Experience

The True Purpose of My Life

Debra Williams


Anushri Mukherjee
CHICAGO

Living Buddhism: Thank you, Anushri, for sharing your experience with us. Can you tell us what your life was like before you started your practice?

Anushri Mukherjee: Thank you for this opportunity. I feel so fortunate to share my story.

I grew up in India, raised by loving parents and surrounded by family and friends. I never wanted for anything. My father worked for the Indian government, but chose to turn down many opportunities to be near my sister and me to ensure that we had an exceptional education and a loving home life. Due to my parents’ encouragement, we always felt that we could achieve anything that we set our mind to.

By age 22, I had graduated from one of the best engineering schools in India in the top 3 percent of my class. I landed multiple job offers immediately after I graduated and began a rewarding career with a multinational company. I traveled extensively, working in 12 different countries. In 2011, my long-distance partner received a job offer, and we married and moved to New York City. I was 26.

New York was like a dream. I had no problem finding a job on a work visa and enjoyed my new fast-paced life for a few years. In 2014, I decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration with the support of my husband and was granted admission into the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. On the outside, my life seemed perfect.

When did things start to shift?

Anushri: In 2015, a year into my master’s program, my marriage started falling apart. My husband, who still lived in New York, became increasingly unhappy in the marriage. After many months, we decided to separate. For the first time, I felt confused, isolated and fearful about the future.

Although I had found a great job in Chicago after graduating from Kellogg, I would no longer be able to work on a dependent visa if my husband and I divorced.

During this time, I got into a near-fatal car accident that left me hospitalized for 15 days. Soon after, my best friend in India passed away unexpectedly from stage 4 cancer. I had hit rock bottom.

How did you cope during this difficult time?

Anushri: I was alone in America. I tried to busy myself with work, but struggled to find meaning in it all. One day, a client invited me to an introduction-to-Buddhism meeting at the SGI-USA Chicago Culture Center. Desperate, I decided to go.

The experiences shared that night matched exactly what I was going through. One person spoke about picking up the pieces after losing their wife to cancer, another overcame visa challenges and yet another transformed their relationship karma. I vividly remember listening with tears streaming down my face. While I didn’t quite understand the profound impact of that evening, I asked the person who introduced me if she could help me learn how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I received the Gohonzon on April 5, 2017! It was one of the best decisions of my life.

That’s wonderful! How did your practice progress?

Anushri: It took me a while to become consistent in the practice, but by October 2017, I had joined Byakuren, a young women’s behind-the-scenes training group. I started to chant consistently and made great friends in faith. I soon learned about the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival to be held on September 23 of the following year.

As I challenged my life toward the 50K Festival, my separation progressed to divorce proceedings. I knew that I had to be strong during this period of immense pain and struggle. A senior in faith suggested that I use this campaign as an expedient means to transform my karma, and so I did.

What sort of action did you take?

Anushri: Every day, I chanted with the determination to bring forth courage as I dealt with my divorce. I also chanted to become a capable person who could support others. One day, I made a list of 55 friends whom I wanted to invite to the festival. In the end, 38 friends registered and 22 attended the festival in three different locations! Three of those friends have since received the Gohonzon and are actively practicing Buddhism in Chicago.

Although I had significant personal challenges, I dedicated myself to supporting 50K behind the scenes as a Byakuren member. Through this experience, I learned that there is nothing purer, stronger or more beautiful than the spirit of devoting oneself to others’ well-being and struggling earnestly on their behalf. I knew that all of these efforts were helping me address the root of my suffering, so that I could reveal my inherent potential.

What happened next?

Anushri: At the end of 2018, my company notified me that my work visa did not go through and that they had to terminate my employment. They assured me that they would look for other ways to sponsor my work visa. I was exhausted from fighting so many challenges at once, when I came across this guidance from SGI President Ikeda:

Everyone encounters an impasse at some point in life . . . However, the power of the Gohonzon is immeasurable, as vast as the universe itself. Our lives, too, have infinite potential. Everything hinges, therefore, on whether we allow our inner determination to become deadlocked. When we truly grasp this point, the path to victory is already open.

The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, pp. 86–87

I took President Ikeda’s guidance to heart and decided to chant to truly comprehend that my life has infinite potential. I resolved that every SGI activity I did would be a cause to change my karma. As I chanted and continued to support the members, I realized that my happiness had always been tied to external things. Deep down, I felt that I couldn’t be happy because of my divorce or until I secured a visa. I recognized that my ability to be happy right here, right now, had absolutely nothing to do with anyone or anything outside of me. Rather, my happiness would be determined by how I chose to perceive, respond to and use my circumstance as either a justification for my failure or a catalyst to advance my dreams. I decided to bring forth the courage to move forward regardless of my current reality.

What a profound realization. What happened next?

Anushri: In December 2018, while waiting on visa updates from my previous company, I decided to apply to jobs outside of the United States and continue to make every cause for my life. Since I couldn’t work, I started volunteering and doing pro-bono consulting projects. As a newly appointed chapter leader, I also challenged myself to visit many young women. Meeting with the members gave me the fighting spirit to persevere and win over my tendency to isolate myself in times of difficulty. As I listened to each person’s story and their current struggles, I felt more compassion for others and a deeper appreciation for my own struggles. Although I had yet to experience a breakthrough in my job or visa situation, I felt strong.

One day, I received a call from a former professor, asking if I would volunteer for his nonprofit consulting project. His lab was based in Evanston, a considerable commute from my house during the Chicago winter, but I accepted the opportunity with appreciation.

A few weeks into the project, I met with a lawyer from the nonprofit who also happened to be one of the best immigration lawyers in America. As we engaged in dialogue, he asked me about my previous company and it turned out that he was a close friend of an executive there. He wanted to help me with my visa.

Within weeks, my previous company contacted me saying they were going to file for a new “O” category work visa, one granted to highly talented individuals with “extraordinary” abilities, only given to a handful of people in the United States. I immediately chanted with deep appreciation to the Gohonzon.

In the meantime, I continued to make all-out efforts for a new job and prayed that I would be wherever I needed to be to fulfill my mission for kosen-rufu. With this kind of focused prayer, I secured two international job offers at the end of February 2019—one from Germany and another from Hong Kong. I deeply studied President Ikeda’s guidance at this crucial time. My dream was to stay in America, but I still had no way of knowing whether I would be granted a visa. President Ikeda writes:

There is nothing purer, stronger or more beautiful than the spirit of devoting oneself to others’ well-being and struggling earnestly on their behalf. I knew that all of these efforts were helping me address the root of my suffering, so that I could reveal my inherent potential.

For us to freely manifest the workings of the Law in our own lives, we need to chant with the same mind and attitude as the Daishonin. In other words, our chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—the daimoku—must be based on faith, the spirit to battle fundamental darkness. The daimoku that the Daishonin spread could be described as “fighting daimoku.”

The Opening of the Eyes: SGI President Ikeda’s Lecture Series, p. 147

I began chanting “fighting daimoku” and set clear goals toward March 16. In reality, I had a negative bank balance, my apartment lease was going to terminated by March 31, and I received a deportation notice to re-establish my legal immigration status within 21 days or leave the country. I gave my all in the March 16 campaign to have undeniable victory in every aspect of my life and resolved to decide the best outcome based on my mission for kosen-rufu.

In mid-March, I received a letter from the U.S. immigration office that my “O” visa had been approved. The following day, my previous company rehired me. This allowed me to go back to work on April 1, renew my apartment lease and respond to the deportation notice with legal documentation.

Congratulations! What did you learn through this process?

Anushri: While I seemed to have had a good life before I encountered the practice, it could never replace the kind of fulfillment and joy I feel today. Every trial I have endured has enabled me to become the person I am now—someone who truly believes in the infinite potential of my life and that of others. I can genuinely care about and support others now.

In the last two years, I have helped nine friends receive the Gohonzon. Nichiren Daishonin writes, “If one lights a fire for others, one will brighten one’s own way” (“On the Three Virtues of Food,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 1060). With these words in my heart, I am determined to use my experiences to light a torch of hope for others and enable many people to discover their unlimited potential. My experience has helped me understand the true meaning of life. It is not simply about having things. True happiness is gained by contributing to the happiness of others.

More in Experience

Go to the Experience Section »