Winning Gold in Life

Michael Sasaki’s journey to become an artist for world peace.

by Michael Sasaki

As a lifelong SGI member, May is the month when I reflect more deeply on my vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. As we celebrate May 3, Soka Gakkai Day, and the start of the annual commemorative contribution activity, I’d like to tell you why I’m a proud sponsor of American kosen-rufu.

In 1998, at the age of 14 and after surmounting countless physical and internal obstacles, I won the gold medal at the Junior Olympics in figure skating, which opened the door for me to skate around the world in professional ice shows. I’ve since had the good fortune to encounter SGI members in each country I have visited. No matter what communication barriers existed, we shared the common language of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and our vow to strive for kosen-rufu alongside our mentor, SGI President Ikeda.

The prime point in my career came in 2006, when I had the opportunity to dance in front of President Ikeda at a celebration of his 200th honorary doctorate. There I vowed in my heart to become an artist for world peace.

In spite of my professional success, my greatest struggle has been to believe in my own Buddha nature. Because it was so difficult to do, I became accustomed to shying away from big obstacles, even knowing that I had the greatest tool to overcome my own fundamental darkness: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Last summer, I felt like I was in a professional rut. I started to chant to find opportunities to further grow as an artist and this became the venue for challenging my deepest insecurities.

I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with my career and everything to do with believing in my own Buddha nature. 

In August, a close friend was offered a job with a new ice show in Hong Kong. My friend would be assistant choreographer to one of the greatest ice choreographers today. I knew, if given the chance, I could learn from her and develop my artistic capabilities even more.

I reached out to the company producing this new show to inquire about an audition and received a flat-out “no.” Normally, I would have given in to my fundamental darkness, accepting that rejection as a sign from the universe, but something deep within me knew I had to challenge this tendency in my life. I began chanting with the focused determination as if to “produce fire from damp wood” (On Rebuking Slander of the Law and Eradicating Sins,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 444). I dove into SGI activities and encouraged my fellow young men to challenge their dreams, too.

When I approached the show again about auditioning, the casting director asked me to put a video together. I did just that, but was rejected a second time and told the casting was complete. As if a balloon had popped, I was deflated by the news, but this time I headed straight to the Gohonzon and chanted to not be defeated. As I chanted, I asked myself, What is this really about? I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with my career and everything to do with believing in my own Buddha nature. Although the odds were completely against me, I decided Hong Kong was waiting for me.

Michael performs at an ice show in Hong Kong, February 2016. Photo by Anthony Luk.
Michael performs at an ice show in Hong Kong, February 2016. Photo by Anthony Luk.

This time I reached out to the lead choreographer directly. She loved my enthusiasm and asked if I could dance hip-hop. With years of Ikeda Youth Ensemble training behind me, I emphatically replied, “Yes!”

I put another video together and continued chanting with firm conviction, remembering the vow I had made while dancing in front of President Ikeda. Not only was I invited to be a part of the cast in Hong Kong, but also the producers loved the hip-hop dance so much that they wanted the assistant choreographer and me to perform it in the show! I literally created my own spot in the show through the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Skating in Hong Kong was a transformative experience. I grew a great deal professionally. And there was an SGI center right next to my hotel! The Hong Kong young men’s division members warmly embraced me, as if I were their brother, and took me to many meetings. Together with the young men, we were able to introduce four youth to the practice.

The SGI has always been accessible to me anywhere in the world, and I am so grateful to President Ikeda for creating this heartfelt Soka family.

Recently, I had a conversation with the lead choreographer, who said she would consider me as one of her assistants for future projects. Although I was initially chanting for a new challenge in my career, instead I deepened my conviction in the power of the Mystic Law in my life.

Numerous members throughout the world have unconditionally supported me in faith, and I am deeply indebted to them. I feel President Ikeda was training me to understand the spirit of offerings through their actions so that I could become the artist for peace that I vowed to be. I am determined to contribute to kosen-rufu based on this same spirit. I’ve learned when we live our lives based on that vow, nothing is impossible.