Lighting the Way for Others, I’m No Longer Alone
Marcos Hernandez, of Los Angeles, shares how fighting for others happiness, helped him find his own.
Living Buddhism: Thank you, Marcos, for sharing your experience with us today. Can you tell us about your upbringing?
Marcos Hernandez: I was a boy when the Los Angeles riots broke out in 1992. I remember seeing men with assault rifles on rooftops and neighborhood buildings in flames. The scene felt like something out of a movie, and it left a deep impression on me.
At home, my immigrant parents worked long hours to support my three older sisters and me. They had little time for heartfelt interactions, and we grew disconnected over time.
At school, you were either initiated into a gang or bullied—and I was bullied. Even friends I grew up with became gang members. I was alone, and I didn’t have it in me to fight back.
What did that lead to?
Marcos: I didn’t want to be alone, so I hung around a group of friends who were brought together by drugs. I felt I had found my place in the world, but looking back, they were only taking advantage of me. In my haze, I couldn’t see the value of my life or build geniune friendships.
In 2005, I was high on drugs with a close friend, when another guy carelessly shot a gun into the ceiling. What was worse, no one was fazed. I realized I couldn’t hang around these people anymore.
How did you get out of this lifestyle?
Marcos: I cut ties with my friends and tried to get my act together. I had already dropped out of college, and I struggled to find consistent work. In my personal life, I would be hopeful when I started a new relationship, but nothing really changed. One unhealthy relationship was replaced with another, and one drug with another.
I finally began dating someone who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and I felt hopeful. I was going to propose to her, however, it all ended in a terrible breakup. I spiraled into substance abuse again and deeply questioned whether life was worth living.
The following year, in 2012, I went to Mexico for two months to get away from everything. Backpacking there, and revisiting and exploring different communities, gave me perspective. I cleaned up, and when I returned home, I was inspired to live my ideals and create music.
How did you encounter Buddhism?
Marcos: When I returned home, my inspiration faded quickly, and I found myself unhappy again. My sister was hospitalized from a mental breakdown, I had gotten into a heated argument with my parents, and I just held so much resentment toward my ex-girlfriend, who I found out was now dating a co-worker of mine. I felt disrespected by everyone.
Around this time, a frequent customer at work often exchanged smiles with me, and it grew into genuine greetings. He invited me to play music with him, and antisocial as I was, his sincerity compelled me to join him. It meant a lot that this stranger extended his hand. He was an SGI member.
I attended a Buddhist meeting with him but left during the meeting, thinking that it wasn’t for me. We stayed in touch, and he invited me several more times, but I couldn’t make any of them.
My friend invited me to a meeting again around the time when my hospitalized sister ran away and went missing. I figured Buddhism might help. That night, everything the members explained about the practice resonated with me, and I couldn’t hold back my tears—I never felt such warmth and clarity. I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo immediately for my sister to come back and to resolve my ill feelings. A month later, on July 31, 2016, I received the Gohonzon.
How did your life change?
Marcos: Being around SGI members who had overcome various hardships, and who embodied sincerity, joy and the spirit to never be defeated, brought out my courage to fight for myself and my happiness. I had finally found genuine hope, and I wasn’t alone anymore.
While my obstacles continued, I didn’t allow myself to be defeated anymore. I learned to get back up each time I was knocked down, with the new tools I acquired through my Buddhist practice. I gradually transformed my insecurities into empathy for others. People noticed a change in me, and my environment started to shift.
I dove into SGI activities and connected with the young men’s division, forming genuine bonds of camaraderie, sharing Buddhism with everyone around me and engaging in home visits. Attending the young men’s conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center in 2017 helped me understand SGI President Ikeda’s heart for kosen-rufu and belief in my limitless potential, and it empowered me to go all out in my life.
President Ikeda taught me how to illuminate the potential that was always inside me. Now, it’s my turn to advance as he has, and help others do the same.
What is your life like now?
Marcos: Earlier this year, in the midst of our 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival campaign, I felt deadlocked and nearly fell back into my old habits. I was filled with doubt, but things were different this time—I had the Gohonzon, Sensei’s encouragement and my SGI family.
After persevering and chanting for my missing sister, she finally wrote to us after two years. I gave my all to encourage her to come back, and today, she’s living with me. I learned the impossible could become possible.
Soon after, I was appointed a vice chapter young men’s leader, and I engaged wholeheartedly in the campaign to gather 50,000 youth for the Lions of Justice Festival. I had 25 of my friends attend the festival, and five of my friends received Gohonzon this year!
I now share meaningful dialogues with my parents, who are strict Catholics, but support my Buddhist practice. I treasure my friendships, even when they are difficult, and make the effort to reach out to others. For so long, I lived without any dreams, but now I want to work in radio and build a harmonious family. I haven’t escaped into substances either because I no longer feel empty.
Congratulations! What’s next?
Marcos: President Ikeda taught me how to illuminate the potential that was always within me. Now, it’s my turn to advance as he has, and help others do the same.
Nichiren Daishonin writes, “If one lights a fire [lantern] for others, one will [brighten] one’s own way” (“On the Three Virtues of Food,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 1060).
For the rest of my life, I want to help one person after another realize that their suffering is the fuel to blossom even more beautifully, so that we can usher in an era of respect for the dignity of life. This is my vow, my shared struggle with Sensei.