Standing Up at the Crucial Moment

How Steve Salas transformed through valuing his own life.

Golden pillar—Steve Salas, with his wife, Cynthia, at their home in Colorado Springs. Photo: Rayna Manger Tedford.

by Steve Salas

I was raised by a passionate Mexican-American mother who instilled in me a deep sense of spirituality, reinforced by 12 years of Catholic school. As the youngest of nine, my childhood was spoiled and carefree. I never challenged myself and had absolutely no concept of what it meant to take responsibility for my own actions.

At 27, I got married and moved from California to start a new life in Colorado. Though I tried to connect with my church and even joined the men’s choir, I didn’t feel like my life was advancing, and I found no joy in my faith. Around that time, Helen, a co-worker, introduced me to Buddhism, but I wasn’t ready to start practicing. In fact, it wasn’t until eight years later, in the throes of deep depression and in the grip of my burgeoning alcoholism, that I contacted her to share my sufferings. By that time, my life was falling apart; my marriage had ended, and my work performance was suffering from the effects of my alcohol addiction.

Helen quickly directed me to the SGI-USA Buddhist community in Colorado Springs, Colo. The first time I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I knew this was what I needed in my life. I received the Gohonzon on May 14, 2006, Mother’s Day.

The more I practiced and studied, the clearer it became that my depression and addiction were manifestations of a deeper family karma. My late father had struggled with alcoholism; my sister-in-law took her life when I was a child; my sister’s ex-husband was addicted and overdosed on painkillers; and my brother, who was also addicted to pain medication, committed suicide. This was the writing on my karmic wall. Thankfully, I now had my Buddhist practice to help me understand and overcome these life tendencies.

After a lot of chanting, I determined to take ownership of my life. I sincerely chanted for wisdom, as well as to appreciate and value my own life.

From the beginning of my practice, I was ready to take on the challenge of doing all I could for kosen-rufu in Southern Colorado as we opened our new Buddhist Center in 2013. Though I kept busy with activities, I still hadn’t challenged my alcoholic and depressive tendencies, which were taking a profound physical, mental and spiritual toll on me. I still felt as if my relationship with my new fiancee, my job and my practice were all being pulled down by an anchor that prevented my ship from leaving port and starting on its journey. Despite my best intentions, it was a struggle for me to really be there for the members, or even to do gongyo consistently. Deep inside, I felt as if I were letting everyone down.

Turning to Nichiren Daishonin’s writings, I was inspired by the following passage from “The Opening of the Eyes”: “Although I and my disciples may encounter various difficulties, if we do not harbor doubts in our hearts, we will as a matter of course attain Buddhahood. Do not have doubts simply because heaven does not lend you protection. Do not be discouraged because you do not enjoy an easy and secure existence in this life. This is what I have taught my disciples morning and evening, and yet they begin to harbor doubts and abandon their faith. Foolish men are likely to forget the promises they have made when the crucial moment comes” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 283).

With members at Downtown District's discussion meeting at the SGI-USA Colorado Springs Buddhist Center, March 20. Photo: Rayna Manger Tedford.
With members at Downtown District’s discussion meeting at the SGI-USA Colorado Springs Buddhist Center, March 20. Photo: Rayna Manger Tedford.

These words became a lighthouse leading me to safe harbor, and after a lot of chanting, I determined to take ownership of my life and fully experience the power and validity of Nichiren Buddhism. I sincerely chanted for wisdom, as well as to appreciate and value my own life, and as a first step, I joined a support group for my drinking problem. Determined to face my deep-rooted depression, I found the courage to go to therapy for the first time.

For an entire year, I fervently chanted, and studied President Ikeda’s lectures and Nichiren’s writings. I became more active in my district, doing everything I could to support. Through such efforts, I was able to open up my heart in ways that I never thought I could; I openly shared my struggles with other men and no longer feared my obstacles or my feelings of inadequacy and failure. And I easily shared this practice with many people.

In September 2015, I married my fiancee, Cynthia. My 82-year-old mother was embraced wholeheartedly by my SGI family, and she now truly understands the profound mission I have undertaken and supports me completely. My wife, too, has seen the positive changes in me and also realizes how important my practice is to me. She even pops into my Gohonzon room and chants with me from time to time.

Last November, I was appointed the Downtown District men’s leader, and at the end of that month, I completed my personal chanting campaign. My goal was, and is, to be known as “Dependable Steve,” and to be the best husband I can be. After all the hardships my mother had endured, it was also my firm resolve to repay my debt of gratitude to her by becoming the happiest son imaginable.

On Jan. 8 this year, I can proudly say that I celebrated one year of sobriety. And on Jan. 19, I began my journey at Pikes Peak Community College to pursue my goal of receiving a psychology degree so I can counsel at-risk youth.

I firmly resolve to show the power of this wonderful practice through my actions as a human being, and my vow to create a more peaceful and loving society.