Experience

Repaying Debts of Gratitude Is My Source of Joy

Melissa Miles shares "Being a member of the SGI has helped me appreciate and value my family, work, finances and, most of all, myself."

Melissa Miles, of Newark, N.J., uncovers her dreams, goals and hopes by fostering a spirit of appreciation through her Buddhist practice. Photo by KEVIN LYDEN.


by Melissa Miles
Newark, N.J.

Before practicing Buddhism, I blamed my parents for everything that was wrong with my life. I was angry because they had not provided me with the type of life that many of my friends enjoyed as a result of their parents’ wealth. I was resigned to what I thought was my fate to be poor.

I spent many sleepless nights worried about my financial situation. It was like a hell I couldn’t escape. Although I had received a good education, I lacked confidence and focus, and worked a string of jobs that didn’t require much effort and that paid less than a living wage. I performed these jobs half-heartedly and would quit within a year.

I often wondered how I ended up in a place without dreams, goals or hopes for my future. I was filled with anger and regret and had all but given up on myself when I began to practice Nichiren Buddhism 10 years ago.

Desperate for a change in my inner state, I threw myself into SGI activities from the start. One day, while studying SGI President Ikeda’s lecture on Nichiren Daishonin’s “Four Debts of Gratitude,” I saw the error in blaming my mother and father for my unhappiness. I lacked appreciation for my parents, who had given me the gift of life. Realizing that they had done their best for me, I felt compassion for them and determined to become a person they could be proud of.

I also learned to value all people, especially those who had contributed to my livelihood, including my employers and landlords. I realized that I was not a good employee or tenant, because I was always looking for a way to avoid doing hard work or paying for the services rendered to me. I also didn’t value what I had, so I spent my money foolishly and ruined my credit. My Buddhist practice, however, helped me challenge these tendencies.

Particularly, the May Commemorative Contribution Campaign has spurred so much growth in my life. In the early years of my practice, when the annual activity came around, my attitude was, I don’t have enough, so why would I give?
In the realm of faith, however, it became my opportunity to break through all doubt and fear.

I’ll never forget in my second year of practice, I barely had any money. Still, I made a heartfelt contribution on the first day of the campaign. And then I chanted and didn’t give up. A couple days before the campaign concluded,
I got an unexpected check for some consultant work, and on the last day, I joyfully made my contribution goal, with tears in my eyes. The feeling was immense. I had won.

Every year since, as I strive with that feeling—of being full of hope and strong resolve—I continue to experience ever-growing breakthroughs.

Through May Contribution, I became a more courageous and generous person by challenging myself to set big goals for kosen-rufu.

President Ikeda writes in The New Human Revolution: “It may not be immediately apparent, but when we participate in Soka Gakkai activities and joyfully make such offerings of the Law, we will gradually be accumulating good fortune. Eventually this will manifest as great benefit” (vol. 26, p. 334). This I have found to be 100 percent true.

The benefits I gained correlate directly to the spirit with which I exerted myself in faith. For example, through emceeing or presenting at my district meetings, I gained confidence. From being an SGI leader, I learned to unite with others through difficulties. By working behind the scenes, I learned to chant like a lion with a never-give-up spirit. And through May Contribution, I became a more courageous and generous person by challenging myself to set big goals for kosen-rufu.

These inner changes manifested in conspicuous benefits in my environment.

I now enjoy a beautiful relationship with my family that continues to deepen. I have found my place of mission at work as the Environmental Justice Manager for a community-based organization in my neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. Through this position, I can respond to Sensei by widening my circles of friendship and trust while helping to protect people from the insidious forces that seek to pollute our community for profit.

There was a time when living in Newark was tied to my fears of living a life of poverty and despair. I now have great appreciation for this vibrant and rich city, the place of my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. I know that the courageous efforts of the members of Newark-Irvington Chapter are directly connected to securing the future of kosen-rufu in America!

My prayer is that through our continual efforts to support May Contribution, we will make another substantial step toward our collective dream of opening an SGI-USA Buddhist Center in Newark in the future.

To repay my debt of gratitude for my Buddhist practice is in itself a benefit and a source of great joy. With appreciation at the core of my transformation, I now realize that the unlimited potential for my success exists in my own life. WT