Discovering True Freedom
How awakening to my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth taught me that transforming the world begins with transforming myself.
by Robert Fisher
I grew up the oldest of eight siblings in a working-class neighborhood in west Philadelphia. My parents instilled in us a sense of justice and self-respect, and showed us that we were not less than others, although society told us otherwise.
The day I turned 6, my baby brother died. And eight years later, my sister died. I held on to a lot of anxiety and fear that I would also die young. I was depressed and couldn’t see the value of my life.
I was drawn to activism and social justice, but I often put my life at risk, thinking that martyring myself was the only way to create change. One day while on a walk, I said to myself, with tears in my eyes, All I want is freedom.
I desperately wanted to break free from the constraints I felt from my environment and life as a young Black man with economic difficulties and depression. I was 22 years old, in school, juggling two jobs and often being treated differently because of my skin color. Fundamentally, I did not feel free.
Moments after having that thought, I bumped into a woman who told me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the happiness of myself and my family. I had studied about Buddhism previously, so I just said, “Yes,” and tried chanting. A few weeks later on Sept. 12, 2010, I received the Gohonzon.
Early in my practice, I was warmly embraced by the members of my SGI district. Although I had been surrounded by people in my activist work, I had never felt this kind of compassion. I wasn’t sure why SGI members cared so much. It wasn’t until I took on leadership myself that I began to understand the authenticity behind their actions.
At one discussion meeting, I shared that I was involved in activism, and had been frequently beaten and arrested during demonstrations. I had accepted the fact that I would probably die by the age of 25. In response, the women’s division mem-bers inspired me to live based on my vow to fight for the happiness of myself and others, along-side SGI President Ikeda. That moment became a turning point, where for the first time, I felt a burning desire to fight for my own life.
I dove into my practice and started to awaken to my mission as a Bodhisattva of the Earth. President Ikeda writes: “We have chosen, in accord with our vow as bodhisattvas, to be born into the evil age of the Latter Day of the Law with all sorts of destinies, or karma—illness, financial hardship, family discord, loneliness, low self-esteem and the list goes on—to help guide others to enlightenment . . . In fact, we have willingly taken on these hardships and sufferings in order to do just that” (March 2019 Living Buddhism, p. 16).
As I studied and deepened my under-standing of this Buddhism, I gained confidence in my unique mission as a Black man in America. At times, I had been mistreated and overlooked because of the color of my skin. I often felt that people didn’t trust me, that I had to prove myself and work twice as hard to get recognition for my efforts. These experiences led me to devalue my life and focus on trying to change people and systems externally.
Yet, when I took on leadership within the SGI, my focus became changing my environment by changing myself and revealing my inherent potential. And, as I supported others to realize the power of their lives, it made me awaken to the power of my own. Before my practice, when things got difficult, I would shut myself off for two to three years at a time. But now, I had a group of young men whom I cared about and wanted to see win. So instead of shutting down when my depressive tendencies arose, I chanted to the Gohonzon. And the more I supported others, the more I gained confidence in humanity.
With this newfound understanding in the power of my human revolution, and my confidence in the law of cause and effect, I determined that in 2018, I would transform my tendency to not give 100 percent because of my fear of failure. Yet, shortly after making that determination, my grandfather passed away and I lost my job. I was consumed by doubts and felt controlled by my circumstances again.
I was reminded by my fellow members that I had to continue making causes for the sake of kosen-rufu if I wanted things to change. I determined to show actual proof in every aspect of my life, realizing that this, too, was fighting for kosen-rufu. For the first time, I burned with the confidence that I had chosen to be born into these circumstances to show actual proof of this Buddhism, and I wholeheartedly exerted myself in my practice, attended SGI activities and shared Buddhism with others. In the last four years alone, I have helped 15 people receive the Gohonzon.
In the process, I learned that the causes I make now plant the seeds for absolute victory in the future. At the end of 2018, I accepted a challenging and rewarding job as an activities director in the field of re-entry. Today, I help prisoners with mental challenges, who are primarily young men of color, re-enter the community. I have tremendous responsibilities and creative freedom at my job. For our activity rooms, I named one “Human Revolution” and the other “Never Give Up.” Together with these young men and my colleagues, we are changing a culture of oppression into one of value creation.
My Buddhist practice has taught me that true freedom is knowing there is nothing I can’t change, no matter how daunting it may be; I just need to develop the wisdom to know what action to take. As long as I continue to do my human revolution and make causes for kosen-rufu, I can transform anything. I am determined to passionately support the young men in my region and, together with them, create true and lasting peace based on our vow for kosen-rufu in America. WT