Launching My Personal Victory

How I used my Buddhist practice to transform my illness into the energy for creating happiness.

Photo by Martin Parks

by Don Dean

In December 2015, as I neared age 65, I was hit with four major obstacles. My corporate job was moving out of state, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and I was in need of spinal surgery and a knee replacement. Given the recovery time of one year, I wouldn’t have a job to go back to.

There was one voice inside of me that said: Bring it on! You can beat this! But another voice inside of me wasn’t so confident. I was afraid.

I joined the SGI in 1970 as a college student. There was a revolutionary spirit in the air, and the SGI had a religious philosophy that I agreed with. I was also moved by the organization’s efforts to create a peaceful world.

My new Buddhist practice quickly helped me establish lifelong careers. Based on the training I received in the SGI—such as the willingness to do whatever was asked of me, no matter how challenging—in 10 years, I went from working as a part-time janitor for a sports arena to becoming its director of marketing. I welcomed SGI President Ikeda to this arena in 1974 and 1984—first as a member of its clean-up crew and later as part of the executive staff.

The SGI also taught me the importance of educating and treasuring youth, which gave me the passion to develop a career both as an educator and instructional designer for large corporations.

Since 1999, I’ve been teaching college courses in computer science and informational technology while maintaining full-time corporate positions.

Although I had experienced great success in my life, I felt that my new challenges with my health had arisen for a deep purpose. I sought guidance from a senior in faith who encouraged me to use my illness to profoundly change my life. He pointed me to President Ikeda’s guidance:

Illness teaches us many things. It makes us look death in the face and think about the meaning of life. It makes us realize just how precious life is. It is all just a passageway leading us upward to a more elevated life. It is a learning experience. And for those who base themselves on the Mystic Law, everything becomes energy for creating happiness, fuel for self-improvement. (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, Part 2, p. 108)

Thoroughly encouraged, I determined that I would use my illness as rocket fuel to change my life based on chanting Nam-myoho- renge-kyo abundantly with these words of Nichiren Daishonin in my 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).

I started chanting with the roar of a “super lion rocket” blasting off, which was inspired by the animated series “Voltron: Defender of the Universe.” In the opening theme of this show, Voltron is referred to as “A mighty robot, loved by good, feared by evil.” I was determined to face the devilish function of illness in my life and help bring peace to my universe!

My wife, Patty, and I chanted abundantly side by side, which brought us closer together as a family. And I learned the essence of having good friends in faith when fellow SGI members held chanting sessions for me.

Although I’m still battling prostate cancer, it proved to be in a state that didn’t require surgery, and my spine and knee operations were a success! At the end of 2016, after months of physical therapy, my doctors gave me a clean bill of health and said I could return to work. Since I had just turned 65, I wasn’t sure anyone would hire me.

Amazingly, I started receiving calls from companies asking me to apply to work for them. I polished off my resume and started chanting again with the roar of a “super lion rocket.”

Because of the work I had done with my former company, it turned out I was in high demand. I found a fantastic job at an aerospace company as a senior instructional designer. What does my company do? We help launch rockets. Incredibly, at 65, you could say I finally launched my career!

Then, earlier this year, I had another scare. After suffering tremendous pain, I learned that I needed emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. My son, Donald, 25, took great care of me during my recovery, and even though he was not active in his practice, he led our family in doing gongyo every morning and evening. I wasn’t allowed to drive, so I asked Donald to drive me to SGI activities. When the youth saw my son, they warmly embraced him, helping him become involved in Soka Group (an SGI young men’s behind-the-scenes training group), registering for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival and taking on unit leadership. There is nothing that could bring me greater joy.

By challenging my illness head-on and looking death in the face, I turned my suffering into the rocket fuel for self-improvement. My family became happier and more harmonious, I found the greatest job and, on a deep level, I realized just how precious life is.

Toward the 50K Festival, I’m determined to bring 100 youth from my chapter so that we can foster the next generation of youth who will carry on a vibrant organization for the future of kosen-rufu. In a sense, the revolutionary air that was prevalent when I joined has returned, and I’m determined to help create a tipping point toward an era of hope and respect together with the youth!

My Buddhist practice brings a renewed spirit to my life every day. I feel like my life is just starting, and I’ve never been more ready to blast off!