change?” Eventually the more I practiced, the more I came to understand that my environment was a reflection of my inner state of life. It was most obvious whenever I responded negatively towards her, she would get upset with me, and I would respond with greater agitation. This was a vicious cycle. I started to chant for the wisdom and high life condition to not react in that manner but to respond calmly towards my mother’s requests to me.
Initially, I performed certain household chores grudgingly. Whenever I felt we were on the verge of starting a quarrel, I would grit my teeth and hold myself back from saying more. It was really difficult! Yet, the more I did and the more I chanted, I began to see all the little things my mother has been doing for me. Slowly, that resentment dissolved, and a sense of gratitude and compassion towards my mother grew. Over time, I learnt to translate this appreciation into action, and my behaviour towards her improved. She responded in kind, was less angry and seemed happier with me. Just as what Nichiren Daishonin states in his writings: “It is like the situation when one faces a mirror and makes a bow of obeisance: the image in the mirror likewise makes a bow of obeisance to oneself” (OTT, 165)
In retrospect, I realised that my mother had always been supporting me, and she really loved me very much. This was reflected in her daily struggle of challenging herself at work and taking care of the family when she was back home.
Sharing the Hope – Filled Philosophy with My Friends
My first attempt at introducing Buddhism was to my close friend, Huey Yen, whom I have known for 11 years. We were classmates in JC and we even enrolled in the same physiotherapy course together. When Huey Yen travelled to Sweden after her overseas attachment, she met an overseas Japanese member who invited her to a discussion meeting. Despite the language barrier, she could experience the warmth and joy shared during the meeting. The elderly Japanese woman gave her a set of prayer beads for chanting and told her to start attending the local discussion meetings back in Singapore, which she did! Huey yen felt a difference in her life when she started chanting. She found greater meaning in the philosophy of a value-creative life and participated in the 2014 Youth Friendship for Peace concert. She once shared with me that “chanting daimoku is like a form of training”, which enabled her to further expand herself to take on greater challenges at work and in daily life.
The second person to whom I introduced Buddhism was Geraldine, my colleague. She was always very shy and quiet. We got to know each other better from exchanging information about the university program that I had done. As my understanding of her deepened, I got to know about her family issues. Sensing her unhappiness, I shared with her the hope-filled philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism and how it could help her and her family become happy. Initially she was skeptical at how Buddhism could help her solve her problems. But I continued to chant for her happiness and engaged in sincere dialogue with her. I also shared with her my testimony of work as well as how I transformed the relationship with my mother. Geraldine finally picked up chanting after a few months. Seeing the changes in herself – “becoming more positive and having the courage to take action for the happiness of herself and her family”, she received her Gohonzon in October 2015.
I felt irrepressible joy at seeing the growth of my two friends. Having experienced how Buddhism enables me and others to become truly happy together, I am even more determined to help more of my friends become happy through the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.
Value-creation in Society
After working as a physiotherapist for six years, I started questioning my purpose in life, I was still enjoying my work, but there were questions of “what could I do more?” and “how can I contribute to the happiness of even more people?” in my mind. Despite being a terrible student in school, seeing how my life transformed through my Buddhist practice open my eyes to the limitless potential and possibilities in my life. It gave me the courage to pursue a Master of Public Health degree. I wanted to be able to contribute to the health of communities and population at large. However, the journey of returning back to school after six years of work was a difficult one. On top of that, my family faced financial difficulties as my brother was out of job and I had stopped work to study full-time. As my savings was fast depleting, I had to start working and took up two part-time jobs. Time was extremely tight for me trying to juggle between school and work. But the harsher life’s challenges, the harder I practiced. I started chanting 2 hours a day and went all out to participate in my Buddhist activities. I was supported by “Buddhist-gods” (protective functions) in the form of wonderful classmates who helped me tremendously throughout my studies. In the end, I scored straight As in my last semester – the best result ever in my entire educational life.
SGI President Ikeda said: “The task of education must be fundamentally to ensure that knowledge serves to further the cause of human happiness and peace.” I chanted fervently for a job that would enable me to fulfill my mission and work for the health and happiness of people. With a strong determination to start work as soon as possible, I found one and started work immediately three weeks after school had ended. Now, I am involved in implementing health policies for communities at a government organisation.
Looking back over the years, I am grateful for my Buddhist practice as it has enabled me to bring forth my innate potential and achieve clear actual proof in my daily life. It has made me into a happier person and taught me the importance of creating the greatest value in my life and the lives of others. I am filled with the deepest gratitude and appreciation for my family, my extended Soka family and most importantly, my mentor in life, President Ikeda. I am determined to live out my life together with my mentor, to advance in my human revolution and spread this philosophy of hope to those around me!