Contributing as Protagonists of Our Buddhist Peace Movement
May Commemorative Contribution
This month marks the beginning of our May Commemorative Contribution activity. Living Buddhism spoke with SGI-USA youth across the country about the spirit of making offerings and their role in moving the kosen-rufu movement forward as successors.
Photos by Tomoko Gelbaum, Marc Giannavola, Debra Willaims, Jonathan Wilson
Living Buddhism: : How did you first learn about the May Commemorative Contribution activity?
Jeff Foster: When I was in elementary school, I remember my future division leader encouraging me to save money one year. That year, we made personal piggy banks, and I remember being so excited to participate in May Contribution with the money I had saved. My parents were also very serious about supporting the SGI through financial contributions, and they taught me early on about the importance of participating in May Contribution as a part of my Buddhist practice.
Hunter Ferguson: I joined the SGI in February 2015. When I began practicing Buddhism, I was very open and trusted the people who were supporting me, but when I heard about May Contribution, I thought: It’s just another religion asking for money. However, my friend shared that contributing financially in the SGI was not an act of charity but rather a cause to change my life through supporting the organization dedicated to fulfilling the Buddha’s vow. I trusted my friend, and my first contribution was made with no expectations, just the belief that I was making a positive cause for my life.
Has your understanding of contributions evolved over time?
Hunter: The first time I participated in May Contribution, I didn’t fully understand the meaning of it. Now I contribute to repay my debt of gratitude to this amazing organization that has shaped my art and transformed my life. I have appreciation for being able to financially support the kosen-rufu movement here in America and around the world. With that spirit, I always challenge to do more every year than the last.
Mitika Khera: I also determine to contribute a larger amount every year based on my profound appreciation for having encountered this practice. In 2015, my father became very sick. The doctor said that we should all gather as a family because he only had a few hours left to live. I declared to myself, I have the Gohonzon for a reason, and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo fiercely to transform the situation. It was a life-or-death battle, and my father was able to extend his life. He is currently doing well in India. This experience deepened my sense of gratitude for having a practice that enables me to make the impossible possible.
Aki Takahashi: Growing up, I watched my parents do contribution regularly in Japan, so it was natural for me to want to participate. However, I didn’t personally challenge myself to contribute until May 2012, when I graduated from my master’s program in New York. That year, I was encouraged by the stories of my friends who shared that they broke through something in their lives based on challenging themselves in May Contribution. I was so encouraged by their experiences that I decided to go all out and pray deeply about contributing from my heart. It was a rough time because, as a recent graduate, I could not stay in the country unless I found a job. I made every cause I could along with contribution. At the end of summer, I found a job that allowed me to stay in the U.S.
Jeff: My understanding of May Contribution has evolved over the years, too. As a child, it was easy to participate sincerely, but as I got older, I started to strategize more with my head. Every year is a chance to reflect on my appreciation to be able to contribute to the SGI. Last year’s 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival represented an awakening for me. It was a reminder of how hard the pioneer members fought to build the foundation of our organization and how much more serious I need to become to pioneer those same kinds of efforts for the future of kosen-rufu in America. Among other things, I recognize that doing May Contribution ensures that we financially support and protect the growth and advancement of our kosen-rufu movement.
Hunter: When I first heard that 50K would be held in nine major venues around the country, I gained a whole new perspective on our movement and what is possible. I supported behind the scenes as a Soka Group member to ensure the safety of the participants at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Seeing 50,000 youth come together for the sake of peace was powerful. It showed me what our SGI organization means to America and the role it plays in giving our country hope.
Mitika: Recently, the SGI Philadelphia Buddhist Center was renovated. For months, we couldn’t use the center. Without a central meeting place, I realized the importance of having a place to gather and reflected on how I had taken our center for granted. Before the renovation, our center had two chanting rooms, and now we have six chanting rooms where members can gather and develop their faith! I am so grateful and determined to fill every room with victorious and seeking members!
What are your personal goals and dreams?
Aki: I am currently getting my Ph.D. in comparative international development education. My ultimate dream is to make a mark in the field of education and give back based on my sense of appreciation to Sensei. This year’s May Contribution will allow me to deepen my vow for kosen-rufu as I look to complete my Ph.D. and take another step forward on the path of my dreams.
Hunter: My dream is to create music around the world that connects youth to their Buddha nature. Finding this practice and being a part of the SGI have given me a clearer focus and the motivation to go for my dreams. I often ask myself what I can do to contribute to the SGI and help the people around me become happy?
Mitika: I have many dreams but my biggest dreams this year are to transform my relationship karma, meet a partner for kosen-rufu and show actual proof at my workplace by basing my life on the oneness of mentor and disciple.
As my dreams get bigger, I chant to have an even greater sense of appreciation for this practice and the opportunity to fight for kosen-rufu in America. I am determined to show my appreciation through an even larger contribution this May.
Jeff: This past year, I learned how to fight in a different capacity, unite and face my own weaknesses through 50K. As a result of all of the causes I made, I was able to realize my dream of purchasing my own home last year! My goal is to open my own business and build a harmonious family. This May Contribution, I want to break out of my comfort zone and challenge my personal limitations as I encourage many other youth to participate in this significant activity with a deep sense of appreciation and with the awareness of their role as protagonists in expanding our kosen-rufu movement.