“This Is My Vow”
How I awakened the lion inside through battling a debilitating illness.
by Ryan Harrison
San Antonio, Texas
My search for hope began in 2011, when I was diagnosed with cervical dystonia, a condition closely related to Parkinson’s disease. The illness, induced by a temporomandibular joint disorder I had developed, caused the muscles in my neck to contract involuntarily. At its worst, my head would be pulled down to my shoulder with unimaginable pain.
At first, the doctors could not properly diagnose me. I was told that my challenges were due to anxiety and nervousness, and so I was given psychotropic drugs, which only worsened my symptoms.
My illness kept me bedridden for long periods of time, and my job let me go. Eating and taking showers became nearly impossible. I lived out my days in bed asking, Why me? I attempted to end my life more than once, consumed by my own personal hell.
My doctors continued to advise me that no cure existed for my lifelong disorder. Then one day, I stumbled across a radical new treatment for my condition that didn’t require any drugs or surgery. Within one month, my health improved 90 percent! But in the following year, my symptoms returned with 10 times the pain and debilitation.
I didn’t know it, but my mother—who had been an SGI member since I was born—was fighting an intense spiritual battle, desperately chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon for me to embrace Buddhism, so that I could transform my karma. It had been her determination since I was born that I would begin my own Buddhist practice.
I had been chanting on and off myself, however, my heart wasn’t aligned with the Mystic Law, and my vow wasn’t for kosen-rufu. I realized that to move forward in my life and overcome this illness, I had to establish a spiritual foundation and decided to receive the Gohonzon. On May 4, 2014, I joined the SGI.
I dedicated myself to doing gongyo every morning and evening, never missing a day, and I noticed that my doctor’s treatment became more effective, and my disorder didn’t relapse. Nichiren Daishonin writes to the parents of a child facing a serious illness: “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 engraved this passage in my heart.
As I deepened my understanding of Buddhism, I realized the importance of not just practicing Buddhism for myself, but also for others. In 2016, I introduced my friend to the SGI, and for the first time, I helped someone receive the Gohonzon. As my symptoms intensified, I recognized this obstacle for what it was—an attempt by devilish functions to pull my life back into the world of suffering.
Meanwhile, my health took a huge turn for the worse. My pain was so intense that it felt like a knife was being driven into my neck every minute of the day. With all the strength I had, I would go to the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, constantly refreshing my vow to become the healthiest person in America and dedicate my life to kosen-rufu alongside my mentor, SGI President Ikeda.
Nichiren writes, “The lion king is said to advance three steps, then gather himself to spring, unleashing the same power whether he traps a tiny ant or attacks a fierce animal” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412). I was convinced that even though I was experiencing extreme circumstances, I was making causes that would produce a profound effect at the crucial moment.
I continued to challenge my physical health condition and participate in the Gajokai (a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group) to protect the organization, our beautiful local center and the precious members. I was confident that the protective functions of the universe had no choice but to protect my life, because I had determined to exist for the sake of kosen-rufu and the happiness of the young men in San Antonio!
I had become increasingly concerned about my medical treatment, when, by email, my doctor informed me that he would no longer take on my case. He was exhausted and had lost hope, but I had not.
President Ikeda writes: “No matter how hopeless or bleak things appear, the moment always comes when suddenly our spirit revives, and hope is reborn. That is why we must never give up” (Jan. 2, 1998, World Tribune, p. 11). I was even more determined to find the best doctor and treatment to fully restore my health, so that I could continue my mission in San Antonio.
In April of this year, I found an amazing doctor with a wonderful staff, and I was additionally diagnosed with cervical spine dysfunction and an unstable core. Of all the doctors who specialize in treatment for the disorder, one lived in Virginia and the other was five minutes away from the SGI-USA San Antonio Buddhist Center!
The new treatment is realigning my body, which will take time. While every day is still a battle, I have hope now. I continue to make all-out efforts as a region young men’s leader. Out of appreciation, I’ve helped two more friends receive the Gohonzon.
Toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I reached out to more than 400 friends through social media, oftentimes while bedridden, and I encouraged several staff members at my doctor’s office to register for the 50K Festival, and they did!
Because of these trials, I’ve learned to encourage people from all walks of life and give others hope. In my darkest moments, I reaffirmed to myself that my struggles are not meaningless—everything I’ve experienced has forged my inner core, so that I could stand up as a lion for kosen-rufu. Now, when I’m struggling, I recall Nichiren’s words, “This is my vow, and I will never forsake it!” (“The Opening of the Eyes,” WND-1, 281), and I press forward, confident of my victory.