Embracing the Eternity of Life
How dealing with death taught Sasha Ndam how to truly live.
by Sasha Ndam
When I was 15, my best friend was murdered in an act of gang violence. On top of that, my father did not want to be involved with my mother and me, making me feel rejected. I thought that the only way to climb out of the abyss of depression was to take my own life.
In the depths of my suffering, my mother and other SGI members encouraged me to attend district meetings. After a few months of chanting Nam-myoho- renge-kyo and participating in these activities, I noticed that my life had begun to change. I would always leave with something that had resonated with me, whether it was the message of making the impossible possible or becoming absolutely happy. My thoughts of suicide receded as I found deeper meaning in life.
Through chanting for my friend who was killed, I developed compassion for the young man who took his life. For him, finding comfort and a sense of belonging in a gang was probably because he had no one who believed in his potential, who could give him the support he needed.
Looking back, I clearly see how my Buddhist practice enabled me to awaken to my mission to live for the happiness of others and uncover my compassion amid those dark times.
In May 2014, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with only a few months to live. In the nine years prior to her diagnosis, four of her seven siblings had died of cancer.
I was initially overwhelmed with grief and despair at the thought of my mother passing away so soon. Watching her go through painful and invasive cancer treatments was hard. However, thanks to the support of fellow SGI members and friends, as well as SGI President Ikeda’s guidance, I began to have faith that my mother could have a victorious life regardless of how long she lived. My mom has taught me that it’s more important to live undefeated by anything than to survive, constantly swayed by life’s uncertainties.
Now four years later, she has outlived her doctor’s prognosis and remains one of the brightest faces at our local Buddhist center. Although my mom still has cancer, she continues to do her best to support kosen-rufu activities and carry out her passion as an artist. Most recently, toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I determined to transform all that I thought impossible, particularly, my relationship with my father. I also put a picture of my deceased best friend on my altar, reminding myself of the treasure of life and the importance of transforming our society.
I began chanting for my father’s happiness, and based on President Ikeda’s guidance that our parents are human beings with their own insecurities and problems, I started to see him in a new light. With a lot of prayer under my belt, I reached out to him, and we Facetimed for over an hour.
I told him about my life since high school, my travels, my dreams and also my mother’s illness. When he heard about my mother, he was filled with deep emotion and turned away from the screen. For the first time, he began to open up to me, and I could see that he, too, had loneliness and suffering. I determined that I would be the sun of my family, no matter what. After many phone calls, I surprised him in person on June 17. I had never celebrated Father’s Day before, but I wanted to give him a gift for being alive and healthy.
I clearly see how my Buddhist practice enabled me to awaken to my mission to live for the happiness of others.
During this time, I also developed a close relationship with a young, single mother who had lost connection with the SGI. She shared her children’s struggles with me, particularly that of her 18-year-old son. Through visiting her family and encouraging her son, I could sense that, at a deeper level, he was seeking something in his life.
Three weeks later, I received a text from his mother that he had taken his life the night before. I was devastated for her, for him and for his sisters. I immediately let all of the members know, and together we chanted for his eternal happiness. At his memorial service, I learned that his cousin had also tried to take her life recently. We were able to chant at the service with many of his family and friends and share Nichiren Buddhism with them.
Through the loss of this young man, I realized the profound reason for the SGI-USA’s gathering of 50,000 youth: to help each of them feel the preciousness of their own lives, believe in their unlimited potential and awaken to their own mission.
To continue spreading this message and work, I am currently attending Lesley University to become a global educator for children around the world so that they can realize their unlimited potential.
Also toward Nov. 18 and beyond, as the newly appointed Boston South Region vice young women’s leader, I’m determined to dive back into the district—the place where I grew so much, the micro level of our movement, where we share our hearts and redetermine together to actualize this practice in our lives!
My determination is to become a woman who can defeat all self-doubt, who bases her life on the Gohonzon and her mentor’s example, who lives each day with hope and who can create fortune that will extend for generations in my family!
Buddhism has taken me from contemplating suicide to accepting the responsibility to transform my suffering in this lifetime and dedicate my life to the happiness of others. This, I’ve learned, is the greatest way to live. WT