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The Courage to Become Happy

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo has given Joseph Schoendorf of Los Angeles, Calif., the courage to stand up for himself, which has been the key to transforming every aspect of his life. Photo by DEBRA WILLIAMS.

How I transformed my life and relationships through discovering my true value.

by Joseph Schoendorf

When I was 11 years old, my mother was handcuffed and escorted from our home for threatening to kill our family with a knife. She had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder four years earlier. But this was her first time in a mental hospital and also the start of our lengthy separation.

Until I turned 18, I was only allowed to see my mother under adult supervision as she was said to be dangerous. With the influence of family members, I began thinking my life would be much better without her.

The next few years were a blur. I skipped college classes to hang out with friends and used drugs to escape my reality. My father moved in with his girlfriend, and my sisters moved away from our family in New York. I was on my own.

When I was 22, my best friend, Gabe, told me about his Buddhist practice and invited me to give it a try. The first time I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I started crying hysterically, because I remembered that it had been almost four years since I had seen my mother.

I went to several meetings with Gabe, but was afraid of what others would think if I became Buddhist. It took me three more years to begin my own practice. Finally, on March 8, 2015, I received the Gohonzon.

Within two months of beginning my practice, I felt stronger and that my life had meaning. I determined to become someone with courage.

I found a great job working in renewable energy and genuinely believed I was winning. That September, I was shocked when bank representatives informed me that our family home would be sold at auction in two days. My dad hadn’t paid the mortgage in five years.

I couldn’t believe he hadn’t mentioned this, and I felt betrayed by the one person I still looked up to.

Because of my irresponsible nature, I had no money to move into a new place. I sought guidance from a senior in faith and was encouraged to use prayer to break through my own self-imposed limitations and dive fully into SGI activities.

SGI President Ikeda says: “Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo earnestly, with strong determination, provides the impetus to fundamentally transform our state of life. By breaking through our limits and obstacles with chanting and courageous action, we gain access to a higher state of life” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 7, p. 101).

I chanted earnestly and also joined the Gajokai Academy, a faith training group for young men who support SGI-USA activities behind the scenes. Through this training, I learned the importance of showing up on time and being fully present.

Through caring for others, I learned that I could just be me.

I applied both this guidance and my Gajokai training to my work, and within one month of seriously exerting myself, I earned more than three times the amount of money I needed to move into a new place.

With gratitude for my practice, I also began visiting young men in my district and discovered that I wasn’t the only one with struggles. Because of my upbringing, I didn’t open up to others out of fear of being rejected. I realized that I didn’t have to act like everything was OK all the time.

Through caring for others, I learned that I could just be me.

This gave me the courage to rebuild and deepen my relationship with my father. For the first time, we had an open and honest dialogue. Instead of judging my father, I saw him as a human being who had made mistakes and embraced him fully.

In February 2016, I learned that my mother had bladder cancer. I still didn’t know where she was, and I chanted for hours for my mother’s happiness. Sometimes I faced the Gohonzon in tears, thinking I may never see her again.

Two weeks later, I pulled forth the courage to stand up for what I believed was right and convinced a family member to tell me where my mother was. She was living five minutes away from my new apartment.

When I went to see her, she lit up and started crying. I visited her multiple times a week, helping her as much as I could, and teaching her how to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. By the end of 2016, after receiving the best care, my mom was cancer free.

Today, I am living and working in Los Angeles. Despite being miles away from each other, my family and I have built humanistic and beautiful relationships, which I am determined to continue to strengthen using my faith.

I have also pulled forth the courage to stand up for myself, which has been the key to transforming every aspect of my life. In this significant year of 2020, I am determined to repay my debt of gratitude to Sensei by raising many young men who will stand up for peace based on an underlying belief in their own potential. WT

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