Experience

Becoming the Happiest Person

How developing my Buddhist practice led to a breakthrough naval career.

Sonya Frankenfield at her naval station in Everett, Wash. She received an on-the-spot Navy Achievement Medal last year for an outstanding performance in accuracy during a submarine training session. Photo by Jesusa Nostrates


by Sonya Frankenfield
Everett, Wash.

“Just as a ship overcomes the crashing waves of a rough sea, I hope that all of you, with the awareness of being the captains of the ship of kosen-rufu, will overcome the tumultuous waves of life.” (Ikeda Sensei, The New Human Revolution, vol. 22, p. 208)

I was in my second year of college when I decided it was not for me. At 21, I joined the U.S. Navy, and the worst of my tendencies followed me there.

In high school, I started drinking heavily, often coming home late, which resulted in huge arguments with my parents. After joining the Navy, I continued to go out drinking almost every weekend. I didn’t think about the consequences; I just thought about the here and now.

One night, I drove back to the ship after attending a friend’s wedding. The guard gave me a breathalyzer test, which I failed immediately. I was arrested on the spot for driving under the influence and returned to the ship, feeling humiliated. For the next couple weeks, I hardly ate. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone.

My case went to the captain’s mast, which is the Navy term for nonjudicial punishment, where I was placed on restrictions for 45 days. This meant I couldn’t leave the ship and risked losing my rank. I was threatened with my pay being cut by half, lost my daily responsibilities and was given 45 extra days of duty.

Moreover, my restrictions were to last from Aug. 13 to Sept. 27, 2018, which meant I would not be able attend the SGI-USA Lions of Justice Festival at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Before my reprimand, I would do morning and evening gongyo quietly to avoid disturbing the other sailors. However, this time was different. I began going into the ship’s common spaces when no one was there so that I could chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo fiercely and abundantly in the mornings and evenings.

My restrictions made it difficult to chant a lot, because I had multiple roll calls each day. Still, I was determined to make every cause possible to attend the festival. I requested a 24-hour leave from the ship, which, due to my circumstances, required permission from seven people, plus the ship’s captain.

One day, the captain asked to meet with me about my request to leave the ship. I shared with him that I wanted to attend a once-in-a-lifetime festival that brought together youth from all over the country, addressing relevant issues in our world today. He approved my request! It turned out that the majority had denied it. However, the captain had the final say.

This victory gave me confidence in my Buddhist practice and in myself, and my naval career started to take off. Shortly after coming off restrictions, I was promoted to an E-5 rank, which came with a pay increase along with more responsibilities. Last year, I received an on-the-spot Navy Achievement Medal for demonstrating a high level of accuracy during a submarine training session. It’s uncommon for an enlisted military member to receive such an honor before ending their tour.

Ikeda Sensei writes: “Faith and daily life, faith and work—these are not separate things. They are one and the same. To think of them as separate— that faith is faith and work is work—is theoretical faith” (Faith Into Action, p. 31).

Applying this guidance to my daily life, too, I have become more self-aware and understand how my actions affect others. Now, I rarely drink and only in moderation. Since March, my ship has been sheltering in place. It can be difficult to join Buddhist meetings virtually due to the unreliable internet service on board. However, I decided to have my SGI-USA publications sent to the ship so that I can develop my faith and practice, and share Buddhism with others as part of the “One Youth. Infinite Hope.” movement.

I’m determined to become the happiest person on the ship so that when fellow sailors ask me, “Why are you so happy?” I can respond, “Because I practice Buddhism.”