Building an Eternal Soka Family
By focusing on his own inner transformation, Kwan Choi determines to create an eternal castle of fortune as a Soka family.
Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. We understand you were born in South Korea. When did your family come to the U.S.?
Kwan Choi: First, let me thank you for allowing me to share my experience. My father moved to the U.S. when I was about 5 years old, and I stayed behind in South Korea with my grandmother. In 1983, we joined him in New York. My mother saw us off at the airport, and that was the last time I saw or heard from her. I was 9 at the time.
It must have been a difficult time for you. How would you describe your upbringing in New York?
Kwan: Our problems never seemed to end. We had an old car that the neighborhood kids constantly vandalized, and we were often behind on rent. My father also had severe stomach problems that made it impossible for him to eat regular foods. As for me, I wrestled with my own feelings toward my mother in her absence. Over time, they went from feelings of longing to resentment to anger, until I tried to block her from my memory completely.
How was your family introduced to the SGI?
Kwan: My father made his first connection to the practice in South Korea in the late 1960s. My grandmother had a stroke that left her in a vegetative state, with no chance of recovery. A neighbor encouraged my father to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He gave it a try, and, around a month later, his mother fully recovered. She went on to live for another 35 years in great health. After this experience, my father lost contact with the members and stopped chanting. But he is proof that once you hear about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you are linked to the Mystic Law eternally.
How did he get reconnected to the SGI?
Kwan: Twenty years later, in February 1986, my father was driving a taxi in New York, when three separate customers told him about chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in a single month. Because the third person was so insistent, he received the Gohonzon together with my grandmother and me.
Within the first few months of practicing, our lives changed before my eyes. My father recovered from his chronic stomach problems, our car stopped breaking down and, for whatever reason, the neighborhood kids stopped vandalizing our car. Eventually, my father found better employment, our finances stabilized, and we moved into a two-bedroom apartment. I was 12 years old by then and reluctant to practice myself, but a deep conviction in Nichiren Buddhism had been embedded in my life.
Why did you decide to embrace the practice?
Kwan: When I was 17, my district women’s leader asked me to join a district study group that was reading SGI President Ikeda’s serialized novel The Human Revolution. I wasn’t so interested in the group, but I was drawn to her warmth and care.
At first, I reluctantly went to these district study meetings. But within two months, I was hooked. I couldn’t believe that people like Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, Josei Toda and Daisaku Ikeda actually existed. They seemed like superheroes to me. I was fascinated by how they waged a do-or-die struggle to establish the Soka Gakkai and achieve kosen-rufu for the sake of ordinary people like my family.
I attended every meeting and, eventually, began to read ahead because I couldn’t wait until the next meeting. The district leader also played videos of SGI President Ikeda. That year, I learned so much about the invincible mentor-disciple relationship from the lives of the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents.
How did embracing the practice change your life?
Kwan: I received so many benefits from practicing. One of the most important ones was overcoming my resentment toward my mother. My turning point came in June 1996, when SGI President Ikeda visited New York. I was supporting his movement behind the scenes as a Soka Group member and was moved seeing how deeply he cared for each member he encountered.
During the movement, something painful that I had buried deep in my life came to the surface. I realized how much I missed my mother. I felt that my breakthrough was a powerful response to Sensei’s prayer for every member to become happy, and I made a vow to work for the happiness of each person too. I also realized that there would be no way to advance my life or to become truly happy without dealing with my pain.
When I recognized this, my resentment and anger toward my mother completely melted away and transformed into appreciation and a deep prayer for her happiness. I am still determined to find her one day and say, “Thank you.”
Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal episode. Is there a particular guidance from President Ikeda that has impacted your life?
Kwan: It’s difficult to pick just one, but I had a significant turning point in 2010 through seeking Sensei’s encouragement. At the time, my father, wife and I were living together in a one-bedroom apartment, with our infant daughter, Kaylee. The tension between my wife and father reached a boiling point.
I gave my all to the victory of the Rock the Era Youth Festival with a strong determination to transform this family karma. Shortly after, my wife, Yunhee, and I found a beautiful kosen-rufu home for the rent we chanted for. But this victory was short-lived.
Our family tensions continued to grow and, by 2012, I was no longer on speaking terms with my father, which was deeply painful for me. Around this time, I read an episode from The New Human Revolution, where President Ikeda shared this passage from Nichiren Daishonin’s treatise “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land”:
Rather than offering up ten thousand prayers for remedy, it would be better simply to outlaw this one evil. (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 15)
President Ikeda explained that the “one evil” represents erroneous beliefs that are the fundamental cause of all unhappiness: “Your ‘one evil’ may be becoming careless and belittling yourself when things don’t go as you’d hoped. Another ‘one evil’ is blaming one’s own failings and unhappiness on others, and being unable to work together in harmony with others for kosen-rufu. The tendency to give up and try to escape every time a difficulty presents itself is another ‘one evil.’ There are many other sorts of these ‘one evils,’ depending upon the person.
Every day I chantfor my life to be a
bridge to Sensei so that, through
my example, the youth
are inspired to seek his
“The beginning of the challenge of human revolution starts with identifying the ‘one evil’ in your own life, deciding to eliminate it, earnestly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and challenging yourself to succeed” (June 15, 2012, World Tribune, special insert, pp. C–D).
How did this guidance change the way you approached your challenge?
Kwan: This guidance made me realize that I expected others to change, not myself. For the first time, I chanted to identify and eradicate this “one evil” in my life, which I realized was my cowardly nature that avoided taking full responsibility for my circumstances. I decided to transform myself first. Through focusing on my own human revolution, I realized that if it weren’t for my father, I never would have identified this deep tendency in my life that was preventing me from waking up to
my Buddha nature. I began to understand the role my father was playing, and I was filled with appreciation for him and this drawn-out struggle.
From that point, everything transformed. Today, we are one big happy family. My father adores our children, Kaylee and Kevin, and we joyfully visit him each month. Together, we are building an eternal castle of fortune as a Soka family.
What an incredible victory! You were raised in the youth division. What is your approach to fostering other youth today?
Kwan: Every day I chant for my life to be a bridge to Sensei so that, through my example, the youth are inspired to seek his encouragement.
When I was a young men’s leader in Queens, New York, I supported a young man who often suffered from seizures, which limited his physical growth and capacity. When I
asked him about his dreams, he said that he dreamed of traveling freely one day without being escorted by his parents, finding a job with a good salary and having a girlfriend. I met with him each week to chant for his goals. We ate together, watched movies and developed a deep bond. Over time, he achieved every one of his goals and now has a beautiful family of his own. He is my inspiration.
Toward next year’s 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I’m resolved to unite with every single member, especially the women’s and men’s division members in East Territory toward this effort to run with the youth and, on behalf of Sensei, gather 50,000 Lions of Justice no matter what. This is the best way to repay our debt of gratitude to our mentor on his 90th birthday and eternalize his philosophy of Soka humanism.