How a youth festival changed my life.
Roy Olesky, of Boston, attends an SGI-USA event in his youth, changing the course of his life
Living Buddhism: Thank you for meeting with us, Roy. Can you tell us how you began practicing Buddhism?
Roy Olesky: After graduating from college in 1970, I drifted to several cities for about a year before settling in Boston. One of my housemates was an SGI member, who began inviting me to meetings, but I declined her numerous invitations. One evening, however, she was heading out to a meeting with her friend who had just landed a job as a fashion model. This time, when she asked if I would attend, I said, “Yes! I’ve always been interested in Buddhism!”
How was your experience at the meeting?
Roy: I felt that I already knew what was going to happen at the meeting, as I had dabbled in meditation. But I was impressed by the sincerity of the members I met. Ten days later, I went back to a meeting on my own because I liked the atmosphere, but I refused to chant.
What inspired you to begin your practice?
Roy: After my second meeting, a young men’s leader visited me and encouraged me to attend a culture festival in New York. He was very friendly, and I decided to attend the festival, writing him a $10 check for the round-trip bus ride. When I got on the bus, I realized that I was the only guest, and felt out of place. In fact, I decided to get off the bus and never come back. At that moment, however, the door closed and the bus started moving. I’m trapped! I thought. While the members were very nice, during the bus ride, I kept wondering to myself, Why did I get up so early this morning to watch people sing songs on a long bus ride to New York? and Why do they keep offering me riceballs and seaweed?
What was your experience attending the festival?
Roy: It was an incredible experience that changed the course of my life. At first I felt lost, as there were so many people I didn’t know. But a series of events changed my outlook. First, an older Japanese woman sat next to me. She couldn’t speak English very well, but asked so many questions about my life, making me feel comfortable. It was such a diverse group of several hundred people who seemed genuinely happy. The experiences, performances and encouragement were so uplifting and practical.
On the way back to Boston, I began practicing gongyo. Just a few days later, I started to bring a guest to meetings who received Gohonzon with me several weeks later, on December 1, 1971.
Wow. That’s incredible! It seems like attending that meeting in New York was the major cause for you to begin your Buddhist practice.
Roy: I don’t think I would be practicing today if it weren’t for that experience. I am filled with appreciation for the members who supported me that day.
How has your life developed over your nearly 47 years of practice?
Roy: Growing up, I struggled with the confidence to believe in myself. I often gave up in the face of obstacles and easily lost heart. Through my Buddhist practice with the SGI, I learned that no achievement is out of reach.
Can you share an example with us?
Roy: In the early 1990s, I faced a financial crisis when my business collapsed. Boston was undergoing a regional recession, with many engineers and programmers leaving the area for other opportunities. I was working 12 to 14 hours a day to survive.
By this time, I was supporting my family with two young children. In the midst of this challenge, I read in The Human Revolution how second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda’s businesses went bankrupt and all his employees left his side, except for his young disciple, Daisaku Ikeda. I learned the spirit to not be swayed in the midst of hardship and to keep fighting based on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon with a powerful determination. After 18 months of persevering through this challenge, I was able to start a new business where we recruit and place medical doctors for hospitals. Since that time, my business has thrived in ways that I could never imagine.
Now, I am so grateful for the simple pleasure of going to work each day. I have so much appreciation for my beautiful wife, Kathleen, and three children, George, David and Julie, who have supported me through everything. All of my children are happily looking forward to attending the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival. Also, since 2017, I have helped three young people receive the Gohonzon and am on my way to achieving my personal “squad of 6” to attend the festival!
Congratulations! What would you like to share with the youth who are gearing up for September’s historic festival?
Roy: In my experience, we don’t realize the importance of these activities until later in life. On the bus that day 47 years ago, I thought, What am I doing here? But it changed my life. It’s important for youth to feel that they are not powerless, and united together they can make a difference.
The current state of affairs of the world is disheartening. With 50,000 youth uniting on September 23, they will be weaving a new, enduring web of humanistic culture. To me, this festival is a historical declaration of 50,000 youth, resolving to end environmental degradation, discrimination, violence, bullying, abuse of power, the threat of nuclear weapons and much more.