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My Life Centered on a Vow

Hunter Ferguson at his recording studio in New York City, September 19. Photo by Marc Giannavola.

Hunter Ferguson

Living Buddhism: Thank you, Hunter, for sharing your experience with us. What were your early years like?

Hunter Ferguson: I was born in Harlem and spent my early childhood in a neighborhood overrun by drugs, violence and gangs. I grew to be shy and scared, thinking people were out to hurt or humiliate me.

While I had a great relationship with my father, he was infamous in our neighborhood and, unfortunately, was imprisoned for his choices. I recall being overjoyed as a child when I could visit him in prison. He was my source of pride. When I was a teenager, my mother decided to leave Harlem (and my father) for Pennsylvania to provide us with a better life. This was a difficult time for me.

What was life like in a new city?

Hunter: I felt alone and isolated. When I finally got adjusted to things, we moved again to a town in upstate New York. I was in high school and back at square one.

Fortunately, basketball was my connection to others and where I felt grounded. It kept me going, and it became my sole focus and dream to go pro. But when I didn’t get a scholarship to play in college, I felt like a part of my identity was lost. Before I knew it, I turned to alcohol and drugs to find my place again and fill that void.

Hunter (center), with SGI-USA young men’s division members at the Soka Bunka Center, Shinano- machi, Tokyo, August 28. Photo by Yusaku Hagiwara.

Was that your low point?

Hunter: The following fall, I left home for college and took my bad habits with me. In the haze of partying, I failed school and was back home after the first semester. I had always been the good kid growing up, so when my family found out about my excessive partying, they were deeply disappointed in me. I wasn’t sure how to earn their broken trust. My father seemed to be the most understanding, so I moved back to Harlem to live with him.

Life in the city had its challenges. I struggled to take care of basic necessities, so I worked multiple jobs while trying my hand at music. But my grueling work hours made me question what I was doing. I was in limbo and didn’t think much else was possible.

What changed?

Hunter: During one of my shifts as a security guard, a young man approached me and shared Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with me. I realized that my aunt had chanted the same phrase when I was a child.

I was seeking spirituality and purpose, so I agreed to attend a young men’s meeting at his home. I enjoyed chanting and how it made me feel.

Everything they shared at the meeting resonated with me, and I felt their care despite being strangers. I didn’t have conversations like this with any of my other friends. This was all new to me. On February 18, 2015, I received the Gohonzon.

Congratulations! How did chanting affect
your life?

Hunter: I gained more clarity and developed a vision for where I wanted to take my music. Opportunities for work started to appear. It was great, but I got caught up in the whirlwind of opportunities and stopped attending meetings. Even when SGI members reached out, I didn’t respond. But I did continue chanting and practicing gongyo with the SGI YouTube videos.

In summer 2016, I injured my Achilles tendon, and my dog was killed in an accident. I found myself with no job or money and physically bound to my house. I quickly became depressed.

At this crucial time, two men’s leaders visited me. I was moved by their care and encouragement, and it became my turning point to chant and participate in SGI activities more consistently. I recovered from my injury more quickly than my doctor expected, and I was convinced that this practice worked.

How did things improve from there?

Hunter: In January 2018, I was appointed the young men’s leader for West Harlem Chapter. I was honored to be given the responsibility to fight for the happiness of other young men in my community.

I jumped in by reaching out to all 80 young men in the chapter. Some responded and some didn’t. It was discouraging at times, but my seniors in faith had my back each step of the way. They encouraged me and explained how making causes for kosen-rufu was the key to building fortune for my own life.

SGI President Ikeda writes:

When we look after and care for others—that is, help others draw forth their life force—our own life force increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our state of life also expands. That is the wonderful thing about the bodhisattva way. The practice for benefiting others is one and the same with the practice for benefiting ourselves.

January 2015 Living Buddhism, pp. 55–56

During a visit to one of the guys, I found out he was facing similar challenges as I had the year prior. I gave my all to encouraging him. This visit affected me deeply, and I saw how drastically we could raise our own life state by encouraging others. Not only that, I landed a two-month job for a network TV show.

From there, I made every effort I could to support my chapter toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival (held in September 2018), while challenging myself to develop my music and my personal life.

How did you change through these efforts?

Hunter: I realized that I didn’t have to fend for myself alone. There were people—members of the young men’s division and the SGI—out there supporting me. I finally found my place in the world rooted in a deeper camaraderie united toward a common ideal.

Not only that, I had always been a caring person, but SGI activities taught me how to care for strangers and be passionate about their happiness. I learned how encouraging it was to see others win, too.

Ultimately, I learned the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the power of my life. When I’m chanting abundantly, and giving my all to support the members and cultivate friendships, I generate so much momentum in my life. It became clear to me that the causes I made and the momentum I felt in my life were permeating the chapter, the people around me and the community.

Did your human revolution cause a shift in your career?

Hunter: Absolutely. Exerting myself in Soka Group, the young men’s behind-the-scenes training group, during the Lions of Justice Festival taught me the power of preparation and taking full responsibility.

I challenged myself to be on a strict schedule of writing, producing and releasing music regularly. It was a battle with my confidence, and I constantly felt I wasn’t getting noticed. So, I used what I learned in the SGI and chanted abundantly to connect to the Buddha nature of my audience. I chanted that my music would transform the community.

Then, in May 2019, I had my first paid music performance. After that, I was booked for my first nationwide tour!

Amazing! We understand you attended the 2019 SGI Youth Training Course in Japan. What was that experience like?

Hunter: It was life-changing. I went with the simple determination to encounter something or someone that would resonate with my life. During our visit to the Tokyo Makiguchi Memorial Hall in Hachioji, Tokyo, I was amazed by the architecture, the exhibits and the great history of our movement. I saw President Ikeda’s depth of care and appreciation for his mentors in everything and everyone around me.

I was overwhelmed by the conviction that I am a part of the great history and flow of kosen-rufu, just as Nichiren Daishonin declares when he says:

It must be ties of karma from the distant past that have destined you to become my disciple at a time like this. Shakyamuni and Many Treasures certainly realized this truth. The [Lotus Sutra’s] statement, “Those persons who had heard the Law dwelled here and there in various Buddha lands, constantly reborn in company with their teachers” cannot be false in any way. )

“The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 217.

With this newfound awareness of my vow and my shared struggle with Sensei to advance kosen-rufu, I feel that I am capable of doing anything. This has given me so much pride and confidence in being an SGI member.

Before, I identified as an artist. Now, I understand my deeper identity is that of a Bodhisattva of the Earth, who is meant to help myself and others realize their full potential. It’s not the SGI here and my personal life there. I see that my entire life exists for kosen-rufu. I want to accomplish it all. I feel confident that when I center my life on my vow for kosen-rufu, I will absolutely advance in every aspect of my life.

Congratulations again, Hunter! What are your determinations moving forward?

Hunter: I’m determined to respond to Sensei and advance kosen-rufu here in Harlem and in America, starting from where I am. In my chapter, I’m determined to raise many more successors in the young men’s division. I want to see each young man receive tremendous benefit from doing their human revolution.

In my music, I’m determined to have a great upcoming tour and use this platform to share SGI Nichiren Buddhism with others so that they can uncover their own greatness and become protagonists for peace.

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