Learning the Art of True Joy

How Ikechukwu Ufomadu developed the courage to make every decision the best step toward fulfilling his vow.

As a working artist in New York City, Ikechukwu Ufomadu has always made financial contributions to support the SGI’s movement for peace, even amid his own challenges. The courage he developed in the process blossomed into a determination to win as an artist. Photo by MARC GIANNAVOLA.

May 3, Soka Gakkai Day, is New Year’s Day for 12 million SGI members in 192 countries and territories—a day on which we take a fresh step forward, setting a dynamic rhythm for continual advancement and victory together with our eternal mentors, the three founding Soka Gakkai presidents, undaunted by any obstacles.

In this most significant year, we celebrate another victorious May 3, with our gaze set on the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September, when American youth, the successors of kosen-rufu, will take a stand for the dignity of life and usher in an era of hope and respect for all people.

SGI President Ikeda writes of his efforts as a youth to expand the Soka Gakkai at the front lines: “The real challenge in our Buddhist practice comes when we are all alone. We need the resolve to strive in faith and win, even if no one else sees our efforts. The success of our movement lies in fostering countless courageous individuals who possess this stand-alone spirit” (April 2018 Living Buddhism, p. 14).

Following are experiences from two members, overflowing with the spirit of May 3, in which they express their heart of appreciation for their Buddhist practice, and explain why, at the start of the May Commemorative Contribution activity, they are proud to be benefactors of kosen-rufu.

by Ikechukwu Ufomadu

As a comedian and actor in New York, I’ve faced constant financial struggles.

Last October, just over 10 years since I joined the SGI, I was presented with a year long, well-paying contract to create and perform in a live comedy show in Las Vegas. The problem was, I didn’t feel any enthusiasm about this specific project. I would also be leaving behind the momentum I had established in New York.

At the time of the offer, I had already missed several months’ rent and, on occasion, lacked money for my basic needs. I was in a constant state of anxiety, and had deep doubts about my chosen path.

I sought guidance from a senior in faith who encouraged me to have tremendous gratitude for the offer, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo abundantly to make the right decision. No matter what I ultimately chose, he said, it would be my continuing efforts to make my decision the “right” one that would ultimately decide my victory or defeat.

He also encouraged me to put the oneness of mentor and disciple—and my shared vow for kosen-rufu—at the center of my prayer. Without deepening this aspect of my practice, he said, Buddhism would become a hobby.

The more I challenged myself in front of the Gohonzon and prayed to deepen my understanding of the oneness of mentor and disciple, the more I felt that Sensei was trying to teach me that I had this courage within my life. For the first time, I felt courageous, confident and bold.

Not long after, I was offered a role in an off-Broadway show, and advanced to the next round of selection for a writing program, but neither opportunity would start for months.

With no financial relief in sight, I learned that the magazine Time Out New York planned to feature me as one of five comedians to look out for in New York in 2018. The article would come out on Jan. 3, the day after Sensei’s 90th birthday, which felt like our shared victory. I decided to turn down the job in Las Vegas and stay in New York. Unfortunately, my landlord would not accept a magazine article as rent!

My financial situation felt intractable, which forced me to battle my negativity every day while searching for part-time work and continuing to make causes for kosen-rufu.

Since joining the SGI in 2007, I had always contributed financially to the organization. Each year, I gained more gratitude for the SGI and manifested courage to contribute amid hardships.

Developing that courage taught me the importance of encouraging others, even in the midst of my darkest days. President Ikeda writes: “Propagating Nichiren Buddhism, which involves teaching others the most fundamental solution to sufferings, is … the fastest way for us to do our human revolution and break out of the shell of our own ego” (August 2016 Living Buddhism, p. 17).

I was encouraged that sharing Buddhism was a way to win over my lesser self, and I gained the courage to invite a friend back to an SGI activity, where he received the Gohonzon!

Still without any income, I recalled the guidance that I had received a few months earlier. Although I had chanted abundantly to reach the decision to stay in New York, I had not chanted and made efforts to make New York the “right” decision.

I realized that I needed to expand my prayers as a disciple of Sensei! I said to myself, I stayed here to win as an artist, so I should pray to win as an artist.

With this deep internal shift, my environment responded. A former boss reached out to me, and I explained my situation to him. To my surprise, he happily offered to cover my rent! Within 48 hours, my rent crisis was resolved.

I have steady work now with an off- Broadway show and new opportunities on the horizon. Most important, I’ve gained the courage to make any decision the best step toward fulfilling my vow.

Through this year’s May Commemorative Contribution activity, I’m determined to develop the fortune to continue working as an artist for the rest of my life! I also feel deep joy knowing my efforts are expanding SGI’s capacity to enable many others to deeply transform their lives.

As the Park Slope Chapter young men’s leader, I’m determined to bring 90 young men to the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. Fighting together with my mentor has allowed me to go beyond any self-perceived limitations and help others do the same. To me, that’s true joy; that’s the spirit of a disciple, a Lion of Justice.