Experience

“Happy People Make People Happy”

Chris Salvatore's journey of uncovering a life of worth, happiness and compassion.

Self-discovery—Chris joined the SGI-USA on Aug. 31, 2016, and says Buddhism has taught him that he is worthy of happiness and capable of changing this planet one person at a time. Photo: Paul Smith.
Self-discovery—Chris joined the SGI-USA on Aug. 31, 2016, and says Buddhism has taught him that he is worthy of happiness and capable of changing this planet one person at a time. Photo: Paul Smith.

by Chris Salvatore
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.

Chris Salvatore with his neighbor and friend Norma.
Chris Salvatore with his neighbor and friend Norma.

Five months ago, I released myself from the shackles of a toxic relationship and was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism soon after.

Before chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I had a pattern.

In relationship after relationship, I would date a guy for a month, move him into my apartment, then fall in line with his lifestyle and forget my own. This revealed my lack of self-worth.

I had grown up with the shame of being gay in my religious family and carried deep pain from being bullied as a child. I proved the saying “Hurt people hurt people.” This included hurting myself, which I did through binge drinking, promiscuity and drug abuse.

When friends and family would question why I always found myself wrapped up with someone so quickly, I brushed it off as me being a romantic person. The reality was that I was constantly looking to others to validate my worth. I was willing to do anything to feel loved, even if that meant ignoring my own values and morals.

And that brings me back to five months ago. After my last breakup, I was left shattered, for the first time clueless on how to even find the pieces, much less pick them up.

Then one day, while at my friend’s apartment, she told me about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the Gohonzon. With an open heart and mind, I attended an intro-to-Buddhism meeting soon after. I instantly felt a deep, calm connection with the humanistic teachings of Nichiren Buddhism. What particularly resonated with me was the message SGI President Ikeda expresses as being at the heart of the universe: I want to be happy, and I want everyone else to be happy, too.

We also discussed that when we change, the world changes, and a genuinely happy person is one who encourages others. This is what my mother always tried to impart to me through her words and actions. At that meeting, the kindness and love I felt was like coming home again.

I received the Gohonzon on Aug. 31, 2016, actualizing beliefs I had held in my heart all along but didn’t have the name for. Chanting twice a day and doing gongyo, I immediately felt more energetic, positive and hopeful. Depressing thoughts and anxiety began to vanish.

Two days after I began practicing, I went to visit a longtime friend in New York. I quickly became aware that he was abusing drugs on a daily basis. I said to him: “You are better than this. You are stronger than this, and I am going to chant for you.” I went on to share with him all about my new practice.

Little did I know that just days after I left New York, he would start his own human revolution. He recently told me that something I said to him saved his life the night that I left; it was the same night that he overdosed.

“What was it, I asked?”

“The chanting.” he said. “The chanting saved my life.”

I am delighted to share that my dear friend has now been sober for about four months. This has been the most powerful actual proof of my practice.

Soon after, I received an unbelievable opportunity to teach a music performance seminar in Rome. Leading up to this, I was very nervous and chanted for the strength to go through with the trip. From beginning to end, my chanting brought so much synchronicity, protection and joy into my life. Never before would I have imagined the opportunity to travel to Italy to lead music lessons, and speak about my own passion and experience with music. I also co-wrote an Italian song, even though I don’t speak the language!

Nichiren Buddhism offers me a solid foundation to win in life, and the best part about it is that when I win, others win too.

On top of everything else, the producer turned out to be a member of SGI-Italy. He took me to the local SGI center in Rome, where I felt the profound humanism of this practice as we chanted and did gongyo together with other members. Even though I don’t speak Italian, we were able to communicate on a much more profound level through the language of the Buddha. It was a special moment that I will never forget.

After I got back from Italy, I received an offer to sing in China this year with a well-known musician. I’m also currently working on my own album, which I hope to release soon.

Finally, my ailing 89-year-old neighbor, Norma, whom I have known for five years, was told that she could not leave the hospital after a fall, because she required 24-hour care. With limited funds and no family, it seemed as though she would have to head to a county nursing facility. Her last wish was to be able to pass away at home with her cat, Hermes.

As I chanted for Norma’s well-being, a series of beautiful events enabled me to help her receive 24-hour homecare. CBS local news picked up the story and ran it on Thanksgiving Day. Today, Norma is doing just fine. In fact, I recently hosted a Christmas party for her.

Through my journey in faith, what I’m learning is that I am enough—for myself, for someone else, enough to be happy and enough to change this planet one person at a time.

Through this practice, I am quieting old negative patterns of depressing thoughts and loneliness. I am also chanting for the happiness of the man in my last painful relationship, elevating my own life condition in the process. I’ve dealt with ending a painful relationship with maturity and grace, and opened a wonderful new chapter. As President Ikeda says: “Only someone who has experienced pain and hardships can empathize with others and treat them with kindness. It’s essential, therefore, that you become strong” (Discussions on Youth, p. 41).

My human revolution is to endlessly develop that strength to lead the deepest possible life and to spread that happiness. Nichiren Buddhism offers me a solid foundation to win in life, and the best part about it is that when I win, others win too.

A couple months ago, I helped my friend Catherine receive the Gohonzon. At her first SGI meeting, she looked at me with tears in her eyes, saying, “This is what I have been looking for my entire life.”

Instead of “Hurt people hurt people,” I’m now guided by the philosophy that “Happy people make people happy.”

 

(pp. 11)