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Fighting for My Life

“My Buddhist practice changed my way of thinking,” says Enrique Magan, at his home in Brooklyn, New York. Photo by Marc Giannavola.

Enrique Magan
Brooklyn, New York

Living Buddhism: Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Enrique. What was your life like before you started practicing Buddhism?

Enrique Magan: My family was very poor, so I decided to brave the journey to the United States to help support us financially. I moved to Brooklyn, New York, from my home in Panama in 1975. However, work was slow, and even after I got a job, my income was barely enough to survive, let alone help my parents. I got connected with some friends from back home and began hustling in the streets to get by. After an incident where I nearly lost my life, I thought: If anything happened to me, what would my mom think? Why did I leave home—to live this kind of life? I decided to leave that world once and for all.

When were you introduced to this practice?

Enrique: I was introduced 10 years after arriving in New York by my girlfriend at the time. I was out of options and felt I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo a try, and received the Gohonzon in 1985. I joined Crown Heights District, and the members warmly embraced me. As I began my Buddhist practice with the support of my district, I slowly began to piece my life back together.

Around that time, my mother was diagnosed with a heart condition, and my father with prostate cancer. Their diagnoses really shook me up, because they were both in Panama and I was in New York.

I began chanting hours every day for them, desperately wanting to see proof of the practice. The first signs were that my father found a good doctor and surgeon, and my mom found the right medication for her condition.

With gratitude to SGI President Ikeda and the members in Brooklyn, Enrique is determined to give his all to supporting to the youth in Brooklyn East Chapter.

What happened next?

Enrique: I decided to fully commit myself to honest work and dove into an apprenticeship as an electrician. Times were still tough, and it was hard to send money home. I barely had money for food and rent, and I was locked in an ongoing feud with my landlord. Yet, I sincerely participated in the May Commemorative Contribution activity each year so I could deepen my sense of appreciation and commitment for kosen-rufu.

I received constant encouragement from pioneer members to persevere, no matter what. They would tell me: “Just stick with SGI President Ikeda and keep fighting!” So I chanted and never looked back. I also started sharing this Buddhism with others and seeking Sensei through studying his encouragement.

What helped you persevere?

Enrique: I continued because I was seeing actual proof. Although my girlfriend quit practicing and my friends made fun of my practice, I remained unswayed. In my heart, I felt I was on the right track, and I wanted to see what else I could change!

After I finished my apprenticeship, my salary tripled. I worked all the overtime possible to gain more knowledge. Through these efforts, I got a car and eventually resolved my rent issues. In 1994, I was able to help with the electrics in the main Gohonzon room of the New York Culture Center.

Eventually, I became a licensed master electrician, and in 1996, I purchased my first house in Brooklyn.

My mother and father also both regained their health and extended their lives by many years. My mother passed away in 1986. When my father came to stay with me for a while in 1994, he told me, “I’m so proud of you.” After all the struggles I went through, I realized that everything I had experienced had meaning. I had a mission in life.

My father was so impressed with my growth, in fact, that he received the Gohonzon in his 80s! Some days coming home from work, I would hear him powerfully chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!

Amazing! What internal changes do you believe brought about this shift in your life?

Enrique: My Buddhist practice changed my way of thinking. It helped me realize that I cannot build my happiness on the unhappiness of others. Through chanting, I realized the importance of respecting myself and respecting others. Because of this, I also saw actual proof in my relationships.

Previously, I had struggled in relationships because of my own weaknesses and lack of respect. With my Buddhist practice as my foundation, I was ready to face my negativity, and after meeting a wonderful woman, we married in 1998. I cried tears of joy when our daughter was born. She looked just like my mother!

What was the turning point in your practice?

Enrique: In 2015, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was shocked, realizing I was going through the same illness as my father. With encouragement from my seniors in faith and Sensei’s guidance, I determined to fight for my life. I chanted ground-shaking daimoku, and because of my prayer, I connected with a top doctor. He gave me a frank diagnosis: The cancer was rampant.

During this time, I read and reread this guidance by President Ikeda: “Anyone would think that victory is impossible and that’s probably how you feel right now. But don’t forget this marvelous Gohonzon we have. It has the power to transform what you’d normally think impossible into something possible” (The Human Revolution, p. 1321).

I engraved this passage in my heart and chanted to bring forth the protective functions of the universe so that I could continue to advance kosen-rufu. In December 2016, I had a successful surgery, leaving me cancer-free.

Filled with pure appreciation to the Gohonzon, Sensei and the SGI, I made my largest financial contribution to the SGI-USA in May 2017. I realized I owe my life to this practice.

My Buddhist practice changed my way of thinking. It helped me realize that I cannot build my happiness on the unhappiness of others. Through chanting, I realized the importance of respecting myself and respecting others.

Congratulations, Enrique! How is your life now?

Enrique: Great! I retired with a wonderful pension, and I have been able to fully cover my daughter’s college tuition.

The biggest benefit, however, of my 34 years of practice has been developing compassion for others. When I first began practicing, everything was about me. Now, I think about other people and have genuine compassion for them. To be able to change my thinking like that is incredible. To leave my house, to go on visits, to encourage someone—it’s amazing.

Today, I am giving my all to support the youth in my chapter. I do everything I can, including lots of chanting and lots of home visits! I will drive anywhere and at any time to support the young men in my chapter. On the day of the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I got a call at 5 a.m. that one of our young men’s division members missed the bus. I drove right away to pick him up and was so happy that he had a great time. And our chapter had a total victory with 140 youth attending the festival!

Thank you, Enrique! What does shakubuku mean to you?

Enrique: Shakubuku is about helping someone see that they can change their lives, just like I changed mine. It’s showing them they can live a fulfilling life. When I speak to others about this practice, it’s with the spirit that I want to help that person become happy. I want to help them learn how they can bring out their greatest potential.

What is your determination for the future?

Enrique: My determination is to keep fighting for kosen-rufu—harder than ever. I have eternal gratitude to Sensei and the members in Brooklyn. I am determined to raise wonderful successors by doing lots of shakubuku and supporting the youth with everything I’ve got!

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