Shining as a Victor
How a spirit of appreciation helped me realize I am not a victim of my circumstances.
by Erin Dayanan
I grew up as a third-generation Filipino American whose grandparents immigrated to the sugarcane plantations on Oahu for a better life. The values of hard work and sacrifice were passed down to my parents, who, despite facing financial hardships, sent me to a private high school so that I could get a good education.
My dad was a groundskeeper, and my mom worked long hours as a custodian, so I often would go to bed without seeing her. The nights that I did see her, my dad and I helped her on the job, cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash, vacuuming and mopping.
Money was still tight, and at one point, we had to go on welfare. I remember watching my mom write letters to landlords, pleading with them not to evict us. We moved at least 10 times before I was 18.
Embarrassed and angry about our situation, I begrudged my life and felt inferior to other children. I had always been much closer to my father, so I took out my frustrations on my mom and did everything possible to distance myself from her.
After graduating from high school in 2002, I moved to Portland for college. My parents were very proud, but all I could think about was leaving my past behind. And because I wasn’t serious or focused on my studies, I failed out of college two years later and returned home.
I regretted throwing away my college opportunity and felt hopeless due to my inability to change my circumstances.
This was when my then boyfriend shared Buddhism with me. After many “no thank-you’s,” I finally attended my first SGI district meeting. The dialogues and study were refreshing, unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Members talked about hope, happiness and how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo empowered their lives. I realized over the course of several meetings that I could undoubtedly transform my situation, and on April 1, 2005, I received the Gohonzon.
My life began to blossom, and I finally realized the value my family placed on education, so I returned to college and received my business administration degree while working full time. I also purchased a townhome with my boyfriend.
Things were going really well, but I became complacent with my Buddhist practice and eventually stopped chanting and attending SGI activities.
In 2010, I was forced to reevaluate my life. That August, my dad passed away from congestive heart failure, my relationship with my mom was non-existent and my boyfriend was laid off from work, which left us unable to pay our mortgage. We blamed each other for our failures and decided to break up.
We did a short sale in 2013, but we were still obligated to pay the bank
the negative equity. I returned to my Buddhist practice in an effort to take control of my life and break through the chains of my financial karma.
I chanted and read SGI President Ikeda’s guidance to understand my struggles. Instead of being a victim, I decided to become a victor. Three months later, the bank informed us that our mortgage insurance had paid off our negative equity. This was the first time I experienced the absolute power of the Gohonzon based on my own determination. I wanted to repay my debt of gratitude to the SGI and my parents by taking my Buddhist practice and academic studies seriously.
I received my master’s in finance in November 2013 and took on leadership in the SGI to support other young women. As I chanted to understand what the oneness of mentor and disciple meant for my life, I felt deep appreciation for President Ikeda and the pioneer members of Hawaii. If it weren’t for their efforts, I wouldn’t be able to transform my life at the core.
I was so proud that Hawaii was the first stop in Sensei’s journey for worldwide kosen-rufu in October 1960. I wanted to expand this sense of honor throughout my land and perpetuate President Ikeda’s message for peace in the Pacific, so I signed up for the SGI-USA Sustaining Contribution program. I did so with the understanding that precisely because of my struggles, I needed to make profound causes to transform them.
Dedicating my life to SGI activities and helping my friends receive the Gohonzon were all challenges that led me to deepen my practice and develop my relationship with President Ikeda.
He shared that his motto as a youth was:
“Go to the most challenging areas! Fight there and show actual proof! Win without fail!” And wherever I went, I always achieved victory. That is how I built a rock-solid Soka Gakkai.Feb. 7, 2003, World Tribune, p. 3
I was never daunted. Whenever I went to an area that was struggling and making little headway in propagation, I would always turn the situation around. This even earned me the nickname “Mr. Can Do.”
I call on you, the young heroes of kosen-rufu, to also jump into the fray, work hard and become “grand champions of life.” I pray that you will shine as victors crowned with supreme glory.
Precisely because of my struggles I needed to make profound causes to transform them.
Taking this guidance to heart, I decided to become indispensable at work. I took every opportunity to learn about commercial real estate and chanted that my job would support my mission as Sensei’s disciple. As a result, in April 2017, I became the vice president of property management at my company. In January of this year, along with my work responsibilities, I became the president of the Building and Owners Managers Association Hawaii Chapter, which is part of a national and international commercial real estate trade organization.
Out of deep appreciation and a desire to further expand our kosen-rufu movement, I increased my Sustaining Contribution. Reflecting on my professional success, I’ve realized that I learned the strength to persevere through difficult times from my mom’s example. She sacrificed so much to provide me the opportunity to live out my dreams. My Buddhist practice helped me to appreciate my parents. I no longer feel angry about my childhood, and I have such a beautiful friendship with my mom now.
As President Ikeda encourages, I will continue to show actual proof and win without fail! This is the greatest way that I can repay my debt of gratitude to my parents and Sensei. WT