Together, We Will Transform the Darkness of the Times
How Buddhism empowered us to win over ourselves and create a harmonious family.
by Molly and Lauren Leebove
World Tribune: Congratulations, Molly, on your third year as an SGI-USA member. What was your life like before?
Molly Leebove: From a young age, I developed a negative relationship with my body, and my weight was an ongoing concern for my family to the point that before my bat mitzvah, at 13, I was offered diet pills by a relative. I believed that if I could change my body, I would finally be lovable, and so I carried around this burden of self-disdain for many years, seeking any form of approval outside myself.
After high school, I distanced myself from my family and proceeded to live far away from home for the next 11 years.
WT: How did you learn about the practice?
Molly: Shortly after graduating from college, I was introduced to Buddhism by my now best friend. I thought she and others who chanted Nam-myoho-
renge-kyo were ridiculous to think this could help them become happy. Deep down, my resistance to the Law came from me not wanting to take responsibility for my life, but after four years of watching my friends use their practice to surmount challenges, I decided to receive the Gohonzon in April 2016.
WT: What has changed since then?
Molly: At first, I didn’t grasp the value of studying or participating in SGI activities, so I would look at the Gohonzon and wonder where my wellspring of happiness was, and why I was still suffering.
“I stand having awakened to the greatness of my life and awareness to truly appreciate what it means to fight in my youth alongside my mentor.”
Last year, however, after attending my first conference at the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center, the Rubik’s Cube of faith, practice and study began to align. I learned about the Buddhist concept of “changing karma into mission” and realized that kosen-rufu cannot be accomplished without my happiness, and that the battle against my own fundamental darkness is the battle against society’s fundamental darkness.
Knowing that I couldn’t run away from my family karma, and that I was suffering because I lacked respect for my own life, I determined to become the happiest woman and help the people in my family do the same.
With a newfound desire to show actual proof of Buddhism through a harmonious family, I left Vermont and moved back home to Michigan.
WT: What happened after you made this determination?
Molly: I began to tell anyone who would listen about the greatness of this Buddhism, including my sister, Lauren. As I introduced people to the practice and supported other young women as a district leader, my life opened up. Through dedicating myself to something bigger than myself, I was developing impenetrable faith and true happiness—a happiness that was much richer and deeper than the elusive kind I had been desperately seeking before.
WT: Lauren, what drew you to the practice?
Lauren Leebove: When Molly shared Buddhism with me, I was in hell. In what was supposed to be my last year of college, I was drinking more hours in the day than I was sleeping. I had just come out to my family as queer, and I was no longer on speaking terms with my parents. My guilt for being who I was began to tarnish the way I viewed the world and corroded
my relationships with those I was closest to.
I hit rock bottom, which left me contemplating suicide, and I had no choice but to leave school. That’s when I began chanting every morning and evening with Molly. In January 2018, I started attending district meetings with her. Something about SGI activities always made me feel a little lighter, as if I were washing away my self-hatred one day at a time. I saw a room full of people showing up to revolutionize the world by revolutionizing their own lives. It felt invigorating. A month later, I received the Gohonzon.
Lauren: I dove into Buddhist study and began to realize that my mission
is to be happy just as I am. When I embraced my true identity as a Bodhisattva of the Earth, it allowed me to forgive my parents and feel compassion for them. Inspired by my transformation, my partner, Oona, received the Gohonzon in September 2018.
Before practicing Buddhism, my tendency was to get defensive and angry when I felt my identity was being compromised (which ultimately came from me not accepting myself), but through chanting and practicing this philosophy, I’ve been able to extend myself toward people in my family.
I mustered the courage to invite my dad to a November discussion meeting in 2018, where Oona and I led a study presentation together. Not only did the study help my dad understand the SGI and Nichiren Buddhism, but it also helped him understand my relationship, and how strong of a team my partner and I truly are. He loved what he saw enough to ask my mom to attend a meeting with him in Florida, which they did shortly after. Two days later, they attended a support group for parents of LGBTQ children.
WT: Incredible! How is your family dynamic today?
Lauren: Molly and I have been chanting to unite with our family in spite of our differences, and everything has transformed. I talk with my parents regularly, and they can’t deny the power of Buddhism when they look at the transformation both of us have undergone. My mom even attended an intro-to-Buddhism meeting, where she shared in tears how our lives have changed through the practice.
WT: What is your determination moving forward?
Molly: To become happy myself, to win in my district and to help as many others achieve happiness from inside. Since January 2018, I have helped 11 people receive the Gohonzon and awaken to the greatness of their lives.
Lauren: Through Buddhism, I gained the strength to get healthier and respect the dignity of my life. I also graduated from college last December. I want to keep sharing the practice with many young people so, together, we can transform the darkness of the times.
Molly: The SGI can be seen as a training ground, because it is a place to live out our human revolution and is an emblem of what our future will look like when society embraces the law of cause and effect. We have youth supporting one another amid an epidemic of loneliness, we have authentic connection across differences, we have people advancing as individuals together. This ignites us with the fire of responsibility to make this land the Buddha land.
I stand having awakened to the greatness of my life and awareness to truly appreciate what it means to fight in my youth alongside my mentor, SGI President Ikeda. WT