01 Jul 2019 Never Give Up
Jeff Toh Keng Yeow
Men Division Leader
When I was 8, my family shifted from a house in a kampong off Yio Chu Kang Road to a three-room HDB flat in Hougang in accord with the government’s resettlement plans in the 1980s. Though still young, I knew that my parents were excited about the new house but they were also worried about our financial situation.
Taking Up Faith in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism
Due to my father’s habitual gambling, he ended up owing huge amount of debts to illegal money- lenders. As a result, my family experienced constant harassment from the loan sharks who vandalised the walls outside our house, banging our doors to demand payment in the wee hours.
My parents were hawkers making meager earnings but a large portion of their income was used to pay off the debts. Soon we did not even have enough money to provide for the family’s basic needs. We had to eat plain porridge with soy sauce or canned food every other day. Our electrical power and water supply were eventually cut off due to numerous defaults. My parents quarrelled often and my mother was always in tears.
It was during this darkest moment that my mother took faith in Nichiren Buddhism. We began to witness the tremendous power of the Buddha and the power of the Law manifested through my mother’s earnest power of faith and practice. My family was able to transform our financial karma within a short period of time.
Due to my immaturity and ignorance, I failed to understand the greatness of faith. All I focused on was the adverse conditions in my family and I dreaded going home. I began mingling with bad company when I was 10 years old. I began to smoke and drink at a tender age. I also had a lot of problems in school. My parents were called up many times to meet the principal because of my poor academic performance and bad conduct in school. I was labelled as one who “could not study”.
When I entered secondary school, my defiant behaviour worsened. I was drinking heavily everyday and was always tipsy. Worst of all, I associated with a group of negative peers who did nothing but idled their time away every day. Needless to say, we did nothing but created trouble and got into fights. It soon became a ritual for me to meet up with them everyday. The strong sense of belonging with these peers brought me a lot of comfort and with their negative influences, I soon sunk deeper and deeper into trouble. My outlook in life was bleak and negative.
One fateful day, a senior member in the group was seriously injured in a fight. We were told that the police was investigating the case and that we were not allowed to meet until the situation was resolved. This marked the end of my association with these negative peers as I was so afraid to be implicated and arrested. I made a decision to leave them for good.
Living in Darkness
Although I left the group, I continued to drink and smoke. By then, I was already a chain-smoker and an alcoholic. I was never interested in my studies. I only lived to seek out pleasures and have fun. I went to school late, stinking of alcohol and spending most of my time hiding in the toilet to smoke. I continued to neglect my studies and was never interested in normal youth activities. In 1992, I dropped out from the National Institute of Commence (now known as Institute of Technical Education) after spending only three months there.
When I was 19, I sent in an application to become a police officer. I knew that if I had gone for National Service (NS), my NS allowance might not be sufficient to pay for my smoking and drinking habits. I did not want to be a burden to my family either.
Even after becoming a police officer, I continued to indulge in heavy drinking and smoking. I used all my free time pursuing personal pleasure such as going to pubs and drinking beer. Due to my habits, I was often left with nothing in my pocket. At times, I borrowed money from friends to feed my drinking and smoking habits. My parents were utterly disappointed in me.
When I was 24, I began to ponder about my life. I came to realise that I had been wasting my life away, seeking only pleasures and fun. I had neither an academic qualification nor a driving license. Worst of all, I did not have a vision for my future. Overcame with fear and uncertainty about my future, I realised how wrong I was to have wasted my life away. I knew I could not continue to live my life in this manner but at the same time, I felt helpless. I wanted to change but I simply could not garner enough courage and motivation to act upon it.
Even if I did, I kept failing. I attempted to change my life by enrolling into part-time night classes to pursue a GCE ‘A’ level certificate but I failed the examination twice. I knew that it would be beneficial to have a driving license but I just could not pass the Highway Code test for over two years. I tried umpteen times to kick my drinking and smoking addiction but failed. Utterly discouraged, I just stopped trying anymore. Gradually, I accepted that there was simply nothing I could do about my life. I succumbed to the belief that I was simply “no good” and was destined to become a failure in life. There was this little voice in me that constantly remind me that I could not study and that I should just be contented with who I was. As a young adult, I developed a very low self-esteem.
My Turning Point
All these years, while I was struggling to pick up the pieces in my life, my mother and the leaders of SSA tried time and again to encourage me to start practising faith and to attend SSA activities but I stubbornly refused. I felt that the leaders were “too scholarly” and I could not communicate with them.
One day, I chanced upon a guidance from President Ikeda. I remembered being deeply moved by his wisdom and love for youths. I was greatly inspired and thereafter I agreed to meet a Young Men Division (YMD) leader who had been trying to reach out to me. After a heart-to-heart dialogue with him, I plucked up my courage to attend SSA activities. From then on, my life began to change. I chanted to the Gohonzon that I must have the good fortune and wisdom to pursue a course that is relevant to my career. My prayer was answered when the police force announced a sponsored diploma program. I applied for the sponsorship and chanted fervently that I must be selected for the course. When the result was out, I was elated. I was chosen to undergo the three years part-time diploma course!
A Taste of Human Revolution
Turning over a new leaf entailed a great struggle against many difficulties and challenges. Having lived a life of pleasure-seeking for so many years, it was difficult to adapt to a completely new lifestyle. Soon after my course began, I was posted to a department that required me to work long hours. On normal working days, I had to work 14 hours and attend three night classes a week. At the same time, I was also attending a YMD training programme. On top of this, I was also preparing for my wedding. I barely slept four to five hours a day and it was a tough struggle for me.
During this period, it was my daimoku and my mentor’s guidance that kept me going. At the end of three years, I looked back and was amazed at the tremendous change I witnessed in myself—I was no longer drunk and had quit smoking. I obtained my Diploma, got married, bought a house and a car. I had realigned my entire life, putting it onto a path towards happiness and fulfilment.
After acquiring my diploma, I went on to pursue an advance diploma which led me to a Bachelor’s Degree, and subsequently a post-graduate course, all in my journey of 13 years on part-time studies. I had transformed from being labeled “could not study” to one with a Master’s Degree. This is indeed a significant actual proof of my human revolution based on my Buddhist practice. No one, including myself could have imagined that I am capable of such drastic transformation.
Through experiencing this tough struggle, I’ve come to understand that my daily steadfast practice of chanting daimoku and actively participating in SSA activities had helped consolidate and strengthen my Buddha nature. I could really feel the Buddha’s wisdom and courage manifesting in my life as I strove to overcome one hurdle after another. I believe I had made the impossible possible through faith. I strongly feel I have been given a new lease of life.
Finding my Mission
After working in the police force for about 16 years, I decided to request for a transfer to a boy’s home and it was granted in 2008. I was then already holding a comfortable position and my friends could not understand why I chose to undertake a tougher job that most people would normally shun. But for me, I was actually seeking my mission in life.
In 2010, at the boy’s home, I was assigned a very difficult case. This particular youth was always full of anger and was very uncooperative. Due to his undesirable behaviour, he was locked up in a separate cell. As he was angry at almost everything in life, he did not want to speak to anyone.
One day, I visited him in his cell with my guitar. Naturally, he was surprised. I told him that I wanted to share with him a song I wrote for my mentor many years ago. He agreed and I began singing. I noticed that the boy was listening very attentively and gradually, I saw his eyes became teary. When I finished singing, he asked me if I could sing a Hokkien song. I smiled in my heart for I loved to sing Hokkien songs when I was a delinquent youth. I sang him a few Hokkien songs and we began to talk naturally. This episode enabled me to see how my past experiences had led me to my mission. Through faith, I was able to transform my seemingly negative past into a source of inspiration for others. I was amazed at the beneficial power of the Mystic Law.
Practising for Oneself and Others
Having witnessed so many benefits and positive transformation in my life, I knew that it was not right for me to keep this great philosophy to myself. I must share it with as many people as possible to enable others to enjoy happiness in life too.
When I was an alcoholic, I had many drinking buddies. One of them was Ah Soon, whom I drank with very often. I cannot remember how many nights we drank our sorrows away. He was a kind-hearted and earnest person by nature who always found himself in trouble with work and relationships.
I shared the Daishonin’s Buddhism with Ah Soon and told him about my personal experiences. Obstinate by nature, he often chided me and accused me of being a lackey to the Japanese (thinking that I was practising a Japanese religion). However, my training in SSA taught me that compassion and perseverance is the key in the practice of propagation. I refused to give up and continued to share and invite him to SSA activities. My efforts paid off and Ah Soon finally took up faith in 2005 and began to practise seriously.
Today, he has also given up drinking and smoking. He is happily married and his wife had also taken up faith in the Daishonin’s Buddhism. He is now a YMD leader. From “drinking buddies” we have now become comrades of kosen-rufu. We are now in the midst of introducing the Daishonin’s Buddhism to another alcoholic.
Committed to Nurturing Future Successors
Four years into my marriage, my wife discovered that she was expecting. Both of us were elated as we had longed for a child. However, two months into her pregnancy, the doctor pronounced that the foetus did not develop and no pulse was detected. It was a sign the pregnancy had terminated and we were advised to abort the foetus. It was a shock as we were looking forward to parenthood. Subsequently, we went through the same emotional roller-coaster thrice.
Later, I came to know of a friend who had the same experience and fell into depression. When I shared this with my wife, she told me that she wanted to share her experience with this friend.
Through this episode, I came to realise that our seemingly tormenting experiences had enabled us to empathise and care for others, just as second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda taught in his guidance: “Outwardly, at times, we might look like a ‘Bodhisattva Poverty’ or ‘Bodhisattva Sickness,’ but that is merely a role we’re playing in the drama of life. We are each in fact a bona fide Bodhisattva of the Earth!”
Through the example of how we tackle our challenges, we could encourage and inspire others who are facing similar problems. Through our own struggles, we came to develop a state of life where we were not shaken by any storm.
With strong conviction that “No prayer (of the votary of the Lotus Sutra) will go unanswered.” (WND-1, p345), our prayer was finally answered when we were made parents of a baby boy in June 2014.
Looking ahead, I am determined to continue to uphold my faith, remain undefeated in all challenges and strive hard for kosen-rufu, together with my fellow comrades, always keeping SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in our heart.
(Adapted from the testimony book I Arise published in 2015)