22 May 2021 The Greatest Gift From My Mother
Khoo Yong Kiang
Young Men Division
The breakthroughs in my journey of life would never have been possible without my mother’s firm and steadfast belief in the power of the mystic law. Her prayers, dedicated care and concern for me nurtured my growth from childhood to adulthood.
Growing up, I did not practise Nichiren Buddhism seriously until years later. My mother (Oei Gui Seng), on the other hand, having lost her husband two weeks after I was born, transformed from a feeble housewife to a confident and ever brilliant woman of the Women Division after embracing this Buddhist philosophy and challenging all obstacles through chanting the daimoku of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Since young I was an extremely mischievous and attention-seeking boy, never any good at studies and needing lots of care from my mother. Through my mother’s fervent prayers, I breezed through my primary school education until the primary school leaving examination (PSLE). Finally following my mother’s repeated advice to chant daimoku for wisdom and positive influences, I started to chant with the aim towards an opportunity to qualify for the Express stream in secondary school. As I was not in any teacher’s good books, I did not expect help from any of them. Then, a new teacher took over our class and through her constant encouragement and dialogue with my mother I started to work hard. I received a score of 189 points out of 300 for the PSLE which was the minimum point required to qualify for the Express stream of a secondary school.
My attitude towards Secondary school was a repeat of primary school until the GCE “O” level examination. I chanted daimoku as per my mother’s instruction; praying for wisdom to pass the exam and to secure a place in a polytechnic. Once again positive influences appeared in the form of two teachers who gave me extra lessons privately after school hours. How unbelievable is that! Of course I passed all the subjects and qualified for the Mechanical Engineering diploma programme at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, EXACTLY what my mother and I had prayed for!
With limited financial resources and an average result throughout my polytechnic years, I knew that polytechnic would definitely be the final stop of my academic studies. Therefore, I continued to lead a nonchalant life, enjoying my final phase of freedom before enlisting in the army and work thereafter. I managed to pass all the exams and enlisted in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) upon graduation. Having passed the polytechnic NAFA test, I was only required to spend a total of one year and ten months to complete my National Service (NS).
Based on Daimoku To Achieve An Impossible Target
Towards the end of NS, the thoughts of achieving a bachelor’s degree that would set me ahead in my future career surfaced. Despite obvious limitations I continued to chant daimoku in camp, setting a daily prayer for a chance to continue my studies upon completion of my NS.
Then, I received a letter of invitation from Ngee Ann Polytechnic on a new Foreign Specialised Institution (FSI) initiative jointly set-up by Ngee Ann polytechnic and Newcastle University (UK). Without hesitation, I applied for the Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering degree programme. My mother continued to chant fervently that I would secure a place in this programme. Considering her effort, I could not bear to not chant for actual proof. I was already doing daily prayers and attending monthly meetings.
Once again, breakthrough! One month before my release from the army, I received a letter from Newcastle University stating that I had been “Conditionally Accepted” into the programme. I accepted the challenge and chanted daily with the prayer that I must pass the bridging course to successfully enrol in the programme, and of course I did!
With substantial subsidy the final payment amount was exactly within the budget my late grandmother and mother had set aside for me without my knowledge. Knowing the hardship behind saving this money, and their unconditional support, I vowed to complete the programme with First-Class Honours, to pay respect to and honour my mother and late grandmother.
I studied like never before while continuing to chant fervently to achieve this impossible target. Once again, the power of faith proved the impossible, possible! I submitted the best thesis project of the entire cohort and completed the programme with First-Class Honours!
My thesis was presented the Keppel and Royal Institute of Naval Architecture Award which also landed me an interview and subsequent employment with Keppel Shipyard as management trainee in the Structural Department. I continued to strive in the marine and offshore industry throughout the years working in the field of structural construction for ships and conversion.
Never Too Late For a Master’s Degree
In 2017, upon returning from overseas, I was faced with various challenges — my career, my mother’s health issue, and the arrival of my son, Zayne. I was at my wits end, but quickly transformed my mind-set to “now is the time to be earnest in my practice of Nichiren Buddhism”. I chanted determined daimoku to open the path ahead. Ikeda Sensei says, “To do, create, or contribute something that benefits others, society, and also ourselves, and to dedicate ourselves as long as we live to that challenge — that is a life of true satisfaction, a life of value, a life of the loftiest humanity. Our Buddhist practice based on the Mystic Law, moreover, is the driving force that enables us to create the greatest possible value for ourselves and for others.”
I was thankful too that during the period of searching for a job, I could take care of my mother when she was battling cancer and saw to her recovery. While on paternity leave when Zayne was born, opportunity struck again for me to work on a master’s degree, which had been on my mind, but due to my work abroad these past years, had been on hold. I attended the briefing and applied for the latest postgraduate programme, Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability. As always, the Gohonzon’s protection never fails. As an alumnus of the university, I was granted a significant discount on course fee, and in support of the upgrade initiative from the government, the institute awarded each of the postgraduate students a further fee subsidy, thus making it really affordable.
Unquestionably, my return to academic studies was filled with challenges. Besides work, I had to juggle between my new-born son, family and monthly district activities. Indeed, my schedule was filled to the brim. Nevertheless, I never gave in to excuses and continued with a daily target of one-hour daimoku to pass the course with good results. Finally, through the power of the Mystic Law, I once again passed the programme with distinction and even won the best thesis project for the entire cohort which I had only realised on the day of graduation! This is definitely real demonstration of the power of faith.
During this Covid-19 pandemic situation, my company assigned a special task force to ensure the well-being of the foreign workers working in the shipyard. In the initial period, I had to stay away from family so as to ensure the safety of my family. Bearing in mind that every individual is worthy of respect as each possesses the inherent Buddha nature, just as Nichiren Buddhism advocates, I strive to manage and take good care of the well-being of the foreign workers.
Ikeda Sensei once said, “A life without struggle and challenge, a life free from hardship and difficulty, might seem pleasant and easy, but just as a child who is never exposed to the outside air grows up to be weak and frail, a life, a spirit, that is never tested or tempered cannot attain true happiness. Happiness can exist only in the heart of a person with a strong, solid self that is able to confidently overcome anything. In that sense, being able to train and forge ourselves by facing repeated difficulties is in itself a source of happiness. And more than anything, our Buddhist practice dedicated to the realisation of kosen-rufu hones us into people of diamond-like happiness.” I will continue to encourage fellow youth and students in the chapter who face similar challenges, especially in the domain of academic studies, as I strive on the path of faith and kosen-rufu, alongside my mentor, Ikeda Sensei.
(Adapted from July 2020 issue of Creative Life)