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Becoming Pioneers of a Better Age


by Michael Cornell
New York

“The eminent British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975) said that those living in an age of crisis must become pioneers of a better age, striving to find positive solutions and thereby turning the age into one of achievement.” (Ikeda Sensei, April 3 World Tribune, p. 3)

In spring 2013, my long-held dream of becoming a teacher was within reach when I graduated with my master’s in education. I was so overwhelmed by life, however, that I couldn’t complete the application to teach for the New York City public schools.

During this time, a colleague introduced me to Soka education, namely the concept that education should be centered on the happiness of the child, which deeply resonated with my own views. I felt so hopeful to find a movement that was already putting this theory into practice. My colleague also invited me to SGI meetings, and while I was skeptical about religion, I trusted her.

After I received the Gohonzon in November 2014, my Buddhist practice empowered me to battle that inner voice that always doubted myself. And even though at first I wasn’t too motivated to attend SGI activities, each time I left a meeting I was filled with energy and hope to continue pursuing my mission in education.

In 2015, I began consistently chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and studying Buddhism, and that’s when my perspective drastically changed. When obstacles came up, I understood that they were opportunities for growth. Within months of solidifying my practice, I secured a bigger apartment for cheaper rent and received financial opportunities to attend education conferences. In the SGI, I took on leadership. I was winning the battle over myself.

Within a year, I had pulled forth enough courage to complete the application for the New York City public schools and was offered a position at a school in Harlem.

As hard as it was to establish my career, however, it was far more difficult to hold on to my dreams. In May 2018, I was the subject of false accusations and was removed from my school while the charges were investigated.

Although initially devastated, my Buddhist practice enabled me to keep going during this difficult time and focus instead on turning poison into medicine. I had just started the Value-Creating Education for Global Citizenship master’s program at DePaul University, and my desk job enabled me to give my all to my studies. I also met my wonderful wife, Nobuko, at a related conference.

In January 2019, my case was dismissed, and my name was completely cleared. Also, I was offered a position at a new school and began working as a fifth-grade teacher that fall.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it had a drastic impact on public schools. Many of my students depended on school for food assistance and other services. The transition to online learning posed other challenges, such as engaging the students without any experience conducting virtual classes.

During this time, I read Sensei’s essay in which he entrusts the youth to work together “with strength, wisdom and optimism to create a better age” (April 3 World Tribune, p. 3). I fully took on the A-B-C[1] and “One Youth. Infinite Hope.”[2] campaigns, chanting abundantly, studying and connecting with others. Our chapter now has 14 youth guests who are chanting regularly, including a young man I’m supporting!

These efforts for kosen-rufu have manifested in tremendous opportunities. I successfully transitioned my students to online learning and developed effective tools for instruction. My administration took notice and entrusted me with supporting all of the faculty with transitioning online.

Now I’m the school district representative working with the New York City Department of Education to ensure the successful transition to online learning. Also, a paper I presented this past fall on Sensei’s educational philosophy won a distinguished award and was just published in an academic journal.

My greatest benefit has been deepening my conviction in my own life and this practice to transform any situation and create opportunities where none seem to exist.

Each morning, I chant with deep appreciation for Sensei and the SGI. I’m determined to make significant contributions in education to ensure that Soka education can be made available to all children, so that they can all become pioneers of a better age.


  1. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SGI-USA initiated the A-B-C Campaign: A: Abundant chanting; B: Buddhist study; C: Connect life-to-life with members, guests and family (by phone or videoconferencing). ↩︎
  2. The SGI-USA’s “One Youth. Infinite Hope.” movement is focused on empowering 6,000 youth to begin their Buddhist practice this year, thereby giving them the tools to transform their lives and society. ↩︎

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