Regaining My Humanity
Everado Alcauter, of Chicago, breaks free of a life of gangs and drugs to create change in the world around him.
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
Everardo Alcauter: Thank you. I have come a long way with my Buddhist practice.
Can you describe your life before you started practicing Buddhism?
Everardo: Well, I grew up in a neighborhood that was full of gang activity, but I always avoided getting involved. I didn’t like the idea of someone telling me what to do. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like the guys who were making money, the ones who I thought were successful, got that way because of crime and, especially, drugs. When I was 18, my mother and aunt received the Gohonzon and joined the SGI. I had no idea at the time that their decision to start practicing Buddhism would save my life.
Everardo: Around the same time, I gave into the pressure of the streets and began dealing drugs. I didn’t care if I hurt other people or made them suffer. I would tell myself, That’s just part of the business. Because I was good at what I did, I was recruited to open up a drug pipeline that, if I succeeded, would make me a very rich young man. Although my mother didn’t know exactly what I was getting into, she was very worried about me and strongly encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for my protection. I didn’t start chanting right away, but I often heard her voice in my head telling me to chant, so I did here and there. I organized one drug deal that would have made me a windfall. Everything was set on my end, but something went wrong on the other end of the deal. My bosses had me try again. The same problem happened. They had me try a third time. Again, everything was perfect on my part, but it fell through. My bosses decided I was not cut out for organized crime, and we parted ways. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t work out. Looking back, I realize how protected I was by my mother’s chanting.
What made you decide to change your life?
Everardo: I remember coming home from the streets in the early morning hours. I had money in my pocket, but my soul was empty. I couldn’t feel my heart. I would think to myself, I have money in my pocket, but now what? Around this time, I started to chant more consistently. I felt happier and was able to peel myself away from street life. That was also when I met my beautiful wife, Maria. During that time, I felt something I had not experienced in a long time—the return of my innocence. I received the Gohonzon in November 2009 with the strong encouragement of my aunt. I decided to start a new life and transform my karma using the Gohonzon.
I now understand that the powerful prayers of my mother and my family were activating the protective forces around me.
That’s wonderful. What challenges have you overcome with your practice?
Everardo: I began to suffer vivid and debilitating nightmares from my time in the streets. Rather than chanting about the situation, I started to drink heavily so I could numb myself and sleep through the night. The dreams persisted for six years. I would drink to escape my dreams. I would drink out of self-loathing. I would drink because I couldn’t forgive myself. I would drink because I couldn’t see any value in my own life. I wanted to destroy myself, but something was always stopping me. I now understand that the powerful prayers of my mother and my family were activating the protective forces around me. When I wanted to give up, my mom would challenge me by asking: Are you consistent with your gongyo? Are you chanting morning and evening or even sharing this Buddhism with anyone? Also, one men’s leader would call me almost every week to see how I was doing and invite me to SGI activities. I always appreciated his calls, and they often came at the right moment to protect me from getting myself into a dangerous situation. As I started to study SGI President Ikeda’s guidance, I realized that I was in a life-or-death battle with my lesser self. I determined that it was time to become absolutely happy and reveal my greatest self.
What action did you take in the process?Photo: Bob Nardi.
Everardo: In 2016, I began consistently participating in SGI activities, including my monthly district discussion meeting, intro-to-Buddhism meetings and Gajokai shifts for the young men’s training group that protects our SGI facilities. Through these activities, I deepened my shared commitment with President Ikeda to advance kosen-rufu; I now consider him to be my mentor in
life. I also started introducing others to Buddhism out of appreciation for this practice, which saved my life. In fact, just in this past year, I have helped several of my friends receive the Gohonzon and begin their journey of human revolution!
Congratulations! How has your practice affected your family?
Everardo: I learned to take full responsibility for my life and everything around me, starting with my family. My wife and I now have three beautiful boys, who are 8, 5 and 1. We chant every day as a family to fulfill our mission as disciples of Sensei. We attend many SGI activities together, creating golden memories. Looking at my life now, I have fulfilled my dream of having a simple life, where I can contribute to the happiness of others and walk the path of happiness together with my family. I also learned that we could achieve great things when we practice together as a family and team for kosen-rufu! My father has seen me challenge my human revolution, and he has also started to chant. We have truly become a kosen-rufu family.
What do you do now?
Everardo: I am proud to be a maintenance worker for a building close to the SGI-USA Chicago Buddhist Center. I do nearly all the maintenance, including plumbing, electrical work and painting. My goal is to eventually become a maintenance engineer. At my job, I met a young man who seemed like a younger version of me. When I spoke with him, I found out that he was involved with drugs and had lost hope in his life. I talked from my heart about the power of this practice. I told him to get rid of his drugs, and he did! Shortly after, he received the Gohonzon and joined the SGI. A few years ago, I would have been selling him drugs. This made me think of guidance I recently read from President Ikeda:
In the realm of the Mystic Law, no matter what happens, we can, in time, positively transform all poison into medicine. In fact, there is really no clear-cut dividing line between poison and medicine. The same substance can act as either a poison or a medicine, depending on the dosage and the life force of the individual who takes it. Some have even described medicine as “poison that saves lives.” Similarly, there is no clear difference between what will function as poison or medicine when it comes to victory and defeat in life. For instance, if we triumph in the end, everything we experienced can be seen as medicine. (November 2014 Living Buddhism, p. 42)
What is your determination toward the gathering of 50,000 Lions of Justice in 2018?
Everardo: This June, I was appointed the young men’s leader for Midway North Chapter. I have already been reaching out to all of the young men on my list and trying to make a connection with them. Personally, I am determined to become a lion of justice and help all the young men in my chapter develop into lions as well, and transform my community into a bastion of capable young men.