Kosen-rufu Is My Life’s Mission

How Gabriel Colombo learned the importance of embracing the struggles of his youth.

Living the vow—Gabriel Colombo transforms his life by embracing his struggles and helping others become happy. Photo by David Goodman.

by Gabriel Colombo

I’ll never forget waking up to my mother chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and crying in front of the Gohonzon on my 15th birthday. She couldn’t buy me a gift; however, she looked at me and told me that the most important thing in life was for me to develop the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple. She also urged me to treat women in the same way I wanted men to treat her.

My mother had begun practicing Nichiren Buddhism when I was 6 years old in Sao Paulo, Brazil, while she was going through a bitter divorce. We were forced to move in with my grandmother, who is also an SGI member, and we shared a small bedroom with my aunt and two uncles.

In these circumstances, my mother began chanting diligently and gave her all to SGI activities. She was so serious about transforming her karma that we would sometimes walk for miles to attend a meeting, because we couldn’t afford bus fare.

Even though our lives began improving, it was difficult for me to grow up with divorced parents. By the time I was 14, I felt weighed down by resentment toward my father, and, after a heated argument, I cut all ties with him. I still attended district meetings and was part of the SGI-Brazil Ikeda Humanism Brazilian Philharmonic Orchestra, where I helped future division members learn music and study Buddhism every weekend. Ironically, many of the kids I supported didn’t have fathers either.

During this time, I sought guidance from a senior in faith who told me that youth isn’t the time to seek comfort or stability. Rather, just as Sensei strove in his youth, it’s the time for me to polish my life and become a great human being. “Growing is uncomfortable!” he told me.

Hearing this, I opened up about my father, and I was encouraged to view my struggles as an opportunity to expand my heart and chant every day for my dad. It was excruciating in the beginning, but I started to experience a shift in my heart. One day, it occurred to me how much my dad loved me, but was unable to express it.

A day after my breakthrough, my dad called me; it was nearly a year since we had spoken. We cried on the phone, and I was able to thank him for everything he had done for me. It was the first time I saw my dad as a person who had his own disappointments and setbacks.

I learned that my inner transformation was the key to achieve any goal.

This experience gave me great confidence in the power of the Gohonzon, and I learned that my inner transformation was the key to achieving any goal. As I strove earnestly in youth activities and shared Buddhism with others, I determined to pursue my dream of studying film in the U.S. I worked hard to save money, and my father, who had become a great friend, supported me to attend a community college in California.

I looked forward to the great weather, beautiful beaches and nice people, just like I had seen on TV. But, in 2011, I found myself in a rural town 300 miles north of San Francisco that was home to a federal prison. It was also very cold and far away from the beach!

I lived in the basement of a house with four others and spoke little English, but thanks to the irreplaceable training I received in the SGI-Brazil orchestra, I made lots of friends through playing music.

I chanted a lot to connect with people, despite our cultural differences. Soon, lots of friends from school began dropping by after hearing me play music, and they would end up participating in the introductory Buddhist meetings that I hosted with a few other local members. I was determined to transform my town through sharing Buddhism.

By the time I graduated college, four of my soccer teammates received the Gohonzon. At graduation, I received awards for academics and for contributing to the community. One award read: “Gabriel Colombo. Heart of a Lion.”

I sent my award to President Ikeda, writing that my victory is his victory. He sent it back, saying that he was very happy for all my efforts but to keep the award, because it represented more than I knew. His consideration filled me with so much appreciation. I decided as his disciple to continue winning no matter what.

In 2015, I graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where I played soccer and studied cinema on a scholarship. I’m now fulfilling my dream of working on films that contribute to social change based on individual empowerment. So far, 14 of my friends have received the Gohonzon in Pittsburgh, and three of them have become district leaders.

I can confidently say that I owe everything I am to my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, to my family and to the SGI. I look forward to expanding my life even more based on the wonderful philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism that allows me to fight for people’s happiness on the deepest level. Kosen-rufu is my life’s mission!