Finding My Place in the World
Joshua Thomas embraces his inherent self-worth as a minority LGBT youth and, most important, as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.
by Joshua Thomas
As a gay black man growing up in a religious family and conservative community in Illinois, I had always struggled to find my place in the world. I would often cry myself to sleep and pray to change my sexuality only to find myself more depressed and unhappy.
As time went by, I eventually lost all sense of self. This led me down a road of toxic relationships, with one in particular that almost ended my life in 2014. My boyfriend and I had gotten into a heated dispute and, in his intoxication, he told me to run in front of a moving car. Not seeing the value of my life any longer, I did as he said. After suffering a concussion, I woke up in the hospital with multiple broken bones.
At age 22, it took a brush with death for me to realize that I hadn’t yet dealt with the pain and insecurities of my past. I knew this was preventing me from being the best person I could be.
With a second chance at life, I was inspired to make a change and moved to Portland, Oregon, four months into my recovery. It was at my job at a local food bank where I first learned about the SGI last year. A co-worker had mentioned to me that she was Buddhist and handed me a World Tribune, which I enjoyed reading. Two weeks later, I went to my first district discussion meeting.
I was excited to learn more about the practice but was consumed by my own doubts and uncertainties. I couldn’t commit to attending any more SGI activities, but I chanted on my own for
the next four to five months.
During this time, I found myself in another abusive relationship. My partner’s alcohol-infused outbursts triggered my trauma from the car accident, and I turned to irrational behavior that went against my values. Desperately wanting to get to the root of my suffering, I finally decided to receive the Gohonzon on May 7 of this year.
Since then, I’ve been sincerely devoted to my practice and haven’t missed a single district meeting. I also began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to share my difficult experiences around race, sexual orientation and my accident as a way to inspire others while healing myself. Through this prayer, my life has opened up to many opportunities both within the SGI and in the community. I recently became a unit leader and look forward to supporting other young men in their Buddhist practice. I’m also working with several community groups to engage in the therapeutic process of sharing my stories with those who are in need of support, including the Portland Art Museum’s project “Objects of Story,” which will feature my profile in an exhibition next month.
I was recently inspired by SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in My Dear Friends in America: “In the teachings of Nichiren [Daishonin] we find the passage, ‘The cherry, the plum, the peach, the damson . . . without undergoing any change.’ This passage confirms that there is no need for everyone to become ‘cherries’ or ‘plums’ but that each should manifest the unique brilliance of his or her own character.
“This simile points to a fundamental principle of appreciation for diversity that applies equally to human beings and to social and natural environments. As the concept of ‘revealing one’s intrinsic nature’ indicates, the prime mission of Buddhism is to enable all of us to blossom to the fullest of our potential” (third edition, p. 366).
With this conviction, I’ve been introducing Buddhism to my friends and family, and people in the community. After sharing Buddhism with a young woman at a car wash, she attended an intro-to-Buddhism meeting and enjoyed it so much that she decided to receive the Gohonzon on July 25!
I also look forward to my cousin becoming an SGI member soon. She attended the Aug. 6 Kosen-rufu Gongyo meeting with me and said she wants to receive the Gohonzon! There was so much excitement, and I was trying not to cry the entire time. Spreading this sense of self-empowerment, from one person to another, is what the gathering of “50,000 Lions of Justice” is all about.
I can now live confidently each day based on my Buddha nature, my genuine self. I’ve finally found my place in the world.