Experience

An Invincible Will

Gabriel Zune, of Miami, has discovered that transforming himself opens the way for changes in his environment. Photo by RICHARD CHING.


by Gabriel Zune
MIAMI

I grew up in Venezuela surrounded by a loving family who inspired me to go after my dreams, but I had a tough time realizing them because of my own insecurities. To many, I was seen as quiet and creative. But to others, I was a person who could be bullied and taken advantage of. I lacked the strength to stand up for myself.

When I was 16, my father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, and he was given three months to live. I saw my stout, strong father vulnerable and willing to do anything to save his life.

He branched off from our traditional religion to look into other spiritual practices. It became his battle to survive. My father outlived his diagnosis and, after fighting his cancer for five years, passed away on Oct. 31, 2009. Looking back, I see that his openness allowed me to start my own spiritual journey.

His passing left us depleted both emotionally and financially, and my mother continued to raise us on her meager teacher’s salary. In 2011, after I graduated from college with a degree in architectural design, she made the courageous decision to send my brother and me to Florida to live with our American grandmother. Eventually, due to the escalating tension in Venezuela, she joined us. She had to leave all of our belongings behind.

Although we were in a new place with new possibilities, I still felt lost and unhappy. In 2014, I encountered Buddhism through a co-worker. She invited me to a local SGI discussion meeting, and every word that I heard resonated deeply in my troubled life.

I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and two months later, on April 6, I received the Gohonzon. I felt an inner strength awaken in me that allowed me to have more confidence in my ability to stand up for myself and others. And I started to challenge my shy nature by emceeing and giving presentations at SGI district meetings.

Little by little, I felt more comfortable in my skin and less concerned with what others thought of me. With this newfound confidence, I wanted to fight for the happiness of others, too.

Since returning to the U.S., my mother had been taking care of my grandmother and was running out of savings. As she struggled to find work, I shared the practice with her, with a determination that she would transform her situation. Within days of receiving the Gohonzon and beginning her Buddhist practice, my mom found a job. To this day, she has the same job and has turned her financial situation around. One month later, I was elated when my brother also received the Gohonzon and began his practice.

As I continued to chant and seek guidance in faith, I realized that I was the only one who could change my life, and it started with challenging my lack of confidence.

Just when I thought everything was going great, I fractured my right foot and sprained my ankle while playing basketball, and soon after contracted the chicken pox. Because of this, I couldn’t attend SGI activities for almost two months. I was in such severe pain that even sitting down was uncomfortable. I had internal blisters in my throat that made chanting painful. These obstacles came at the same time I was trying to find a new job after becoming a freelance architectural designer. Frustrated, my lack of confidence resurfaced and I wondered, Why is this happening to me?

It was the members calling to check in that allowed me to maintain hope.
Thanks to their care and SGI President Ikeda’s guidance, I never stopped chanting and moving forward. As I reached out to other young men, I found that they were battling their own problems, too, and with the awareness that I wasn’t alone, I decided to win.

At the end of 2018, I found a new job, but faced the same difficulties as before: Clients bullied me, and the company struggled with financial difficulties that impacted my pay.

As I continued to chant and seek guidance in faith, I realized that I was the only one who could change my life, and it started with challenging my lack of confidence.

Sensei says: “Only those who strive to challenge a goal and work toward it at their own pace and in their own way; only those who keep trying, no matter how many times they fail, can develop unshakable confidence in themselves. Self-confidence is synonymous with an invincible will” (Discussions on Youth, new edition, p. 292).

I took this guidance to heart and determined to find work that would allow me to establish myself financially. In January, I started a job as a project manager for a larger, more experienced general contractor, with more support and more opportunities to be mentored. Now, I’m expanding my wings with a clear path toward the future.

My Buddhist practice has taught me to challenge everything head-on with faith. This has been the key to transforming my life. Today, as the world experiences the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been using the SGI-USA’s A-B-C Campaign1 to reach out to other young men, deepen our bonds and strengthen our conviction in faith. It’s about challenging the darkness together and always advancing toward the light.