Nothing Can Hold Me Back

Lillian Ortiz stands up in her family to transform a great loss into an even greater benefit.

Harmonious family— Lillian Ortiz (center) with her (l–r) son, Felix Torres; granddaughter Saniyah Sledge; daughter, Gabriela Torres; and granddaughter Milahn Sledge, Bronx, N.Y. Photo: Jeremy Joffee.

by Lillian Ortiz

One of the greatest challenges of my life came four years into my Buddhist practice when, on Aug. 31, 2014, my husband of 22 years abruptly announced that he was leaving me.

It was the most painful and humiliating experience I had ever faced. My son, Felix, and daughter, Gabriela, were so close to their father that I couldn’t imagine how they would feel. After he left, I started chanting Nam-myohorenge- kyo with the determination that he would come back.

During this emotional crisis, I was appointed as a teacher in a new school in the Bronx. I had been teaching for 22 years, but the methodology in instruction and learning was completely new to me. It was the first time in my career that I didn’t understand what to do or how to do it. I had lost my focus, both spiritually and emotionally, and, as a result, couldn’t absorb the new information.

At home, life was tumultuous. We were all suffering because of my husband’s departure. My daughter was a single mother of 7-month-old twin girls. My son, who was not working or going to school, had no direction. I was in hell.

As a vice district women’s leader at the time, my sense of responsibility motivated me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, but my prayers lacked passion, and I was just going through the motions.

My chapter leader encouraged me to express my appreciation for having the fortune to meet the Gohonzon and SGI President Ikeda in this lifetime; to recognize my mission for kosen-rufu; and to stop dwelling on the past, which was holding me back.

I began to chant with the determination that “I, Lillian Ortiz, will transform this poison into medicine!” This traumatic experience became my very opportunity to elevate my life condition out of the hell and anger I felt to become absolutely happy. It was time for my human revolution!

I started waking up early every morning to chant two hours before work. I also chanted on my lunch break and after school. I had the strong conviction that, with every step, I was aligning my heart with Sensei’s.

Two weeks in, things began to shift. The administration at my school assigned an advisor instructor to help me improve my job performance. I became good friends with her. She helped me understand the new methodology, and how to incorporate the new educational standards into planning and execution. With her help, I finished the school year as an effective teacher and was even appointed a test designer on my school’s instructional team.

Meanwhile, I continued chanting, and redoubled my efforts to visit members and share Buddhism with others. Once I put my practice first, I no longer harbored doubts and became determined to win beyond measure.

In My Dear Friends in America, Sensei writes: “To attain Buddhahood in this life, the Daishonin warns us with firm concern that we must never retreat in our practice. Even though we may experience a period of sadness or depression, the principle that ‘earthly desires are enlightenment’ teaches us that great sufferings are bound to be transformed into equally great joy, progress and value” (third edition, pp. 40–41).

President Ikeda taught me to never give up, even when things were difficult. And through that struggle, I learned to respect the dignity of my life, which ultimately meant respecting everything that was connected to my life—from paying bills on time to going to work with a sense of appreciation.

During this time, my school principal chose me to take classes at Harvard University, all expenses paid. At Harvard, I learned how to interpret data, so that I could help students improve their performance on state tests. I also finalized my second master’s degree in school building leadership with a 3.85 GPA. At work, I received two awards from my principal: “Most Initiative” and “The Second Year Trooper,” which recognized my perseverance and devotion to education amid challenges in my first year there. My human revolution did not evolve overnight. It was the result of an ongoing effort to chant and unite my life with my mentor and fellow members in the SGI. This has been the key to my success in this practice.

As youth division members, my children are developing into strong individuals. Through wonderful causes he has made as a young men’s district leader, my son obtained a job in the retail industry and worked his way up to become the store manager of the largest branch in the Bronx. He was awarded the “Best Full-Timer in the Bronx Region.” Felix is now looking for a new high-level position in the retail industry. Just recently, his girlfriend received the Gohonzon.

Today, my 3-year-old granddaughters are the strongest and healthiest children, having overcome a list of health complications from their premature births. They ring the bell and chant with Grandma.

Gabriela is raising them and living her life based on President Ikeda’s guidance. Last year, she was appointed the Unionport District young women’s leader.

With my mother still practicing in Puerto Rico, there are four generations in my family chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!

Although my husband never returned, my family and I have a deep sense of appreciation for him. Because of him, I was able to accomplish my dream of coming to the United States from Puerto Rico in 2004 to become an educator here. With his help, we have achieved many of our dreams as a family.

I have a sense of pure joy in my heart, because I am an empowered woman of faith and Bodhisattva of the Earth, which can never be taken from me. I’m determined to impart that same joy to all the youth toward next year’s gathering of “50,000 Lions of Justice.”


(p. 5)