My Vow Is My Source of Strength
Ikeda Youth Ensemble Experience
Living Buddhism: Congratulations on the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival! What was life like two years ago when the
festival was first announced?
Nate Zavin: In fall 2016, I began the last year of my bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. This concluded a six year struggle, as two years of my college education were interrupted when I went into kidney failure. While strengthening my Buddhist practice during this time, I was able to find a perfect match for a kidney transplant, allowing me to finish my degree.
After graduating, I moved back to New York, where I struggled to find employment. In fall 2017, I auditioned for the chorus group, seeking for a way to deepen my faith and transform my karma.
How did this new experience start off?
Nate: Although I was accepted into the chorus group, my attendance at rehearsals was spotty at first. Something would come up, or I would find a reason not to attend. It’s not that I didn’t want to go; I just saw it as an optional activity, and lacked determination. I saw this tendency in other aspects of my life as well.
What shifted your attitude?
Nate: In January, my girlfriend at the time told me that she had fallen in love with my best friend. In one moment, I lost two of the most important people in my life. As painful as it was, I faced the Gohonzon and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I realized that this was the wake-up call I needed: No one else was responsible for my happiness; I had to do the work myself.
In tears, I sought guidance from a senior in faith on how to move forward. They encouraged me to base everything on faith and pour all of my efforts into the chorus group to make causes for my personal victory. I realized that I had been missing both a sense of responsibility for my life and hope.
Thank you for sharing your struggles so honestly. How did things change from there?
Nate: I determined to attend every rehearsal and kosen-rufu gongyo performance without fail. Also, as a newly appointed vice young men’s leader for Upper West Side Chapter, I began to fight in earnest alongside everyone to reach out to youth for the festival.
I had always been reluctant to take on responsibility—it felt like a burden. But the more responsibilities I took on in chorus and as a young men’s leader, the more possibilities I saw in myself and those around me. I started to approach my work and family with the same spirit. I realized this was the direct way to expand my capabilities, and it opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on life.
After a long period of unemployment, I started a full-time, but unpaid, job at a nonprofit. Determined to transform my circumstances, I chanted to turn it into a paid position. Within a week, my employer approached me with a paid position; but it required me to moved to Laos by June. I decided that there was no way I was going to miss the festival, so I passed on the offer, even though I was still unsure of my future.
I determined to make New York the place of my mission for kosen-rufu and auditioned for the 50,000 Lions of Justice chorus group, and I was accepted. And with SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in my heart, I set a lofty goal of registering 40 of my friends for the festival as a cause to find the best employment.
What results did you see from committing all out for the 50k movement?
Nate: One of my first friends to register was a close friend from Ireland. He attended a few meetings with me, and I gave my all to encouraging him. Although he ended up moving to Bermuda, he sought out the SGI organization there and received the Gohonzon! Not only that, he came back to New York for the festival with five other members from Bermuda! In total, I helped 50 of my friends and family register for the festival!
Striving in chorus activities also reawakened my passion for the arts. For many years I had trained in theater as an actor, and my dreams to produce and direct my own work became clear. After over a year of searching for employment, in September, I found a full-time job at a production company on Broadway!
Congratulations! How do you feel your faith has developed through this process?
Nate: I made a vow for kosen-rufu. In the beginning, I saw President Ikeda as a mentor for so many people around the world. But it took some time to realize that it was by standing up with the same vow as my mentor and seeking his example that I could expand my life to the same degree and call forth limitless strength. Now, I constantly ask myself, How can I respond to Sensei? And when I catch myself making excuses, I think of how Sensei has fought without ever retreating, and I think to myself: Just watch me, Sensei! I will win!
What are your determinations moving forward?
Nate: Much of my life has been defined by my illness, fears and environment. I have begun a new chapter in my life—one that I am writing myself, as a protagonist for kosen-rufu in charge of my own destiny.
Through participating in the chorus group, I learned the power of unity and shared struggle. It’s not about one person, but about each of us struggling, contributing and making the efforts to encourage one another. I want to create theater based on this same spirit. I want to become a producer and director who leads by advancing together with others.
The victories I experienced in the past two years are a taste of the absolute victory I can achieve in my life through practicing this Buddhism based on a vow, always advancing together with my mentor.