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“I Will March Forward” Toward My Dream


How I overcame debilitating health challenges and opened my career
path through awakening to my bodhisattva vow.

by JeanneMarie Mandley

One night in January 2017, I woke up screaming because I couldn’t feel my legs. I found out I had mononucleosis, and the virus had attacked the nerves in my spinal cord. After being paralyzed for over a month, I moved into a nursing home.

When my 22nd birthday was on the horizon, I was learning how to walk again but felt my life had reached an all-time low. Growing up, I had several mental and physical health difficulties, which led to years of alienation from my peers and teachers. At one point, I thought maybe I was destined to suffer.

That summer, assisted by my walking cane, I reluctantly went to the SGI-USA Florida Nature and Culture Center. There, my young women’s leader reminded me that everything I need to be happy is already inside of me, and that Buddhism teaches that the people who suffer the most will become the happiest. Shrouded in my own disbelief, I rolled my eyes. When I returned home, I continued to practice inconsistently.

A few months later, things changed. After I had miserably failed my semester exams, I called my mom crying, telling her I was going to drop out of school again. Two years earlier, I had left my university in Wisconsin and moved home to attend a local community college because of my weak emotional and mental state. When my mom encouraged me to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I listened and for the first time, I chanted with an attitude to change my situation.

I started challenging myself to chant every morning and evening, and attend SGI activities. I exerted myself toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival held in Chicago on Sept. 23, 2018. Not only was I able to fully walk again, but I also participated in the the Ikeda Youth Ensemble dance group, and invited 12 friends to attend the festival.

As I made efforts for kosen-rufu, I felt more determined and worked harder in every aspect of my life. My school performance improved, and I received an A+ in the same class where I had failed the exam earlier in the semester. I received honors standings and was offered two teaching assistant positions! Things were improving, and I started to view problems as opportunities with meaning for my life.

In January of this year, my advisor handed me a pamphlet to Northwestern University, encouraging me to apply as my time at community college was coming to an end. I laughed in her face and said it was impossible. That night when I told my mom, she said that when I was 2, I used to say I would go to Northwestern so I’d never have to leave her. I realized that although it was my dream to become a medical doctor and study there, the older I got, the more I viewed the school as a palace of geniuses that I would never amount to.

That night as I chanted about it, I began to feel it was a real possibility, and I determined to apply. Soon after, I experienced a severe panic attack, which left me shaking for hours. I opened up A Youthful Diary by SGI President Ikeda and studied a passage that changed my perspective. He says:

Life is eternal, without beginning or end. Whether we suffer, weep or rejoice, regardless of our state of mind, it is the same life still. I will march forward, out of the burning house. No doubt powerful foes will arise, but I will confront them resolutely. This is the only road for me to follow. Gohonzon, watch me. (p. 28)

I prayed to the Gohonzon with a determination that I would never feel this way again. My anxiety was building because I didn’t believe in myself.
I decided I would win, no matter what, based on fighting for kosen-rufu.

I wrote about my progress to Sensei every time I went to my local SGI center, and little by little I started to believe that winning was possible. Even when I ended up back in the hospital after a terrible car accident, my instinct was to use my Buddhist practice. Every time I thought Why can’t I win? I went to the Gohonzon and chanted. The car accident was the first time I’d been so close to death that I realized I didn’t want to die.

I went to the Florida Nature and Culture Center again, in August, and this time I soaked everything up. I wrote to President Ikeda and shared my determination to report a victory by Aug. 31. Instead of being consumed with fear, I felt courage and confidence.

On the afternoon of Aug. 23, while on my way home from a baseball game, I decided to check my application status. I logged in and saw the words, “Congratulations, JeanneMarie!” I had been accepted to the medical track at Northwestern University. The Uber driver pulled over as my friends and I screamed and cried tears of joy. It was Aug. 24 in Japan, the anniversary of Sensei joining the Soka Gakkai.

I have just completed my first quarter at Northwestern. I’m also doing my best as a district young women’s leader and sharing Buddhism with the people in my environment. I now know that in order to heal sick kids, I had to grow up being a sick kid. As I work toward my dream of becoming a doctor, I want to show that, with the Gohonzon and Sensei’s encouragment, there is no limit to what we can achieve. WT

We All Have the Power to Change

“Faith Manifests Itself in Daily Life”