Let’s Show the World How to Win!

Rachel Mundus challenges her dream of becoming a dentist of the people.

Bold advance—Through her Buddhist practice, Rachel Mundus strengthens her dream to serve others as a dentist. In 2017, she helped establish a dental health program and clinic to treat the most underserved populations of her community with dignity and respect.(Photo by LAURENT LORENZO SCHIRATTI)

by Rachel Mundus

Some people know their passions while others are still uncovering theirs. I remember deciding on my career at a very young age; in first grade I committed to becoming a great dentist who would help people out of their oral health pain.

Shortly after making my determination, I realized that I was not as quick as other kids in mathematics and science, subjects that I needed to succeed in to become a dentist. Every thought about how incapable I was further solidified my unhappiness.

In undergraduate school, I became paralyzed by anxiety. Intimidated by the difficulty of my courses, I found myself escaping my challenges and treating my body recklessly. By my junior year of college, I felt I had hit the lowest point in my life.

On the third day of school, I fell down some stairs and broke my back. For two months, I laid in bed in excruciating pain, incapable of doing anything on my own. When I returned to school, my roommate noticed how much I was struggling and mentioned chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as a means to overcome suffering. I began chanting with her every day and immediately felt I had found the medicine that I needed.

Learning that I could change my karma through Buddhist practice was the most liberating feeling, and on March 20, 2010, I received the Gohonzon! Buddhism was an intervention of the disbelief in my life’s potential, and I became determined to accomplish my dreams and help others have the same hope.

Several months in, I faced another major health obstacle. While riding my skateboard, I hit a break in the pavement and was launched off my board. I landed head-first on concrete, which left me in a coma for 14 hours and with a traumatic brain injury. During my recovery, I chanted every day to not be defeated.

I read SGI President Ikeda’s guidance in The Human Revolution where he quotes second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda: “Everyone in the Soka Gakkai’s young women’s division should become happy down to the last member. The history of women up to today has consisted of women grieving over their destinies. You are young women who embrace Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. You need not grieve over your destinies any longer. This hinges, however, on the condition that you carry through with a pure, strong faith throughout your lives” (p. 595).

During this time, I chose President Ikeda as my mentor, because I had finally found someone I could trust to show me how to advance in my life. Reading his encouragement always left me a little brighter and a little bigger than my problems.

Through my resolute prayer to recover as fast as I could, only one month after my accident, I returned to school to finish my last two semesters and graduated from college.

It was still an all-out struggle to regain self-confidence and the trust of those around me as I was reeling from short-term memory loss following the accident. I chanted to recover my brain function and finished taking prerequisite classes for dental school. And in between semesters, I became a dental assistant. I vowed not to let my injuries or anything come in the way of my dream to help provide care to those in need. Through my Buddhist practice, I learned that helping others equals helping yourself. By supporting other young women and helping others take faith, I was actually healing myself. I decided to be victorious, no matter what, just as I was encouraging the young women to be.

In 2015, I started working with a nonprofit mental health agency that supported my submission to obtain a large federal grant to develop a brand new dental program that would serve anyone in need. Through chanting and making efforts to become evermore capable for kosen-rufu, I started to see my vision come to fruition. In 2016, we were awarded two grants that enabled us in September 2017 to open a fully comprehensive dental health program and clinic for all!

This clinic is crucial to Detroit because people without commercial insurance and those facing homelessness and mental illness historically have lacked access to dental care, leaving many people in oral pain. Every day, I see a sense of hopelessness in the society and community I work in, and the only way I’ve learned to create hope has been through the deep-rooted conviction that I can transform any situation based on my faith in Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

We are now serving 600 patients, and as the dental clinic coordinator, I’m currently in the process of helping build a new, larger clinic with improved equipment, truly treating our patients with dignity and respect.

Another great victory for me last year was completing my master’s degree in public health dentistry. Today, I continue to use my practice to challenge my dream of becoming a dentist for the people. Understanding that my struggles have made me much more humble, patient, compassionate and hardworking, I am eternally grateful for my path.

My personal goal toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival is to be accepted into dental school. And as the Michigan Region young women’s leader, I am determined that 300 young women will stand strong on Sept. 23!

President Ikeda writes, “True success and honor in life come as a result of triumphing over your weaknesses” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 25, p. 84).

Overcoming my own self-doubt is a moment-to-moment battle, but thanks to my Buddhist practice, I choose to believe in myself. It takes a lion to triumph over oneself, so together let’s show the world how to win!