“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Is Like the Roar of a Lion”
How Sompheng “Tarzan” Saybounkham used his illnesses to show the power of his faith.
by Sompheng “Tarzan” Saybounkham
My life has been a tumultuous struggle for survival. I was born in the early ’60s during the Laotian Civil War. When the communist forces assumed political power in 1975, my father, a military commander, was taken as a prisoner of war, which left my mother with eight young children. I was just 13 years old.
After six years, I made a very risky but successful move to negotiate my father’s release. Then, after a week-long trek through the jungles and the Mekong River, our family settled at a refugee camp in Thailand.
With assistance from the U.S. government in 1983, we moved to Austin, Texas, to start a new life. Over the next 20 years, I worked various menial jobs to support my family, which expanded when my partner, Tippy, and I married and welcomed our daughter.
Although I was happy to live in a safer, more comfortable environment, I was constantly dealing with financial insecurities, which caused me deep stress and suffering. My wife and I hit a new low when, in 2006, we both lost our jobs. At that time, a family friend encouraged us to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. She was so earnest and convincing that I immediately decided to practice. I knew that I had found the tool to change my life and, out of great excitement, I began sharing Buddhism with those around me. Both my mother and sister Jill joined the SGI, and in the final years of my father’s life, he also embraced Nichiren Buddhism.
My sister, mother and I determined to be the solid rocks of our family to transform all our sufferings into happiness so as not to pass on our painful karma to future generations. We strove wholeheartedly to support activities for kosen-rufu and continued to introduce others to the practice as a means to create lasting happiness and fortune.
Over time our circumstances improved, and several years ago my wife and I opened a seafood restaurant with another family. It became so successful that my wife and I decided to open another restaurant in 2016. As life was looking up, my faith was suddenly put to the test in the most unexpected way.
We were approved for a government loan for the new restaurant, but I needed to pass a physical examination to insure it. I had always been in good health, so I was taken aback when my doctor informed me that I had extreme levels of a protein produced by the prostate gland.
After a battery of tests, I was diagnosed with not only prostate cancer but also leukemia and lymphoma. I was surprised but not shaken by the news. From the first day that I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I understood that everything in life and the way we experience it is a matter of what’s in our hearts. Confident that I had the best tool in the world—my Buddhist practice—I accepted my karma and determined to transform this experience into a benefit.
I was immediately placed on chemotherapy for six months to treat the leukemia and lymphoma. Unfortunately on the last day of treatment, my doctor learned more bad news: My immune system had weakened dramatically and brought out hepatitis B, which had been dormant in my body. I was told that I needed to see a liver specialist immediately or suffer liver failure.
Not long after, I was rushed to the intensive care unit with a high fever and jaundice. My family and friends believed that the two weeks I spent in ICU would be my last. Even one of my doctors told me: “I don’t want you to die! You’re too young!”
I only had Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, Nichiren Daishonin’s writings and SGI President Ikeda’s guidance to strengthen me. I chanted every day, studied and shared Buddhism with the hospital staff. In my heart, I held onto Nichiren’s words: “Believe in this mandala with all your heart. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412).
With my fighting spirit, two weeks later, I was able to return home to recuperate without needing a liver transplant. I still had a mountain of challenges ahead of me, however. For the next three months, I went through 44 grueling radiation treatments to attack the prostate cancer cells.
Because many of my customers, friends and family knew that I was Buddhist, I was determined to show them the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo by facing this experience with joy and positivity. Throughout it all, I continued to smile and chant.
I had my final radiation treatment three months ago and every day, I’m getting stronger. I no longer have prostate cancer, lymphoma or hepatitis B, and although my leukemia will stay with me in a controlled form, I’m able to live a normal, productive life.
I am so happy to be alive and truly feel that I have won over myself!
Another recent victory has been the successful opening of our second restaurant. It has created many jobs for people in our community, and my customers say they enjoy coming to a great environment.
I want my story to be for the youth division, our young lions. I am determined to support them in any way toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in 2018. I want to send my daughter, niece and nephew there, and I’m chanting abundantly to share Buddhism with many more youth! I also feel a deep sense of mission to use my life to help change the destiny of my home country through enabling many more Laotians to embrace SGI Nichiren Buddhism.
Although it seems I have been fighting for my survival since I was a child, the real battle is always within. Beautiful flowers grow from dirt, and Buddhism has taught me that when a beautiful flower grows in your heart, you become a better person. I’m trying to become a better person every day, and I’ll never stop!