Becoming the Sun of Hope
"The Byakuren spirit is to make the safety and well-being of others a top priority, recognizing that every person is a Buddha."
Living Buddhism: Lorena, thank you for sharing your experience with us about supporting the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival behind the scenes in the Byakuren Group. How did you start practicing?
Lorena Jofre: My father passed away when I was 17 years old. I became very angry, and I took out my anger on my mom and even blamed her for his death. I turned to drinking, drugs and partying to numb my feelings. I felt like a victim of my circumstances. I often questioned why this had happened to me.
It was around that time that a co-worker’s mother invited me to an SGI meeting. I remember being freaked out by the sound of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and leaving a member’s home thinking, These people are nuts! But my life was attracted to the warmth of the members, and I kept going back. I eventually received the Gohonzon and started practicing when I was 19.
How did you get involved in the Byakuren Group?
Lorena: In the beginning of my practice, I was locked in a battle every day with my fundamental darkness, constantly doubting the value of my life. After two years of practicing, my young women’s leader encouraged me to join the Byakuren Group as a way to transform my life. I didn’t know how volunteering my time could transform any aspect of my life, but because I enjoyed volunteer work, I decided to join. There were many weekends when I chose to party and stay out late instead of getting up early to do a Byakuren shift. Needless to say, I did not see it at the time as a training opportunity for my life. I was a reluctant Byakuren.
When did you have a change of heart?
Lorena: My daughter was born in 2010, and that was when I decided to take full responsibility for my life. My relationship with my daughter’s father was very unhealthy, both emotionally and physically. I wanted to make causes to transform my situation since I was no longer just looking out for myself. When my daughter turned 1, I started taking Byakuren seriously, this time with the intention to make causes to change my karma.
The Byakuren spirit is to make the safety and well-being of others a top priority, recognizing that every person is a Buddha. Through my training in Byakuren, I realized that I was suffering because I lacked respect for my own life. I couldn’t see that I, myself, am a Buddha. Instead, I saw myself as a victim of my circumstances, and I didn’t have the courage to stand up and do anything to transform the situation. I engraved in my life this quote from The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, “A sword is useless in the hands of a coward” (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412), and I chanted to make a shift in my heart. When I changed the way that I viewed myself, my perception of my daughter’s father changed, and our relationship transformed.
How were you involved in the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival?
Lorena: This summer, I was asked to take on responsibility as the Byakuren in charge of the Miami venue. I was so moved to be given this opportunity to repay my debt of gratitude to my mentor, SGI President Ikeda. It was a challenge in the beginning, and many of my weaknesses were magnified, including my arrogance and my lack of courage when it comes to having tough conversations.
Toward the festival, one thing I became fond of was cleaning the windows. I wanted the windows to be clear for the members to enjoy our beautiful Buddhist center. I realized that every time I did a Byakuren shift, it was like polishing my own heart, and my life became clearer, just like the windows. This was most noticeable in my relationship with my sister.
Before the festival, my sister was not speaking to me. Through reflecting on myself, I realized that it wasn’t about her, but about me all along. I mustered the courage to apologize, which changed our dynamic. To transform my family karma, I needed to make a change and be the sun of hope.
The festival was a great success, with no accidents, and the Byakuren were shining pillars at the Miami venue. The staff at the venue were so impressed by our behind-the-scenes team that they asked if we were available for hire.
I am determined that the Byakuren of Florida Zone will continue to grow with the spirit of our mentor and will become shining pillars in Florida, using our Byakuren training as the opportunity to dramatically strengthen the core of our lives.