Confident and Courageous

Through resolving to become the sun, Carolyn Cho manifests courage to transform her family karma

“Faith is powerful, and I am powerful. I now understand that with my prayer, I determine the outcome,” says Carolyn Cho as she makes a victory sign, Santa Monica, California, January 2018. Photo by Debra Williams.

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you started practicing?

Carolyn Cho: Yes, in 2012, I was on my way to fulfilling my dream of becoming a chef when I attended a prestigious culinary school in New York. After graduation, I moved back home to California, where I worked as a line cook for some of the most prominent restaurants in the country. On the surface, I was making it, but the long hours, low pay and negative kitchen environment took their toll. I was physically exhausted, hopeless and unhappy. It was during this time when my sister shared her Buddhist practice with me. She had received the Gohonzon three years earlier, and explained how much chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo had helped her. I decided to join the SGI, too, on August 30, 2013. I was 23.

How did your life change?

Carolyn: One of the first benefits of my practice was getting a new job as a research and development project coordinator at a food manufacturing company. In the SGI, I also quickly took on responsibility as a district young women’s leader and joined Byakuren, a behind-the-scenes training group for young women. As I developed my faith and life condition, I saw tremendous benefits in my life. Two of my co-workers even received the Gohonzon in 2014! My greatest victory, however, has been in transforming my family’s karma.

How so?

Carolyn: I grew up in a family that struggled financially. My father was a business owner, but did not have much success, and we were forced to move a lot. By the time I left for college, I had attended 10 different schools.

The stress at home was particularly hard for my mother, and when I was 10, she fell into a deep depression and became actively suicidal. During that time, my sister and I watched over my mother every day so that she would not take her own life. My father worked during the day and would stay up with my mother at night. After three months, we took her to Korea to undergo outpatient treatment. After one year, she became stronger and returned home. In 2015, my mother’s symptoms returned and she decided to return to Korea for treatment.

What happened next?

Carolyn: The doctor prescribed strong doses of psychotropic medications that made her condition significantly worse. Fortunately, she had to return home early because an outbreak of a respiratory syndrome in Korea could have impacted her health. As she tried to wean herself off of the medications, however, my mother experienced severe withdrawal symptoms and became violent and suicidal.

My sister and I cooked, cleaned, bathed and watched over her while our father kept our store open seven days a week. We were devastated to see our mother suffer so much and were terrified that we would lose her this time. Although my parents did not approve of our Buddhist practice, my sister and I challenged our faith like never before. At times, we cried as we chanted to the Gohonzon and cried inside our car so that our parents would not hear us.

We decided to embrace our situation and say to ourselves: This is the best obstacle for our family because, as painful as it is, we can transform it and use our experience to help others become happy.

Carolyn with (l-r) sister, Aileen Cho, and mother, Jung Sun Cho, Los Angeles, September 2013.

That must have been a very difficult time for your family.

Carolyn: I asked myself, “Why?! Why is this happening to us and our family?!” My mentor, SGI President Ikeda states: “Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is the struggle to overcome our own weakness and lack of confidence in ourselves. It is the act of impressing in the very depths of our being the conviction that we can change the situation without fail. Prayer is the way to destroy all fear. It is the way to banish sorrow, the way to light a torch of hope. It is the revolution that rewrites the scenario of our destiny” (December 3, 2004, World Tribune, p. 8).

I felt like I was reliving the nightmare of my 10-year-old self, trying to make sense of the situation around me, but this time it was different. My sister and I had the Gohonzon and our SGI family. I chose to use this practice to face my karma, transform it and prove the power of this practice. We decided to embrace our situation and say to ourselves: This is the best obstacle for our family because, as painful as it is, we can transform it and use our experience to help others become happy. We continued to chant and fight hard every day, with the support and encouragement from our fellow members. Even when our mother blamed our practice and threatened to throw out the Gohonzon, we never gave up. We prayed earnestly for our parents’ health and happiness.

With resolute prayer to the Gohonzon, we were able to find a new doctor who discovered that my mother had been misdiagnosed and had major depression. She returned to Korea for treatment based on a proper diagnosis. Last November, she returned to California. She is still recovering, but slowly becoming more like herself day by day.

How is your family doing now?

Carolyn: Seeing the way my sister and I united and persevered during my mother’s illness, our parents are now supportive of our Buddhist practice, and our mother asks about our activities and community. My sister and I cherish each moment with them. President Ikeda states: “One person’s attainment of Buddhahood brings happiness to family members and relatives and all those around him or her. When a single sun rises, everything is illuminated” (For Today and Tomorrow, p. 212). Our family has two people practicing, so the sun is two times brighter! I feel truly lucky to be a part of this family. The other day, my mother, sister and I chanted together while on the phone. Afterward, my mother was encouraging my father, and she was so joyful. It brought me such joy to see her that happy.

What have you learned through this experience?

Carolyn: Because I grew up lacking confidence, I was fearful of many things. This practice has taught me to surmount my fear by facing my challenges head on and continuing to move forward. Faith is powerful, and I am powerful. I now understand that with my prayer and vow, I determine the outcome.

Aileen and Carolyn in San Francisco, July 2017. Photo by Courtesy of Carolyn Cho.

Congratulations! What are your dreams for the future?

Carolyn: One of my goals has been to return to school to get my master’s degree in nutritional science and become a registered dietician, so that I can use my education to help people make healthier food choices and to live long, happy lives!

More than anything, the last few years of practice have helped me build an unshakable self that is never defeated. I made three goals at the beginning of my practice regarding friendships, my career path and becoming more confident. Now, I have the most wonderful friends in the SGI who truly care about my life and never give up on me; I have found how I can fulfill my mission using my passion; and above all, I have become a confident and courageous young woman.

What is your determination toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September?

Carolyn: The 50K gathering in September is about determined youth responding to President Ikeda’s call for peace, and taking a stand for the dignity of life. I will be one of those determined youth by standing up and winning in all areas of my life, challenging my own human revolution and transforming my family karma. As a chapter young women’s leader, I will continue to support other young women in faith, so that they can win in their lives and we can transform our community. I am determined to share this life-affirming practice with many more people! I will never ever give up!

(pp. 32-35)