Our Joyful Family

How practicing Buddhism healed Faith and Winthrop Jones’ family rift.

Siblings Faith and Winthrop, of Hudson Valley, New York. Photo by Madhumita Das.

by Faith and Winthrop Jones

World Tribune: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. What was your life like growing up?

Faith Jones: Our parents are wonderful, successful people. My dad is a technical director for a long-running television show, and my mom worked for our high school.

Winthrop Jones: Though the suburban town we grew up in seemed quiet and safe, under the surface, there was a growing heroin problem among teens. My parents became extremely protective of us. We couldn’t go out with our friends because they were too scared something would happen to us.

Faith: They also wanted us to be the best we could be. Though I tried, I felt I could never live up to their high standards and struggled with self-confidence. Worst of all, I began to believe that I wasn’t physically beautiful, because I wasn’t skinny and didn’t have straight hair. I thought I was so unattractive that I spent much of my life refusing to look into a mirror.

Winthrop: As a family, we didn’t openly express our feelings, and as a result, our relationships seemed to exist only on a surface level. Faith and I, in particular, were not close.

Faith and Winthrop Jones

WT: Faith, how did you discover Buddhism?

Faith: In college, I tried practicing different religions, including many forms of Buddhism. I also sought fulfillment by pursuing a career in journalism. Despite my best efforts, I never made it. I decided to give up and began working at a hair salon.

In 2013, my partner, Cole, shared with me how he had surmounted depression through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Though I was extremely skeptical, I attended a local district discussion meeting. I was moved when I learned that Buddhism teaches anyone can become happy, just as they are. This seemed revolutionary to me. I received the Gohonzon in February 2013.

“Even if there was a part of myself I didn’t like, I could transform it through my own human revolution.”

WT: Did you notice any changes?

Faith: I began to feel more comfortable accepting my image in the mirror. I felt deep down that even if there was a part of myself I didn’t like, I could transform it through my own human revolution. I also started to naturally feel joy and a desire to share that joy with others. Within a year and a half, I helped four friends receive the Gohonzon, including my boss.

WT: Winthrop, how did you encounter Buddhism?

Winthrop: In April 2015, though my sister and I weren’t speaking, she contacted me to get a good deal on a car rental where I worked, because she had gotten into an accident. Like Faith, I had pursued journalism, but failed to make inroads in my profession. I became severely depressed, because of the pressure I put on myself to live up to my parents’ great expectations for me. If I can’t be perfect, I thought, then I will be a failure instead. I surrounded myself with criminals and drug dealers, and engaged in reckless stunts such as driving at full speed into oncoming traffic. I woke up each morning thinking about how I could kill myself. I had lost all hope.

When Faith came to meet me at work, I decided to open up to her.

Faith: I said to my brother, “I bet my life, if you try this Buddhism, you can have a breakthrough in your life and career.”

Winthrop: I attended Faith’s district meeting and was moved by each person’s sense of hope and confidence. I received the Gohonzon in May 2015. As I chanted, my sense of dread facing each day slowly began to fade. I determined that I would test this practice by using it to discover a career path. Faith encouraged me to break through by sharing the practice with others. I decided to introduce an old roommate who had watched me battle depression. Seeing my new demeanor, he decided to receive the Gohonzon, too.

WT: How did your life change in the process?

Winthrop: As I strove in SGI activities, I realized that I had never wanted to be a journalist. In fact, I only did it to please my father. Having discovered this felt like true proof of the practice. I then remembered my true passion: math and science. I wanted to become a doctor.

In fall 2015, I entered an accelerated post-bachelor’s program for students preparing for medical school at the State University of New York-Purchase. At the same time, I joined the Brass Band for a performance at the East Territory General Meeting on Sept. 20, 2015.

Going to school full time while preparing for the meeting and engaging in many other SGI activities seemed to stretch me to the limit. Many times I honestly wanted to just complain, but each time that I felt like giving up, I read SGI President Ikeda’s guidance and determined to fight again.

WT: What changed?

Winthrop: Not only was our performance at the meeting a complete success, but I also achieved a 4.0 GPA in my first semester. I realized that stretching myself to the limit in activities actually inspired me to excel at school. On Jan. 1 of this year, I was also appointed a chapter young men’s leader.

Faith: My life has also transformed through Buddhism. Last August, I was asked to manage a salon that caters to curly-haired women. I feel my mission now is to give women confidence by helping them embrace their beauty. Each day, I draw on my experience as a young women’s chapter leader to care for and encourage each of my clients and employees.

WT: How has your family changed as a result of your Buddhist practice?

Winthrop: At first we worried about what our parents would think of our practice, but to our surprise they were enthralled that we had found a path that has allowed us to transform our lives. We have a family group text now where we crack jokes and openly share our affection for one another. It’s so joyful!

Faith: Winthrop and I are now wonderful friends. We want to show our appreciation by introducing many more people to Buddhism in this Year of Expansion, so that we can all expand our lives and become happy together.