“Resolve to Be the Sun”

What Leia Ashikawa's father’s passing taught her about true happiness.

Leia Ashikawa, in New York City on a summer internship, says, “We all have karma to challenge, but we always hold happiness in our hands.” Photo by YVONNE NG.

by Leia Ashikawa

Three years ago, my father, who had been battling lung cancer, suffered a heart attack and passed away. I was 16 years old. I felt guilty because I believed that my prayers for my father were not answered.

Deeply pained, I lost all motivation and started skipping school. Over the summer break, I left Vermont for Guam, where I grew up, in hopes of escaping reality. I was nearly 8,000 miles across the world but still unhappy. I took the time to reflect on all that I had to be appreciative of, particularly the warm care of my SGI family. I realized that every struggle I had endured up to that time happened for a reason, and that I had to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to understand my mission.

With this newfound appreciation and perspective, I went back to Vermont, determined to stand up in my life. I chanted with deep appreciation for my father’s life and his eternal happiness, so that he could continue onto his next life peacefully.

When I returned to high school for my junior year, I reconciled with a friend with whom I had been on bad terms. I shared Buddhism with her, and soon after she received the Gohonzon! She wrote me a heartfelt card, thanking me for introducing her to the practice, and how she is the happiest she’s ever been.

As the time approached to apply to universities, I wanted to find a school that was affordable, had a diverse student population and where I could fulfill my mission for kosen-rufu. I was also determined to transform my karma of always struggling with relationships at school.

I applied for the Horatio Alger Scholarship, which upholds the goal to “assist high school students who have faced and overcome great obstacles in their young lives.”

In my application essay, I wrote about overcoming the struggle of losing a parent through my Buddhist practice and the encouragement of my mentor, SGI President Ikeda. I introduced Sensei’s words: “Cycles of life and death can be likened to the alternating periods of sleep and wakefulness. Just as sleep prepares us for the next day’s activity, death can be seen as a state in which we rest and replenish ourselves for new life. In this light, death should be acknowledged, along with life, as a blessing to be appreciated” (Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, p. 78).

The only way that I can show my absolute appreciation to Sensei and the SGI is through introducing others to the practice and showing them the power of the Gohonzon.

After lots of chanting, I was notified in early 2017 that out of 43,000 applicants, I was among 106 students to receive the scholarship, enabling me to secure a full ride to Ohio Wesleyan University, where I’m currently a student.

The past three years were a constant emotional and mental battle, but today, I feel nothing but appreciation for what my dad taught me and the person he helped me become. He would always tell me that my happiness was most important. All my guilt about his passing is gone, because I’m living in a way where I can honor his words.

About two years after my father died, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiation. Compared to my father, the size of her tumor and the amount of radiation required were far less, yet it caused her so much physical pain. She was amazed by my father’s strength and spirit to never complain during his illness. Today, my mother’s cancer is in remission.

My mom, who is the most kind-hearted and generous person I know, has now met a nice man who cares for her deeply. I’m so happy for her, because she deserves it.

The only way that I can show my absolute appreciation to Sensei and the SGI is through introducing others to the practice and showing them the power of the Gohonzon. Over the last few years, three of my friends in Vermont have joined the SGI-USA!

I have never been as happy as I am today, especially in school. Last year, I established the SGI student club at my university. The campus chaplain was very happy to have the first Buddhist group in years. There are about 10 active club members; all of whom are registered for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. My goal is for 30 students to participate in our campus club meetings and attend the 50K Festival. Making a lasting campus club has become a great mission of mine!

As the Columbus West Chapter young women’s leader, I want to be a sister in faith to all the young women. I’m developing amazing friendships with them based on heart-to-heart dialogues.

Through this phenomenal practice, I transformed my once miserable self, who blamed my surroundings for my problems, to a grateful person able to adapt to and appreciate my environment. We all have karma to challenge, but we always hold happiness in our own hands.

As a source of constant encouragement, I remind myself of Sensei’s words: “Resolve to be the sun. This is the first thing you must do. As long as you are the sun, no matter what problems you may be facing now, the dawn will always break, fine weather will always return, and spring will never fail to arrive” (Discussion on Youth, p. 18). This I will continue to do.

(p. 5)

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