26 Mar 2019 Steadfastly Advancing on My Chosen Path in Life!
Young Men Division Leader
Joined SSA in 2006
I was first introduced to Nichiren Buddhism by my uncle in 2006. At that time, as a young adult who just finished serving National Service, I pondered a lot about my future and life itself. What does the future hold for me? What is the purpose of life? Is there any meaning in life other than getting a degree, securing a job and starting a family thereafter? To me, life seemed like clockwork and I questioned if that was all there is to life. I hope to live a life without regrets, with meaning and value. There were no clear answers to my questions, however, until I encountered Nichiren Buddhism.
As a self-professed freethinker then, I could not picture myself as someone religious, diligently chanting every day. However, I decided to join the Singapore Soka Association (SSA) for two main reasons. Firstly, I was captivated by the profound philosophy of Buddhism which expounds the infinite value and potential of life and teaches how one could actually realise that potential through invocating the mantra Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or what we usually term as “daimoku”.
Secondly, I was inspired by Soka Gakkai International (SGI) President Ikeda. In his book “Discussions on Youth”, I found great inspiration and a clear direction in which to live out my youth. The seemingly abstruse philosophy of Buddhism was distilled into very clear and simple terms in this book through the words of President Ikeda. That was the point when I felt a connection with this man who helped to open up my perspectives on life.
A particular passage from “Discussions on Youth” that inspired me greatly was:
“Each of us is as unique as a cherry, plum, peach or damson blossom, as Nichiren Daishonin explains. Cherry blossoms and plum blossoms possess their own distinct wonder; accordingly, you must bloom in the way that only you can. Without a doubt, you each have your own jewel, your own innate talent within you. How can you discover that talent? The only way is to exert yourselves to the limit of your ability. Your true potential will emerge when you give everything you’ve got to your studies, sports or whatever you take on. The important thing is that you get into the habit of challenging yourselves to the utmost.”
Engraving the words “to challenge myself to the utmost” in my heart, I set forth, full of hope, on my undergraduate journey at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Determined to change my passive way of life to an active one, I began by joining the NUS Community Service Club (CSC) and took up a position as a management committee member. Not just focusing on my academic results, I wanted to go beyond the sphere of my own personal concerns to serve and care for others, especially the less privileged. With President Ikeda’s guidance, I had great expectations for my first semester but my results turned out to be dismal. I had intended to get into a prestigious overseas exchange program which required an average grade of better than B+. In the end, however, my average was only slightly better than a B. Upset and feeling defeated, self-limiting thoughts bombarded me and I started to doubt the power of the Gohonzon (the object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism). I chanted earnestly and realised that I hadn’t been meticulous in my work. With this realisation, my heart burnt with the resolve to improve in the next semester.
In the second semester, under the pretext of limited time, I decided to skip most, if not all, of the SSA activities to accommodate my club activities and my work as a tutor. I did my daily practice out of a sense of obligation, and on numerous days, I did not even chant. As the modules that I took were quite easy, my results improved but not as much as I hoped.
My turning point came in the third semester when I took up a greater challenge by overloading the number of modules I could take and packing all my lessons into four days per week. I did not realise then how punishing this schedule would turn out to be. School ended at 6pm every day, of which three of my four school days began at 8 a.m. On some days, I had to attend three consecutive lectures, each lasting two hours. Besides that, I was also giving tuition to three students and committed myself to regular volunteering activities.
During this period, I experienced a setback.
After concluding a fulfilling one-year term as a management committee member in the CSC, I decided to run for the position of Vice-President of the club. With the support and encouragement that I received from my peers, I felt very hopeful and was determined to pour all my efforts into moving the club forward together. But unexpectedly, I lost the election. At that instant, my hopes were shattered and I remained despondent for the next few days. However, I believed that everything happened for a reason. And I decided to find that reason by returning to SSA activities—with the same enthusiasm that I did as a committee member.
Besides giving tuition, volunteering regularly and participating frequently in SSA activities on top of my already punishing school schedule, I still had to find time to prepare for tutorials and complete my assignments. But almost every day, I would reach home after 10pm, leaving little time and energy for me to do all these. Needless to say, I was feeling very stretched in all directions and deeply worried about how my results would be affected. It was a constant battle against time. If you don’t have time, chant for more time! These words from a senior suddenly came to my mind. I realised that this was the crucial point to challenge my situation through daimoku and obtain actual proof of victory.
With Nichiren Daishonin’s injunction to “employ the strategy of the Lotus Sutra before any other”, (WND-1, 1001) made a strong resolution to chant one hour of daimoku daily and achieve a breakthrough in my results. I was determined to show actual proof of my Buddhist practice so that I could encourage my fellow members and juniors in the future. Every night, after returning home and washing up, I would chant to hit my target of one hour of daimoku, and then persevered to complete my tutorials and assignments. By the time I retired for the night, it was usually between 1am to 2.30am. I would then wake up the following morning at 6am so that I could chant for around 20 minutes before going to school. It was exhausting and I had wanted to give in to my weakness on numerous occasions, but I was constantly reminded of the Daishonin’s admonition: “The wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.” (WND-1, 637) I told myself, “No. I do not want to be like the foolish and give up in the face of struggle and obstacles.”
Gradually as I persevered, I began to experience the power of daimoku. There was an instance where I had only around three hours of rest on the night before two mathematics tests. Filled with a strong determination to score a victory, I pushed on with my daily routine of waking up at 6am to chant strong daimoku before I set off for school. During the tests, I found myself surprisingly energised and was able to concentrate fully. When the results came back, I did very well and even scored full marks for one of them! Despite the lack of sleep, I was filled with an inexplicable source of energy. It was then when I realised that daimoku was the means to summon forth boundless life force, which had all along had been present in the depths of my life. I felt a deep sense of joy and understood for the first time that joy and suffering were not two separate ends – joy could be felt in the midst of my struggles. Phrases from the Gosho (writings of Nichiren Daishonin) and the Lotus Sutra just came to life for me. These weren’t something that could be grasped intellectually or fully expressed in writing here. The reality of Buddhahood exists deep within our lives which could only be awakened through faith and the chanting of daimoku. My belief that religion and Buddhism existing in a realm separate from reality had been a mistaken one. This contradiction within me was dissolved instantly through this profound experience. I realised that Buddhism is daily life.
Having awakened to the greatness of the Mystic Law, I applied greater efforts in my Buddhist study, building up a personal library of SGI publications such as The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, The Human Revolution, and devoured them voraciously. With a deeper understanding of Nichiren Buddhism and experiencing how the Buddhist principles worked in my life just as expounded, I was propelled to share this happiness with people around me.
When the day of revelation for the semester came, I chanted earnestly and prepared myself for the results. “Hurray!”—the spontaneous cry of joy resounded as I saw my results. I got an average grade of A- and I even scored an A+ for one module! My prayer was achieved! For each subsequent semester, I’d also managed to improve from B to A-. In addition to the victory in my results, I scored an even more wonderful victory in enabling a good friend to start practicing and received the Gohonzon! Achieving these victories in that very challenging semester was a source of great jubilance for me.
In retrospect, failing to get into the prestigious overseas exchange program as well as not being elected into the management committee did happen for a very good reason. I would not otherwise have been able to discover the deep joy of life through this faith. With my actual proof and deepened faith, I managed to improve my results and was even selected once into the Dean’s list—which would have been unimaginable given the dismal results in my first semester.
As soon as I graduated from NUS, I embarked on the path of being a teacher. It came as a realisation through the many SSA activities that I immersed myself in and also through the writings of President Ikeda. My heart deeply resonated with the three founding Soka Gakkai Presidents’ conviction that the world needs the sort of education that fulfils the fundamental purpose of education: the happiness of children. Thus, I decided to dedicate myself to the mission of becoming a humanistic educator who can make a difference in the lives of my students.
President Ikeda writes, “The teacher-student, or mentor- disciple, relationship is the starting point of education.” Just like how he trusted, respected and did his utmost for all the members and the Soka schools’ students, I emulated his example. I prayed deeply for each of my students’ happiness with a strong belief in the great mission that they possessed. To build a relationship of trust, I also focused on reaching out to each of my students, carrying out dialogues with them on a one-to-one basis, and exerting myself behind the scenes in encouraging them through personal letters and messages. When it came to classroom teaching, I prayed determinedly to manifest strong life force to create a positive learning environment for them.
In five years as an educator, while I have gained accolades such as the Caring Teacher Award or being nominated for the Outstanding Youth for Education Award, foremost on my mind is my mission as a Soka educator and exerting myself for the happiness of each of my students. This chosen path however hasn’t always been an easy one. Faced with the daily challenges and the manifold constraints, my spirit waned at times, and I felt myself sometimes detracting from my original path, my original vow. But thanks to my Buddhist practice and my victories during those four years in varsity, I knew that I already have the key to transforming all these. I would have been a lesser teacher without faith and my mentor in life, President Ikeda.
Looking back on the ten years since I took up faith, my heart is filled with immense gratitude and appreciation. Through encountering Nichiren Buddhism and my mentor President Ikeda, my life transformed from one that had no direction to one with profound purpose, joy and conviction. I still know not what the future holds for me, but I do know this: I’ve found the path that I will resolutely walk for the rest of my life – the path of mentor and disciple.
(Adapted from the Young Men’s testimony book Hero of the World published in 2017)