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Daily Life

Becoming a Global Citizen

A joyful exchange of youth, Tempe, Ariz., July 2019.
Emerging—A joyful exchange of youth, Tempe, Ariz., July 2019. Photo by George Nakamura.

The members of the SGI-USA have cultivated the qualities of wisdom, courage and compassion as global citizens dedicated to transforming the world around them through their practice of Nichiren Buddhism. We share examples of individuals who are embodying the practice of global citizenship in their lives.

Learning How to Live Fully

Danielle Foster-Smith
Des Moines, Iowa

I am currently the vice president and general counsel of a national trucking company based in Iowa. I have significant responsibilities, and I attribute all my success to my Buddhist practice and having a mentor in life, Daisaku Ikeda.

In 1985, soon after my mother passed away, my aunt introduced me to Buddhism. She immediately connected me to the handful of members who lived in Iowa at the time. I had previously dropped out of the University of Iowa because of the discrimination I experienced as an African American woman in the music department. I went from one dead-end job to the next, with no direction in life.

My greatest turning point in faith came in 1993 when I found myself in a toxic marriage. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo desperately for my husband to change, but as I studied Ikeda Sensei’s guidance, I realized that I needed to pray to transform something in my own life. Within days of shifting my prayer, he left. It was the greatest thing for me, and I was finally able to pursue the life that I wanted.

I went back to school and finished my undergraduate degree. Because I had experienced many injustices, including discrimination and abuse, I decided to go to law school and become an attorney who could represent people who needed a voice. Without Buddhism, I still may have become a lawyer, but I’m convinced that my motivations would have been far shallower. My Buddhist practice taught me to transform my negative experiences into a sense of mission to protect and support others.

Our Buddhist philosophy appeals to a higher self, and gives us practical advice on how to live. For example, Sensei’s guidance taught me how to be a good employee, transform human relationships, care for others, win over myself and become happy. Sensei doesn’t talk about these things in a way that’s unattainable. In other words, I don’t have to transform into a saint. As a regular human being, I can have these noble aspirations, because my mentor has walked this path already. Daisaku Ikeda is my mentor. I look at his life, I read his works and I see what he is saying. This is how I have developed courage, compassion and wisdom as an everyday person.

I am on the diversity, equity and inclusion council for both my employer and a nonprofit, where I serve on its board. In these spaces, I often talk about the Buddhist philosophy of humanism and fundamental equality. Heart-to-heart connections are developing, and I am extremely hopeful for the work we are doing. For some people, changing the world is an unattainable goal. But for Buddhists, it’s something we continually strive for. I know our circumstances can change because people can change.

One of my determinations is to continue to become a global citizen and help foster them in my spheres of influence. Furthermore, I want to contribute to Sensei’s vision of ensuring the advancement of education that awakens people to an awareness of human equality and dignity in society.

As the Iowa-Nebraska Region women’s leader, I will advance joyfully together with Sensei and the members, find and raise successors, and through our collective efforts, transform the heartland of America.

Being a Source of Hope

Jun Andrew Rose
Long Beach, California

I started practicing Buddhism two years after I moved to the U.S. from the Philippines. The SGI has since become my family, and I am so grateful for the support I have received. My connection with the members has been a major source of hope and courage, and due to these bonds, I have broken through my struggles with depression. This has helped me become a better nursing assistant to my patients.

Every day, I chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to bring forth the compassion and strength to interact with people in all types of life conditions at work. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a source of hope to others from the way that Ikeda Sensei treats human beings.

He’s always giving something to others, and it motivates me to do the same for the people in my environment. Sometimes, all I can offer is a simple “never give up!” But, whatever it is, I want to offer the person in front of me hope.

Recently, I helped treat a mother who had the coronavirus. Her family could not visit her because of hospital safety regulations. When I imagined her sadness, I thought about what I could do to provide her comfort. I decided to engage her in dialogue to alleviate some of her pain. I don’t know what impact I had on her, but I know that I did my best to make her day a little bit better. I feel that this is my mission.

Outside of work, I also enjoy creating floral arrangements. Being a nurse and a florist both require compassion, since my intent is to give people hope. I feel that people are like flowers. Each flower is unique, but they can all shine just as they are. They can bring a smile to anybody.

For me, being a global citizen means understanding the influence I have on those around me and encouraging others with my life condition. This is the spirit that I’ve learned from my mentor.

Extending My Heart to All

Tibet Scherwitzl

I remember my mother calling to tell me that she had found a spiritual practice that worked for her. Just three days before she was to receive the Gohonzon, she passed away. Ten years went by before I reconnected to the woman who had introduced my mother to the practice. This time, I joined the SGI.

Because loss has been such a big part of my life, I was afraid of dying. This fear became magnified when I found myself on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as an emergency room respiratory therapist. My work requires me to intubate patients who need to be put on a ventilator. I was constantly worried about getting exposed, so I was extremely careful when treating patients. My constant thought was, If I die, will my son be OK?

When I did test positive, my SGI family chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for me when I didn’t have the physical strength to sit in front of the Gohonzon and could only whisper from my bed. I was confident that all the causes I had been making to support the members as a new district women’s leader protected me during this time. My 26-year-old son even began to chant for me, which reassured me that he is building a spiritual foundation for his own life.

I recovered from COVID-19, and I’m now back at work. Because I faced and won over my greatest fear, I no longer fear dying. My new sense of hope and empowerment have enabled me to be more present and compassionate when I treat patients. I pray for my patients every day, and I’m determined that my courage can rub off on them and help them get through tough times as well. I’ve also been sharing Buddhism with my co-workers.

Ikeda Sensei says, “[Mothers] are the ones responsible for teaching their children faith” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 2, p. 83). I now see that my mother gave to me a spiritual foundation before she died. Now, I have passed on that practice to my son. For me, global citizenship means that I have the heart to treasure and chant for the happiness of everyone around me, including those in my family, my district, my work environment, extending to all people in this world.

Building Trust in My Community

Kyler Nicholas
Canton, Michigan

Although I’ve lived in the same house for a decade, I’ve never attempted to get to know my neighbors.

The last time my family had any real contact with them was in 2012, when I threw a house party, and someone called the cops. My mom dragged me from doorstep to doorstep and forced me to apologize for disturbing their peace. Since then, I’ve avoided my neighbors, mostly out of shame.

When I encountered the SGI in 2016, I was aimless and, if I can be honest, mostly apathetic toward others. But Buddhism taught me that supporting others is the key to bringing meaning to my life. One thing I love about our discussion meetings is that, even though we are all Buddhist, we see and think differently. Even if we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on everything, every week we engage and create community. For me, attending my discussion meetings and taking leadership within the SGI-USA have been the best education on how to become a human being.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I began searching through the World Tribune for actionable guidance from Ikeda Sensei. I chanted seriously to demonstrate what it means to be a disciple.

While reading the August 7 World Tribune, I came upon an incredible article titled “We Are ‘Architects’ of a Harmonious Society.” In it, Sensei says: “Our ‘province’ refers to our immediate neighborhood—our neighbors, the people living next to us on both sides and across the street. Our neighborhood is the front line of kosen-rufu” (p. 8).

It became clear that I wasn’t showing any compassion to my neighbors out of fear that they would reject or judge me. I decided to knock on each door in my neighborhood and genuinely ask how my neighbors are doing.

The first family I spoke with was a couple who had just lost their son (in his 30s) to the coronavirus. I related my experience of losing my mother and shared how Buddhism imbued her death with meaning and dignity. The wife was very eager to hear about Buddhism, and they welcomed the idea of me visiting regularly to continue our dialogue.

This first dialogue was mind-blowing enough, but that was just the first of four families that I reached that day; all four encounters were warm exchanges. Within minutes, my neighbors were sharing their sufferings with me. I realized that each family in my immediate environment is suffering with something and in need of a good friend. Thanks to Sensei’s guidance, I broke through my apathy toward my neighborhood, and I am now building trust.

I began this journey as the neighbor with a delinquent reputation, but I’m determined to become the most trusted person in my community.

Polishing My Inner Diamond

Holly Perez
Metaire, Louisiana

In 2015, I wrote down a list of goals. The biggest thing on my list had to do with my custody battle. I was a first-time mom with a 6-month-old son when I decided to leave my husband. My mother, who was my sole source of support and guidance, started practicing Buddhism around that time. It was in these most challenging circumstances that she introduced me to the SGI.

After I received the Gohonzon, my seniors in faith began visiting me. They would urge me not to give up and to pray for my ex-husband’s happiness. I would cry after being told I should chant for the person I hated the most. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t feel that I had the strength to pray for him.

My friends in faith continued to encourage me. They shared that Buddhism is about changing our hearts and that, without experiencing an inner transformation, I wouldn’t change the situation in the least. They told me that praying for my ex-husband’s well-being would enable me to polish the diamond in my life. I still didn’t understand what they were saying, but finally, I hit a wall. Nothing was changing, so I started praying for my ex-husband’s happiness.

Slowly, I started feeling compassion for him. While I still harbored resentment, I realized he was a human being, and he was probably hurting, too. When all of the hate I had toward him dissipated, our relationship transformed completely.

Our custody battle lasted two years, but now we have 50-50 custody of our son, Grayson, and we are co-parenting him together. We even find ourselves laughing over the phone when he does something funny. It’s the type of relationship I never could have imagined having when I first started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Before, I was extremely judgmental of others. But Buddhism has taught me to have compassion for everyone. I’m so grateful for the support I received, and I am determined to give the same hope and courage to those around me.

Becoming a True Global Citizen

Kossivi Maglo
Queens, New York

Since 1960, Ikeda Sensei has worked tirelessly to promote Nichiren Buddhism around the world. That is why I encountered the SGI in Togo, West Africa, in 1999 at age 19. When I began practicing Buddhism, my seniors in faith told me that I could chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for anything. They told me that if I chanted and gave my all to support kosen-rufu, I would achieve all my dreams.

I dedicated myself to developing the organization in Togo as a vice national young men’s leader. During that time, members in Burkina Faso and Mali, which are Muslim countries, were traveling to Togo for SGI activities. However, due to their membership growth, they established their own districts by the time I left Africa. It was my greatest honor to work on behalf of Sensei to support the members there.

In 2011, I was given the opportunity to move to New York, where my mother was living. When I first arrived, it was hard to integrate into a new culture, and I was teased at work for not knowing English. In sharp contrast, whenever I attended an SGI meeting, people patiently listened to me and never judged me for not speaking fluently in English. I immediately felt at home in the SGI, as if I had never left Togo.

I was given leadership responsibility soon after I arrived in the U.S. One of my greatest realizations through supporting the members in Togo and the U.S. is that people are people. Whatever language or cultural differences exist between us, all people suffer the same. As Sensei shares, we all share a common humanity.

I feel that I am a global citizen, not because I’ve lived in two countries, or speak more than one language, but because I belong to the SGI family and can deepen my humanity through Sensei’s guidance. I live each day focused on growth and self-improvement. As a region men’s leader in Brooklyn, I’m determined that all the men can break through their limitations and support our younger brothers in faith to become even more capable than us!

Upholding the Dignity of Life

Natasha Red

I’m a mobile crisis team case manager working with the vulnerable population of Seattle experiencing homelessness, mental health challenges and substance abuse. I work within a program designed to divert people from getting admitted to the hospital or being arrested by police. We have nurses, case managers and mental health professionals ready to provide services around the clock. With COVID-19, things have become increasingly challenging at work. We have less resources and support, but more people in need of our services. As a result, the morale at work was dwindling.

Every day when I chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I pray to bring forth the same life condition as Ikeda Sensei. I then go in to work with a fresh face and energy, and with the belief that I can transform my environment into the “land of tranquil light.” I also pray to unite with my co-workers and empower them so that we can ensure the safety and protection of all our clients.

We deal with clients on a daily basis who are looked down on as second-class citizens. For example, a client, who was homeless and struggling with mental health issues, requested that she be taken to the hospital. When we arrived, the hospital staff member was visibly agitated and asked why she was there because she had seen her multiple times that week. The nurse kept asking me questions regarding her care. I advocated for her to be treated fairly and advised the nurse to have a conversation directly with her. For the client, knowing I was there to support gave her a sense of ease.

Through my practice, I have transformed my karma into my greatest mission. I’ve experienced mental health challenges and homelessness in my own life, and these experiences have become my greatest strength as they help me bring forth greater respect and compassion for those who I am serving at work.

For me, being a global citizen means recognizing my responsibility to deepen my humanity as I take action to fight for the dignity and respect of others on a daily basis. My determination is to never give up on the belief that we can change this world one person at a time.

Seeking Out Those Different From Me

Manny Freeman
East Orange, New Jersey

I attended my first SGI meeting in 2014 at the invitation of a friend. I remember walking into a room full of extremely diverse people, and I felt that this was the kind of world I wanted to see more often. It was the first indication that the SGI is an organization I could learn from and thrive in. I joined the following year in April 2015.

While I value diversity, before I practiced Buddhism, I had a tendency to cut people off. If your views didn’t align with the way that I saw the world, I didn’t feel the need to speak to you. However, through engaging with others at neighborhood discussion meetings, I learned to truly appreciate how each person offers a unique perspective, and these interactions have broadened my understanding of humanity. It feels like I am receiving the greatest education through the SGI on how to win in life.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine proclaimed her political views on Facebook, and shared that she had gotten death threats for her beliefs. While her political leanings were opposite mine, I thought that receiving death threats for having a different opinion was taking it too far.

I decided to engage in dialogue with her. It was the first time that I actively sought out a conversation with someone who held opposing views. We both shared our perspectives and listened to each other. The conversation ended in mutual respect and acknowledgment. Through listening to her, I started to understand her heart and learned why she feels the way she does.

After our conversation, I genuinely felt that this is what is missing in our country. If we can get to the place of having open dialogue and truly listening to one another based on mutual respect, world peace would advance at a much faster rate.

As human beings, we justify our disregard for life by grouping people together and choosing to remain divided. For me, being a global citizen means appreciating the vast dignity of every person’s life and building bridges of connection through heart-to-heart dialogue. I’m now determined that we will cultivate a world where every voice is heard and build a society where we can all thrive together.

Q: What is the purpose of Buddhist study?

Cultivating the Qualities of the Global Citizen: Wisdom, Courage and Compassion