29 Apr 2019 Never Let the Lack of Money Stop You from Pursuing Your Dreams
Ho Wei Cheon, Jarrod
Men Division Leader
I was raised in what you could call a below average middle-class family. I grew up in an environment where our electricity was constantly turned off and we survived just on porridge with soy sauce for months when money was scarce. At one point, I risked having my education terminated due to my family’s inability to pay the school fees. This financial situation made me very discouraged – I was always feeling hungry and I lamented at my wretched karma for being born into this family. There were times when I resorted to stealing from my mother to fulfil my self-indulgent needs but the next moment, I would feel guilty for squandering my mother’s hard-earned money. Financial insecurity ruled a very large part of my life growing up. On top of this, in school, I was slow in picking things up and barely passed my Primary School Leaving Examination. I managed to enter the normal technical stream where I stayed for six years in secondary school due to my poor academic results.
In 1990, my father introduced me to Nichiren Buddhism. I became very active in Singapore Soka Association (SSA) Student Division (comprising students in tertiary education) and it was there where my faith, practice and study strengthened tremendously. Through my assiduous practice, I experienced immense conspicuous and inconspicuous benefits. One unforgettable experience I had was securing money to pursue my overseas education. This was one of the greatest examples of actual proof, of benefit from my faith in the Gohonzon (the object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism). I finally understood the words: “Fear knocks on the door. Faith answered. There was no one there.”
Never let the lack of money deter you from pursuing your dreams.” These were the words shared by my seniors from Ngee Ann Polytechnic Student Division, who despite their own financial hardships, eventually triumphed through the power of faith and went on to pursue their dreams of an overseas education. In 1999, I started making plans towards pursuing my long cherished dream of going overseas for my maritime studies. At that time, the local university did not offer any undergraduate courses in this area of studies. Bearing my seniors’ words in mind, I plucked up my courage to apply for study in the United Kingdom and United States, despite not having any money to do so.
Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Ikeda’s novel, The Human Revolution, became my constant companion and source of motivation during that time. One chapter that inspired me in particular was in the “Determination” Chapter of Volume 10, where President Ikeda wrote: “Anyone would think victory is impossible and that’s probably how you feel right now. But don’t forget this marvellous Gohonzon we have. It has the power to transform what you’d normally think impossible into something possible. Those who give up before they try don’t really know the power of the Mystic Law.”
Buddhism is reason. Hence, apart from my faith and practice, I took concrete actions by writing letters direct to several maritime companies and charitable foundations asking for financial support. I started my daimoku (chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) campaign, chanting at least three to four hours daily and became increasingly active in all SSA activities. I was eventually accepted into two universities and I chose to attend Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. However, three months before I was due to go, all my applications for financial aid were rejected: it was either that the companies did not have any sponsorship policy or I did not have those stellar academic credentials to justify the aid. I was crestfallen. My life-condition hit rock bottom, my prayers became weak-willed. In fact, I began to harbour doubts in the Gohonzon.
At the point when I was about to give up faith altogether, a chance meeting with a Soka friend, Lili Long, transformed my perspective towards faith. Lili shared that second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used to say that even though our wallets may be empty, there was an abundance of money floating about in the world – it just hadn’t come our way, that’s all. But, if we accumulate good fortune, using it to “drill a hole” into that vast reservoir of money and tap some for ourselves, we will never have to be wanting. Lili further quoted words from the book, The Human Revolution, and urged me to pray earnestly “as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground!” (WND-1, 444) Witnessing Lili’s conviction in her faith became a major turning point for me. I profoundly realised then, that my life is Buddhahood itself, and there is no such thing as a cowardly Buddha! With renewed determination, I increased my daimoku, continued to share Buddhism with others passionately and participated in all SSA activities. This profoundly and swiftly elevated my life state and I derived tremendous joy from my practice.
One month before I was due to depart, when everything felt seemingly impossible, true to President Toda’s words, I found a sponsor who agreed to pay for my tuition fees and living expenses for my entire two years’ education without any repayment needed! Another amazing experience preceding this, was that in my application for financial aid, I had forgotten to include my contact number. And yet, the Director who picked up my application actually travelled all the way from his house in the west of Singapore to the east to pay me a home visit! I was really moved by his sincerity and was so grateful that he did not discard my application because of my oversight. Eventually, I received a cheque which provided me more than enough funds to fulfil my second dream of completing my research work at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva. I was even able to pay for my parents to attend my graduation ceremony as well.
Anyone would think victory is impossible and that’s probably how you feel right now. But don’t forget this marvellous Gohonzon we have. It has the power to transform what you’d normally think impossible into something possible. Those who give up before they try don’t really know the power of the Mystic Law.
Daisaku Ikeda (The Human Revolution, Volume 10, Determination Chapter)
As a normal technical student, two-time ‘O’ level candidate, and having failed my first semester at the polytechnic, I would never expect a “failure” like me could still pursue an overseas education! Undaunted by my past setbacks, I worked very hard. I set a goal to chant a minimum three hours of daimoku daily and came up with detailed study plans. Such disciplined routine energized me greatly. I was in rhythm with the Mystic Law. Never forgetting my gratitude to the Gohonzon, I actively involved myself in SGI-UK activities. I joined the SGI-UK equivalent of the Young Lion Group (a logistic functional group comprising Young Men Division members for supporting SSA events) and actively shared Nichiren Buddhism with others. Eventually, two of my friends started practicing and received their Gohonzon in the United Kingdom. As a result of my dedicated practice and commitment towards my studies, at the end of my two years, having overcame my self-doubt, I topped my class and graduated with a first class honours degree and was awarded the United Kingdom Institute of Transport and Logistics book prize. I had finally made the impossible become I-M-POSSIBLE!
This prime point that I experienced back then gave me the courage to pursue my second quest for higher education in the year 2006. After seven years of working in the maritime sector, I applied to do a Master’s degree program with an acclaimed European university in maritime economics and logistics. This time, I applied for the Singapore Maritime Foundation (SMF) Scholarship for my financial aid. To my dismay, however, I was told that priority would be given to those who were local graduates. I was not considered as one. Undaunted, I employed the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other. Two months into the application process, I was shortlisted for a series of tests and interviews. I recalled vividly being asked what my dream was, to which I replied that when I retire, I want to be an educator and teach based on Soka humanism. I went on to share what our Soka philosophy was and our values of peace, culture and education. Three days later, I received news that I was one of the two candidates awarded with a SMF scholarship! I was shocked yet immensely delighted with the outcome.
In October 2006, I started my academic adventure in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I also made two determinations with the Gohonzon that I would excel and show magnificent actual proof in my studies and that I would realise kosen-rufu (peace and happiness of all people) in the Netherlands.
During this time when I was away, my resolve was tested by numerous challenges – my mother had a bad fall and broke both her wrists; one of my father’s lungs collapsed; school life was very tough and competitive with subjects like statistics, economics, shipping finance, maritime law being my nemesis. In spite of all these challenges, I strove to return to my prime point of faith and put the Gohonzon at the centre of my life. President Toda shared: “You must have a strong life force to lead a worthwhile life. A vigorous life force will enable you to enjoy it within your own circumstances.” I held the above guidance close to my heart during those trying periods and chanted for strong life force whenever I felt that life was getting too much to bear.
On May 3, 2007, the entire SGI-Europe Student Division embarked on a year-long friendship and reach-out campaign. We were asked to share Buddhism with one new friend and to take good care of him until he was comfortable to start practicing. By then the school semester had ended for us to craft our Master’s thesis on our own time and I had four months left before I officially graduated from school. Even though I had absolutely no idea who I could share Nichiren Buddhism with, I set a resolute prayer praying that my life would attract genuine people who needed this Buddhism.
Amazingly, two weeks into my chanting, my district leader approached me to join him in sharing Buddhism with his younger brother, Casper. Throughout the next four months we constantly engaged in dialogues with Casper and invited him to SGI activities. Even though Casper was not ready to embrace the practice, he joined our SGI activities. We never gave up sharing Buddhism with him. Before I left the Netherlands for good, I gave my Butsudan (Buddhist altar) to Casper and shared with him that I would continue to support him even though we would be thousands of miles apart. Our hearts were linked by the Mystic Law. As a result of planting this seed of causality in Casper’s life, he eventually became an active SGI member, received the Gohonzon and became the National Future Division (comprising students in secondary schools) Leader of SGI-Netherlands.
During that final 4-month period of my studies, my scholarship was actually getting insufficient to support me. Yet strangely, I was at ease with the situation and not worried at all. I simply continued chanting abundant daimoku and continued with my kosen-rufu activities. In my heart I somehow knew that whatever amount of money I needed would come my way. And indeed, in the midst of my research work and kosen-rufu activities, I had the good fortune to meet a business owner who agreed to provide financial support for my living expenses and research field trip at the World Maritime University in Sweden! At the same time, a fellow SGI member with a spare room, offered to let out this room to me for free! I was thus able to continue my stay in the Netherlands to complete my thesis. Such unexpected conspicuous benefits! In September 2007, I finally graduated with distinction and my research thesis was published in an acclaimed maritime journal as well.
Looking back on my twenty years since I embraced Nichiren Buddhism, I am so filled with profound gratitude. I have a newfound sense of self-esteem, pride and faith. Never forgetting that my ultimate dream is to be an educator, I agreed to an invitation to join the Singapore Maritime Ambassadors program where I will play key role in providing career advice and guidance to younger generations of maritime professionals. The core aim of this initiative is to attract and retain maritime talents for the Maritime Industry. Coincidentally, I was reading President Ikeda’s essays and I came across a passage about the role of a teacher that I particularly loved:
Learning to listen is equally vital to the process of developing one’s greater self and the greater selves of others. When a teacher listens intently to students’ ideas and responds with interest and respect, that teacher gives them a great gift. This respectful attention encourages students to trust the worth of their own insights while also encouraging them to extend this gift of respect to others. The potential social impact of this generosity can hardly be overstated, suggests Ikeda, who places “the dialogue of spiritual openness” at the heart of our efforts in pursuit of peace and global well-being. “The key to such dialogue,” he says “is devoting our very lives to listening and learning from those different from us. This humble willingness to learn is profoundly meaningful, invariably fostering deep, empathetic connections. Not only does this resonance enable us to understand others on a deeper level, it acts as a mighty impetus for our true self—our greater self—to flower within us.
Bearing these words in mind, I want to be an ambassador who listens, respects and empowers others; helps them discover their interests and encourages them to believe in their full potential and to make valuable contributions to society. Regardless of the many road blocks that stand in the way of our pursuit of our dreams, let’s pray for the courage to take that leap of faith and determine that no matter what, “I will change my destiny, I will have my prayers fulfilled!” Let’s offer fresh prayers to the Gohonzon every day and adorn each page of our lives with beautiful actual proofs of victory!
(Adapted from the Young Men’s testimony book Hero of the World published in 2017)