Experience

Developing a Life of Genuine Happiness and Peace

How Loren Larrimore learned to reveal his inherent dignity.

Loren Larrimore
CHICAGO

Living Buddhism: Loren, can you describe your upbringing and how you encountered Buddhism?

Loren Larrimore: I grew up in a caring home in Chicago. My favorite place was in the streets with my friends. I grew up in a neighborhood with around 30 kids who all lived within a few blocks of one another.

By age 12, I had started using drugs, spraying graffiti and getting into all kinds of trouble. I failed out of one high school and ended up in an alternative high school. Then, I went to school for heating, ventilation and cooling maintenance. I really liked learning these skills, but I was often distracted by my friends and didn’t focus on school.

I started doing harder drugs, and became more and more out of control. I was arrested many times. And I saw my friends disappearing as they got convicted for serious crimes and sent to prison.

Eventually, I had become a regular user of heroin. I spent the night wherever I could, sometimes at a friend’s house and sometimes outside, waking up with no memory of how I got where I was.

By 18 years old, I had completely estranged myself from my family. I hardly saw them and when I’d go home, they didn’t know who I had become. My life was going nowhere, and though I tried to stop using heroin several times, my addiction had a hold on me. One day in 2005, I was in Chicago’s Millennium Park where I ran into a guy I knew from the high school graffiti scene. He started talking about all the exciting things he was doing and introduced me to his new wife. He just couldn’t hide how happy he was. He told me the reason was because he practiced Buddhism with the SGI and invited me to a meeting.

What was your impression of your first Buddhist meeting?

Loren: It was a young men’s meeting at my friend’s home. I was impressed with everything I heard and saw. Everyone was so supportive. As I was leaving, my friend’s father gazed into my eyes as he shook my hand. I looked him in the eye and told him, “I’ll be back.” He said, “I know you will be back.” For the first time in a long time, I was telling the truth. It meant so much to me that he trusted my word.

How did practicing Buddhism impact your life?

Loren: I went back and forth between using heroin and quitting. At my friend’s encouragement, I continued going to SGI meetings and chanting every day. When I chanted, I felt better, stronger and more in control. I could rein in my drug habit for a while.

In the fall of 2005, I received the Gohonzon and joined the SGI. I was determined to end my drug habit. However, just a few days later, I relapsed and used heroin again.

When I came out of the fog of my high, something was different. Because of my Buddhist practice, I now had hope that I could change my life. I had an honest talk with my mother and told her that I needed to check into a rehabilitation facility. Seeking help took a lot of courage—something I developed from my practice. I checked into a facility, my gongyo book and beads with me. Since that fall of 2005, I’ve been completely drug free.

When I was released, I had no job, and my neighborhood friends had disappeared. I didn’t know what was ahead of me in life. But now I had new friends in the SGI-USA. Even while I was in rehab, the SGI members had kept reaching out to me.

I also had the Gohonzon and began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with clear-cut goals. I joined the Soka Group, a young men’s training group that works behind the scenes at SGI activities to ensure their success. As I did my Soka Group shifts, my understanding of Buddhism began to grow stronger.

From this point, how did you develop your career?

Loren: As I got my life together, I took responsibility in my SGI-USA district and started working odd jobs. I had lost the one job that I really liked as an installer and technician. I put my work ID from that job on my altar and chanted powerfully to have that kind of job again. One day, I received a call from that same company and was offered a job!

The job was located in Palm Desert, California, and I had one week before starting. So I packed up and right away started my new job in California. The closest SGI Center was nearly 100 miles from where I lived. Fortunately, I connected with SGI members who drove hours to visit and encourage me.

Because of my Buddhist practice and training in the young men’s division, I began to excel at my job. My bosses noticed, and I got transferred to a bigger office in Orange County, California.

More than ever, I believe the people here in Chicago, especially the young people, are looking for the way to genuine happiness and peace.

I continued participating in SGI activities consistently and took on leadership responsibilities for the young men in my area. During one meeting, I watched a video of SGI President Ikeda where he was talking about his own mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, with a voice filled with complete conviction and appreciation. I realized how fortunate I was to have President Ikeda as my mentor.

Just several months earlier, I had been a heroin addict headed toward an early grave, and here I was now, winning and building up my life, becoming happier every day. From that time, I focused on introducing others to Buddhism so that they could also have President Ikeda as a mentor and discover their mission in life.

What happened next?

Loren: As I took on more responsibility in the SGI-USA, the trust and responsibility at work grew as well. I was transferred to our office in New Mexico, and then, San Diego. I began seeing benefit in all areas of my life.

Currently, I manage a group of over 50 telecommunications employees who service residents across the greater Chicago area. I feel completely fulfilled at my job and have become a supervisor whom my employees can look to as a role model and trustworthy figure. I am someone I never thought I could be 11 years ago.

Does your past still affect your life?

Loren: Over the years, I’ve experienced many difficulties getting an apartment or doing anything requiring a background check because of the many convictions I had on my record. No matter how well I was doing, no one could help me because I had failed the background checks.

Learning the Buddhist perspective of cause and effect, I was not surprised that I was getting a negative effect from the things I had done earlier in life. I also knew, however, that Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the fundamental Law of the universe, and that it can penetrate and change even the deepest karma.

In 2013, I went to a courthouse back in Chicago and brought Sachiko, who was my girlfriend at the time and is now my wife. This was the first time she had seen the list of my convictions, and she was surprised.

I went before a judge who reviewed all of my convictions. He asked me about my life and whether I had been in any trouble in recent years. I told him about being completely off drugs, about my job and about my Buddhist activities in the SGI. Within a few short minutes, he ordered that my record be expunged, wiped clean, of all my past criminal convictions.

Loren spends time with fellow young men’s division members in front of the Peace and Justice Monument at the Chicago Culture Center, July 2016. Photo: Bob Nardi.
Loren spends time with fellow young men’s division members in front of the Peace and Justice Monument at the Chicago Culture Center, July 2016. Photo: Bob Nardi.

Congratulations! I heard you recently moved back to Chicago. What do you feel your mission is in Chicago?

Loren: In 2014, I was transferred back to Chicago and, shortly after, in January 2015, Sachiko and I were married in the exact same courthouse where my record was expunged!

While managing a busy work schedule, I also serve as the young men’s leader for Chicago Zone. Unfortunately, our city has been marred by senseless gun violence on a daily basis, with young people killing one another. Personally, I’ve decided that this culture of violence must cease. We can do this by spreading the philosophy of the dignity of life taught by President Ikeda to more and more people throughout Chicago. About creating peace through propagating Buddhism, President Ikeda says:

People are seeking a philosophy that will lead to genuine happiness. They are earnestly searching, from the depths of their being, for a new movement dedicated to helping everyone reveal their inherent dignity and, through the power of dialogue, expanding a network of good and creating a world of harmony and peaceful coexistence. (January 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 32)

More than ever, I believe the people here in Chicago, especially the young people, are looking for the way to genuine happiness and peace. I have no doubt that if I had not started to practice this Buddhism, I would not be alive today. And introducing others to this great practice and to my mentor, President Ikeda, gives me the greatest pride and happiness.