“Time Is of the Essence” to Illuminate the World
An introduction and determination by Olivia Saito, the newly appointed SGI-USA young women’s leader.
by Olivia Saito
Throughout my Buddhist practice, I’ve had the opportunity to fight on the front lines of kosen-rufu as a district, chapter, region and zone young women’s leader. And now, I’m so happy to take on this great new challenge.
I graduated from Soka University of America in 2010 and have since pursued my master’s in public health and currently work in a child abuse prevention program in Long Beach, California.
My grandparents on both my mother’s and father’s sides started practicing Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism in Japan after World War II. From the courageous actions of two individuals who shared this Buddhism with my grandparents, our family’s karma has been forever altered. I have the utmost appreciation for second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda and SGI President Ikeda who determined to transform the suffering of Japan at the time through propagating Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings, for if it weren’t for this practice, I would not be here today.
My parents met and married, and followed their dream of moving to the U.S. in 1984. They moved to New Orleans and started with nothing, but have overcome every obstacle based on faith in the Gohonzon to build a solid life for our family. Based on their desire to respond to their mentor, President Ikeda, they have continued to fight humbly for kosen-rufu in the South for the last 32 years. I am forever indebted to them for creating the life that they built for me, my older sister and my younger brother. Because of their example and sincere wish to contribute to kosen-rufu, they have instilled that same spirit in each of us.
At the beginning of my senior year of high school, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I was shaken up by the sudden and dramatic change in my life. All sense of normalcy was lost, and I was faced with the reality of how suddenly and violently life can change. Since my freshman year in high school, my dream was to attend Soka University of America. Hurricane Katrina seemed to shatter my dreams, and I questioned whether I wanted to leave my family at this uncertain time and felt guilty. Fortunately, after receiving encouragement from seniors in faith and determining to challenge myself, I was accepted into SUA’s sixth class and decided to attend.
It was at SUA that I started deeply questioning the purpose of my life. I wanted a life in which I could dedicate myself to the happiness of others, but I couldn’t overcome my own suffering. My lack of self-worth led me to think that the world would be better off without me. I was encouraged to awaken to share my mentor’s commitment to help others as a way to challenge my own suffering. It was through seeking Sensei in front of the Gohonzon and reading his guidance that I was able to feel an inner joy and sense of purpose that I had never felt before. I was awakened to the fact that my life was precious, and that I had my own unique mission.
I determined to live a fearless life in which I could report to Sensei that “I love my life!” while fighting wholeheartedly for the happiness of the people around me.
Because of Sensei, I was awakened to my vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, and every single day, I feel more and more joy and appreciation for being able to fight alongside my mentor at this crucial time.
Last year, I truly felt the importance of President Ikeda’s words “Time is of the essence!” (Jan. 1, 2015, Seikyo Shimbun). That February, I stood only a block away from a shooting that took place on a Mardi Gras parade route in New Orleans where a young man in his 20s was shot and killed. Shootings in New Orleans are not uncommon, but it had never hit so close to home. While everyone else returned to the festivities as if nothing had happened, I made a vow that night to do my best to change my community through sharing Buddhism with others.
One week after my friend received the Gohonzon last July, a bullet penetrated the walls of her home, just one foot above where she was standing. She later shared with me that she knew that her faith in the Gohonzon had protected her and her family in that crucial moment. I then understood the importance of my role in sharing Buddhism. Introducing others to this practice can literally save lives.
Following these events, I determined to have absolutely no regrets while I am still able to physically fight alongside my mentor. I determined to live a fearless life in which I could report to Sensei that “I love my life!” while fighting wholeheartedly for the happiness of the people around me. With this new responsibility, I vow to fight even harder for the sake of the happiness of the young women of America.
My paternal grandmother passed away peacefully on July 28. As I reflect on her life, I have deep appreciation for the many struggles that President Ikeda and the pioneer members have undergone to build a solid foundation for worldwide kosen-rufu. Because of their efforts to propagate the correct teaching and fight evil (that which denigrates the dignity of all life), our generation can freely dance upon the stage they have built. In the world today, darkness seems to be growing darker. But I am convinced that the light of Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism can illuminate America and the entire world.
Now is the time, more than ever, starting with the great August propagation campaign, to transform our society from the core. This month, let us all renew our own vow for kosen-rufu together with Sensei. Every campaign is an opportunity for each of us to awaken to our vow as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.
President Ikeda discusses the phrase “that time” (Niji seson), which we recite every day during gongyo, saying:
From the standpoint of the Buddhism hidden in the depths, we can interpret “that time” as indicating the time when Nichiren Daishonin commenced his great struggle to save all humankind. And it can also be said that “that time” indicates the time when Nichiren’s disciples stand up in concert with the mentor to realize kosen-rufu.
In terms of our practice, therefore, I would like to stress that “that time” exists only when we pray to the Gohonzon and manifest determination and awareness of our mission for kosen-rufu. We have to make a determination, pray and take action. Unless we do so, our environment will not change in the least; though five or ten years may pass, “that time” will never arrive . . . “That time” is when we summon forth strong faith and take our place on the grand stage of kosen-rufu. (The Heart of the Lotus Sutra, pp. 25–26)
I am determined, with all of you, to deepen our vow together with Sensei and joyfully dance upon that stage by becoming people who can identify and fight evil, show great victories in our own lives, widely propagate the correct teaching and protect our mentor and the SGI for the sake of the future of our world.
I will do my best. Thank you!