Feature

SGI-USA Campus Clubs

Interviews with SGI-USA college students on changing the world from their school.

Photo: Emily Terada.


Members of the student division engage in campus club activities at universities across the U.S. to promote the SGI’s message of peace and respect for the dignity of life. So far this year, the SGI-USA has been able to welcome over 250 students! We asked student division representatives from six schools the following question:

Q: How have you advanced kosen-rufu at your school?

 

ANNA LANE
SCHOOL: Northeastern University
FIELD OF STUDY: Education

Though I grew up around Buddhism, it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I considered practicing for myself. A fellow student invited me to a Northeastern campus club meeting. I decided to receive the Gohonzon that year on October 3, 2013.

I was struggling internally. Something was missing; I didn’t know who I was. As I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo consistently and studying SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement, I realized that I was so focused on external validation that I had been suppressing many things about myself. I started looking at my own gender and sexual identity.

While I feared what others might think of me, I knew that this was something I had to face in front of the Gohonzon. Inspired by the SGI members in Boston and in the campus club, I started chanting and seeking Sensei’s heart.

I strive every day to live true to myself, confident in who I am.

I was deeply encouraged by a passage where President Ikeda says: “A person’s greatness is not determined by social status. Our happiness isn’t determined by our environment. A vast universe exists in our hearts, in our lives. We practice Nichiren Buddhism to open up that inner realm. When we open that magnificent realm of the spirit, we will be champions wherever we might be” (May 2015 Living Buddhism, p. 60).

I realized that beyond my identity in this lifetime, my heart is eternal. And my heart of Buddhahood is the most important thing. Over time, my anxiety lifted, and I could be open with others. Now, I strive every day to live true to myself, confident in who I am.

Photos by Terrell Lowy.

At Northeastern, we have a core of active campus club members, who are helping other students gain the tools to discover their own unique mission, too. We chant together with the prayer to transform the impossible into the possible, and come up with united goals. Organizing club meetings reminds me to appreciate school and the value of education.

Now, I stand up for others. I changed my major to education, and in Fall 2018, I will be attending Soka University of America’s Masters Program in Educational Leadership and Societal Change.

My determination toward the gathering of 50,000 young people in 2018 is to show actual proof in my human revolution and share this practice with many people. I want to be an example that, no matter what you are going through, you can find happiness and accomplish your dreams.


Photos by Madhumita Das
WINTHROP JONES
SCHOOL: State University of New York at Purchase
FIELD OF STUDY: Biology and Medical Science/Pre-Med

My sister introduced me to Buddhism three years ago, because I was unhappy about how my life was unfolding. She brought me to an introduction-to-Buddhism meeting, but I didn’t give it much thought for a year. I was fed up with work and thought of joining the military, which concerned my parents as their friend is a veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. But because Buddhism teaches to blaze our own path in life, I decided not to make a decision just because I saw no other option. My sister encouraged me and said adamantly, “Try staking your life on this Buddhism to see how much you can help others.” I received the Gohonzon soon after and decided to restart my schooling.

Encountering SGI President Ikeda’s guidance as a student was revolutionary. Sensei says, “Those who are privileged to attend a university should spend their lives working for the sake of those who couldn’t enjoy the privilege” (Discussions on Youth, new edition, p. 368). I never had this spirit before. Of course, there have been times when I’ve wanted to drop everything, which is my tendency when I get overwhelmed. But now that I chant and have President Ikeda’s guidance, I know how to stay motivated while I advance toward my goals and dreams.

I’m a Biology major focused on the Medical sciences. I think about issues like climate change a lot. The Buddhist perspective of the interconnectedness of life is missing from society. People see themselves as independent entities who can live without consequence to others. I feel like the lack of this awareness is the reason why our society suffers.

Sharing Buddhism with other students has been my way to contribute to kosen-rufu on campus. Last year, we started the SUNY Purchase Soka Gakkai International Buddhism Club. We host club meetings every week. This school year, we have helped 10 students receive the Gohonzon and begin their own journey of human revolution.

Many guests have told me that the campus club meeting is the best thing that has ever happened to them. The club really gives people a place to come together and refresh their lives. Guests expect Buddhism to be rigid. They are shocked when they discover a gathering of friends who discuss how to live the best life possible.

My determination toward our gathering of 50,000 youth is that everyone who comes in contact with the SGI on campus will become a capable leader who is ready to enter the world and take full responsibility for the peace and happiness of those in their sphere of influence.


PAVITRA KAVYA
SCHOOL: University of Oklahoma
FIELD OF STUDY: Leadership and Organizational Communications
Photo: Dianne Freeland.

I learned the power of faith when my family attended our first Buddhist meeting in India on February 19, 1992. I was 5 years old, and vividly remember chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo together with the members and seeing how happy all of them were. Shortly after, my maternal grandmother who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two decades earlier, regained dexterity in her hands. This became the foundation for my family’s faith.

When I graduated from Soka University of America in 2009, I made a determination to fundamentally transform society using the Soka principle of value creation. I was therefore excited to be accepted to my dream Ph.D. program at the University of Oklahoma, studying leadership and organizational communications.

When I arrived at the University of Oklahoma, I met two other youth: one student and Norman District’s young women’s leader. We began holding weekly chanting sessions with youth from Oklahoma Region. We invited friends, and these chanting sessions quickly became intro-to-Buddhism meetings. To date, 11 people have received the Gohonzon through these meetings, including my friend Stephanie!

This semester, the university officially recognized our club, and we have taken a leadership role on campus. One young woman heard about Buddhism from her co-worker at a fast food restaurant. After she received the Gohonzon, she gained the courage to pursue her dream of becoming a sign language interpreter, and began taking classes in March! She recently shared her determination to transform her workplace into a Buddha land, and connect many young people with the Mystic Law.

I am convinced that sharing Buddhism with young people, who must discover their mission and become happy amid daunting challenges and uncertainty in society, is the surest way to transform humanity.

Each of the students we have introduced are developing into capable leaders, who are clear about their mission to bring hope to others, irrespective of their current circumstances.

2020 will mark 28 years of my family’s Buddhist practice. To repay my debt of gratitude to SGI President Ikeda, I am determined to personally help 28 people receive the Gohonzon in Oklahoma toward the gathering of 50,000 youth. Together with the youth of Oklahoma, I will pursue my dreams, become the happiest person and bring absolute joy to many people!


SIDDHANTH PARALKAR
SCHOOL: Arizona State University
FIELD OF STUDY: Masters in Sustainability Solutions
Photo: George Nakamura.

My mother introduced me to Soka Gakkai Nichiren Buddhism when I was a freshman in high school. I began my personal practice a few years later when I entered college and met local student division members. The student division leader at the time took me to SGI activities. We read SGI President Ikeda’s annual peace proposal and made efforts together to share Buddhism with others.

We were reading Sensei’s peace proposal when I learned about the United Nations’ sustainability program and discovered that I could pursue graduate studies in sustainability. I decided to apply to an international program in the U.S. at Arizona State University.

I received the Gohonzon and began supporting local campus club activities immediately. Our club hosted meetings every other week. We invited students to our weekly district meeting activities, too. The first year, we helped six students begin their own Buddhist practice. We also hosted two large community events, showcasing the “Seeds of Hope” exhibition to over 200 community members and presenting on Sensei’s peace proposal at a local library to an audience of over 250 community members.

I struggled a lot with my academics, going from an engineering background to a social studies program centered on writing and communication. But my efforts in the campus club became the foundation for me to succeed. Studying President Ikeda’s peace proposals inspired me to research the abolition of nuclear weapons. I went from nearly failing a class to getting an “A” and publishing the results of my research in a local campus sustainability journal.

Today, my main concerns are sustainability issues like recycling and energy saving. I realize that all these issues boil down to individual behavioral change. In school, we learn about tons of systems centered on incentives and restrictions, but I find they always have false promises and miss the fundamental issue. This leaves my peers disengaged and cynical. My Buddhist practice gives me confidence that we can achieve a positive change in society through the SGI’s efforts to promote the concept of human revolution, an inner-directed change in each individual.

I’m currently working as a recycling specialist in a school district. They have the technology and infrastructure in place to make a difference, but it’s up to me to drive initiatives. It’s a daunting task, but I’m determined to create student groups that spearhead implementation and carry out sustainability practices.

My determination toward the 50,000 youth gathering is to launch my efforts to start a Soka school focused on sustainability education. My battle now is to transform the place where I am right now.


Photo: Maya Ono.
EMA JORDAN
SCHOOL: University of California, Los Angeles
FIELD OF STUDY: Music Performance
Photo: Julien Altmann.

When I was in high school, I struggled with friendships. At one point, I lost almost all my friends becaue of rampant rumors and gossip. Thanks to the support of my parents and the women’s division members in my district, this became my turning point in faith. I got a full scholarship to the UCLA music program, and I met such great friends!

Since becoming an active SGI campus club member, I’ve started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo consistently, sharing Buddhism with others and studying Buddhism in earnest for the first time.

For instance, I was encouraged by Nichiren Daishonin’s passage: “The character myo means to open.

“If there is a storehouse full of treasures but no key, then it cannot be opened, and if it cannot be opened, then the treasures inside cannot be seen” (“The Daimoku of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 145).

When I read this, I determined to take full responsibility for my relationships with other people. I realized that I needed to open my life to other people and to the Gohonzon, if I wanted to engage in true dialogue with others.

Last summer, when I attended the Student Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, I was at a point when I really doubted my major and my abilities as a musician. Through that conference, I realized that what I needed to change was not my major, but my heart; I needed to deepen my conviction in the power of my life. I discovered a deeper love for music and have tapped into abilities that I didn’t realize I possessed. I have since passed major auditions, and joined coveted orchestras. Practicing Buddhism has given me the courage to pursue my dreams.

At the beginning of this academic year, three of us helped our friends receive the Gohonzon. When my roommate received the Gohonzon, we both became emotional as she shared how appreciative she was and how much she values our friendship.

As a club, we set goals each quarter for how many people we want to introduce to Buddhism. I’ve experienced the joy and vigor that come from running toward a goal in the spirit of “many in body, one in mind,” together with friends in faith.

Toward the gathering of 50,000 youth, I want to become someone who introduces people to Buddhism through actual proof of my own human revolution. I will be graduating in 2018, and I can’t wait to see how much more strength, courage and compassion I can manifest with this practice.


IVAN VERDIN
SCHOOL: California State University, Northridge
FIELD OF STUDY: Communication Studies, minor in Queer Studies

I was 18 when I attended my first SGI discussion meeting and was struck by the idea of having a practice for my own happiness. My friend was the district leader, and I was impressed by his consistent efforts to support the members. I received the Gohonzon after a few meetings and began developing my own consistent practice.

When I began studying at Cal State Northridge in 2015, I met so many people who were struggling. When I learned about the SGI campus club, I knew this would be a great way to introduce people to the Buddhist philosophy of respect for the dignity of life.

It’s not a good feeling when you walk out into the world and have to constantly defend who you are. Last year, after the tragic Orlando nightclub shooting [a hate crime in which 49 people were killed and 53 were injured at a gay nightclub], I felt it wasn’t safe to go anywhere. But through my Buddhist practice and participating in campus club activities, I realized that I have to be proactive against these forms of disrespect for human life.

Our SGI campus club holds a weekly intro-to-Buddhism meeting, and two students have joined the SGI through our campus club activities so far this year.

We also host a large public event promoting the Buddhist ideals of respect for the dignity of life. Last year, our event themed “What is true equality: Buddhist views on race, class and LGBTQ” drew over 80 attendees and 20 guests.

Our campus club has been able to turn tragedies into opportunities to bring different people together. We give students opportunities to express themselves. There are so many groups in need of support.

My dream has always been to help the LGBTQ community by creating a space that provides the resources and support to enable others to speak up and be themselves. My practice of Buddhism has helped me be confident in the good person and citizen that I am.

Toward the 50,000 youth gathering with Sensei, my determination is to encourage many new young men in my chapter to stand up as capable people and raise the next generation of solid campus club members.

Photos by Byron Cohen.

 

(pp. 20–26)