Finding My True Self Through Propagating Buddhism

Neha Ganjoo surmounts internal suffering through boldly sharing Buddhism.

Neha Ganjoo transforms deep-rooted suffering, engaging in her human revolution by helping more than 50 friends start their Buddhist practice. Photo: Debra Williams.

Neha Ganjoo

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us! Can you tell us what life was like growing up in India?

Neha Ganjoo: My dad was a school principal and my mother was a high school biology teacher. In the public school system, teachers and principals get transferred every few years. The law made it so that husband and wife couldn’t work in the same school, so we moved around a lot.

Though my brother, Vishal, and I had a wonderful upbringing, there was an emptiness and anger inside my life that I couldn’t reconcile, and this resulted in me developing suicidal tendencies.

When did you first realize that you had such destructive tendencies?

Neha: When I was in high school, I fell in love with one of my classmates. But he was already in a relationship, and I never mustered the courage to tell him how I felt. I had no way of resolving this unrequited love and, after a few years, extreme frustration developed in my heart. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t move forward. Convinced that I would never become happy, one night during my senior year I took an entire bottle of sleeping pills.

When I woke up the next morning, I was disappointed to be alive. But realizing the extreme step that I took, I felt that perhaps I should try living. I went to college, and eventually moved to North Carolina to pursue my master’s degree in IT and be close to Vishal.

What was life like for you after moving to the United States?

Neha: For the first two months, I thought I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. At times, I didn’t have money and couldn’t eat, so I got a job bagging groceries at a market. Around this time, I started to look for a religion that would help me. My father was transferred to another school in a faraway city and my mother had to live on her own for the first time in her life. That’s when her co-worker encouraged her to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Eventually, she began chanting every day before work to live with my father again.

In a turn of events, the law in India changed to where husband and wife could work together, and my parents were both transferred to the same high school.

What was your reaction to your mother’s newfound Buddhist practice?

Neha: Very negative!

But when I got laid off from my job, I began chanting. In four weeks, I was contracted by a company in Northern California that would sponsor my work visa. It was perfect because my boyfriend and I could move in together. After this benefit, I stopped chanting. Eventually, my relationship became emotionally and physically abusive. This must be love, I thought.

I visited India months later and became determined to stop my mother’s practice. I just couldn’t imagine that people could be that genuinely happy. One night before I left, a women’s division member came to have dinner with my parents and me. We talked for hours and though I was resistant to what she was saying, her conviction stayed in my heart. “If you don’t try it, you’ll never know,” she said.

I flew back to the United States on July 4, 2009, and upon landing, I received an email from my boyfriend telling me that he had moved out to be with another woman, and not to contact him. When I returned home, the house was in disarray, and he had taken our car.

What was your reaction?

Neha: I was so devastated and in shock that I decided to end my life. But in the back of my mind, I thought of how devastated my mother would be. So, I decided to chant for her. I took a cab to the nearby SGI center where a young women’s leader started talking with me. Somehow, she could see my suffering and didn’t give up on me. Instead of ending my life, I received the Gohonzon.

How did your life change after that?

Neha: Slowly, I began to feel hope. I started sleeping better, got an old car and found strength in the new friends I made in the SGI. I moved into an apartment complex but soon after settling in, I realized I was living in the same building as my ex-boyfriend.

Because of my faith, I knew deep down that I had to confront my reality and overcome my tendency to escape. I decided, I will become happy, and I will have the courage to live. I began chanting every day to overcome the hatred in my heart. I began chanting because the pain of my broken relationship, but eventually my entire life began to transform.

How did your transformation unfold?

Neha: My relationship with my family completely changed when I realized through chanting that I was judging them in my heart. I began to respect and see each of my family members as my equal, whether they practiced Buddhism or not. My father decided to start practicing in 2012, and that same year, even though I was told it would take seven to 10 years, I received my green card.

When I was appointed a region leader, I decided to do 100 home visits, contribute financially to the SGI and help my friend receive the Gohonzon.

Soon after this, however, I felt rejected by someone, and my depression resurfaced in a big way. I began chanting several hours every day. When a women’s leader heard about my struggles, she came to my home and said: “Get in the car. We’re going to an intro meeting.”

At that intro-to-Buddhism meeting, a young woman received the Gohonzon and shared her experience about her own suicidal tendencies. She expressed that with the Gohonzon, she had the hope of realizing her full potential. I thought: I have the Gohonzon, but am I really using it? What is stopping me from becoming happy?

How did your actions change from that point?

Neha: That was 2013. That year, I decided to start sharing Buddhism, and I was able to help 13 of my friends receive the Gohonzon! Now, reflecting on the past three years, I can’t remember a time when I felt hopeless. When I come to the point of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, I think, I have to share Buddhism with someone. Helping someone else start practicing Buddhism is my act of being courageous. It’s the act of being true to myself.

I also began to seek the oneness of mentor and disciple more seriously. President Ikeda writes, “When one is completely dedicated to the path of mentor and disciple, he or she experiences no doubt or confusion, no uncertainty or fear” (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 485). I chanted to experience this with my life.

What benefits have you experienced in sharing Buddhism with others?
Neha with her parents at Coit Tower, San Francisco.
Neha with her parents at Coit Tower, San Francisco.

Neha: With Sensei’s guidance, I’ve experienced an authentic happiness I had never felt before, and found the ability to go for my dreams on my own terms.

In April 2016, my father lost his job, and upon hearing this news, I decided to make a large financial contribution to the SGI as part of my determination to create a harmonious family.

My mother replied: “Don’t depend on marriage to build your financial fortune. You can build your own fortune.” Feeling that she was asking me to do the impossible, I took my parents to open houses to show them the reality of the situation. My parents fell in love with a three-bedroom house, but another buyer had already put in an offer. I didn’t think much about it after that.

During their stay, my parents were chanting abundantly each day and going on walks just to meet people to share Buddhism with them. The joy of propagation was contagious! Before they left, I took them to Coit Tower where Sensei visited on October 5, 1960, during his first visit to San Francisco. We vowed to one another to continue sharing Buddhism no matter where we were in the world. Soon after, my father, at age 63, got his dream job consulting 20 schools in India while standing up for faculty rights.

What happened next?

Neha: I continued praying each day to repay my debt of gratitude to my parents and my mentor. About a month later, the real estate agent called me to say that the house my parents had fallen in love with was available. I was able to purchase it for $30,000 less than the list price, with $10,000 off closing costs, and an additional discount from my realtor. My mortgage was approved at the lowest rate available.

The house is only conspicuous proof of my real benefit. In the past, the slightest sign of failure would launch me into intense hopelessness and fear of doing things on my own. This time, I never once felt fear about my future because my heart was seeking Sensei, who taught me how to go beyond my perceived limits. I prayed that I would be able to do whatever was necessary to report a victory to my mentor.

Neha with her friends, Sweta Sanyal and Ritwick Ghosh. She and her family helped them receive the Gohonzon in 2016, Santa Clara, California.
Neha with her friends, Sweta Sanyal and Ritwick Ghosh. She and her family helped them receive the Gohonzon in 2016, Santa Clara, California.
How has Buddhism impacted the lives of your friends who have started to practice?

Neha: Whenever I see guests at the Buddhist center, I do my best to help them practice so they can become happy. I remember that I was once a guest walking into the center, carrying darkness in my heart that I thought no one could see. Now, I’ve seen so many of my friends change their lives through starting their practice, too. To date, I have helped over 50 friends receive the Gohonzon.

One friend gained the courage to quit her job in Silicon Valley to pursue her dream of acting. Another friend of mine suffering with Crohn’s syndrome received the Gohonzon and has seen major improvements in her health. She introduced her sister to the practice, who also received the Gohonzon.

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to share?

Neha: The following guidance from President Ikeda has been inspired me to never slacken in my efforts to share Buddhism with my friends: “Propagation is the lifeblood of religion. A religion without propagation efforts has abandoned the basic function of religion—to reach out to people and help them . . . Those who propagate Buddhism are the true disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, those who have inherited his spirit and the benefits attained by those who propagate the Law are boundless and immeasurable.” (August 2016 Living Buddhism, pp. 16–17)

Together with my mentor and comrades toward November 18, 2018, I’m determined to win in every aspect of my life by becoming the pillar of peace, eyes of respect and great ship of hope for my family, friends, workplace and SGI family.

My dream is to support the development of the SGI through financial contributions and to never stop helping others become happy.

Through everything, I’ve learned that whenever I pray to connect with Sensei from the depths of my life, the impossible becomes possible, and my life naturally advances toward my true happiness.

And, when I share Buddhism with people, it’s like my human revolution speeds up. I’ve seen a lot of benefits, but encountering a mentor has been the greatest one for me, because I learned how to believe in myself for the first time. Now I know that there is so much I can contribute to this world.

(pp. 34–37)