There Is No Suffering You Cannot Conquer!
How my Buddhist practice enabled me to make my family whole and bring hope to others.
I’m Gene Kang, from Los Angeles.
Living Buddhism: Gene, thank you for sharing your experience with us. As a TV news reporter in Los Angeles, you spoke live on air this year about how you used your Buddhist practice to overcome the pain of child abuse. If it isn’t too difficult, can you tell us a little about what you experienced early on?
Gene Kang: Thank you for having me. As a teenager, I truly believed my life had no value. One memory, in particular, is burned into my life. When I was 17, I was locked out of my house after a fit of rage. It was during the bitter Chicago winter, and our backyard swimming pool was frozen over. I jumped into the pool, breaking through two inches of thick ice, thinking this is how I would end it all. While submerged, however, an inner voice told me that my life had more meaning. I kicked my way to the surface and pulled myself out of the pool in time. This wasn’t the only attempt I made on my life, but it was the first time I heard that inner voice tell me to fight for myself.
What was at the root of your despair?
Gene: My childhood was dominated by yelling and endless tears. I often witnessed my father abuse my mother, physically and verbally. At times, I was the focus of his rage. I remember at 6 being forced to stand on my head on a cold tile floor while saying how ugly, stupid and fat I was in front of a mirror. I learned much later that my dad did to us what he learned from his parents and life in the military.
My parents had worked hard and sacrificed a great deal after immigrating to the U.S. in 1976. They started on factory assembly lines and drove taxis. Eventually, my mother became a nurse and my father a successful veterinarian. They had high expectations for me, their firstborn son. They weren’t happy when I told them I didn’t want to be a doctor as they had hoped, and they were even less happy when they found out I was gay. They disowned me more than 10 times.
How were you introduced to Buddhism?
Gene: My boss shared the practice with me in November 2003 over lunch. I thought Buddhism was about people sitting in lotus positions for hours at a time, but what she described was a practice for modern life. She was going through so many challenges at the time, but she still had all this compassion for her employees. I began chanting to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and for a loving relationship with my parents.
How did your practice help you pursue a career in journalism?
Gene: The seed had been planted long before, when I was interviewed at an elementary school spelling bee and again when a family friend, who was a journalist, suggested I consider a career in broadcast journalism.
With the energy I gained from chanting, I made bold causes for my dream. In August 2004, I attended a large journalism conference in Washington, D.C. Leading up to it, I woke up early to create audition tapes and made every effort I could think of, including deepening the sound of my voice and sharpening my presentation skills.
To my shock and delight, I received three job offers, which is unheard of in the industry, but I knew it was the result of my practice. So, in October 2004, I moved to Amarillo, Texas, for my first job as a news anchor at KFDA-TV. The next year, I took another job at a station in Indiana and Kentucky to be closer to my husband, Dan Nevez. During this time, I won a national award for promising young minority journalists. Recently, I won an Emmy award for wildfire coverage, which I dedicated to my mentor Ikeda Sensei.
What wonderful victories! How were things going with your family?
Gene: The changes in my family took much longer. Dan and I have been together now for 23 years, and 11 of those years were long distance. We held our wedding in June 2014 at the SGI-USA Chicago Culture Center. At that point, I hadn’t spoken to my parents in more than 10 years. I thought they would at least attend my wedding, but they declined due to homophobia.
I decided I would face my anger toward my parents head-on. Every time my anger welled up, I chanted until I broke through inside. I realized that this anger was a deep-seated family karma that I had to transform. It didn’t happen overnight, but I learned to transform my anger into the drive to become the happiest person.
My practice also empowered me to seek professional support for my anxiety, depression and PTSD. Through therapy, I learned countless lessons that have enabled me to live in the moment. In the end, my therapist, who I introduced to Buddhism, always tells me to go chant!
What was your turning point with your family?
Gene: My brother got married shortly after I did. At first, my parents didn’t want me at the wedding but finally invited me on the condition that Dan didn’t come with me. Dan encouraged me to go and have the best time with them. We chanted together to have a breakthrough. At the wedding reception, I danced with my parents, brother and new sister-in-law. In that moment, the bad memories disappeared. I saw my father laughing and joking. I thought, I’ve never met this person, but I like him.
The next morning, my dad sent me a message to come to the hotel with Dan. My dad and mom met with us in the hotel lobby for the first time. My father opened up and said, “I’m so sorry about being homophobic and cruel.” Then, my mother said to Dan, “I’m so sorry for not inviting you to the wedding and for being close-minded. Would you be willing to start a new chapter with us?”
It was an out-of-body experience. I felt as if I were looking down from 20 feet high. As we got into the car, my father opened the door for Dan and wished us a great trip home. Just like that, after nearly a decade without communication, our family was whole.
Since then, Dan and I talk to my parents often and are always invited to family events. We were even asked to come celebrate my nephew’s first birthday in 2019, which is a major milestone in Korean culture.
That is remarkable. Turning to your career, how are things going now?
Gene: I was a freelance reporter for several years when I was suddenly let go in August 2020 during nationwide layoffs. I had a pity party for one day, but Dan said, “You get to be sad for only 24 hours.”
At first, I chanted begrudgingly. Then I started writing down my dreams and goals for kosen-rufu, and chanting for the happiness of the SGI members I support. My life condition shifted. I wrote to Ikeda Sensei that I would manifest my dream career for kosen-rufu in a supportive environment beyond my wildest imagination, and share Buddhism with many people.
It was in the middle of the pandemic, and no TV stations were hiring. I was told, “We think you’re great; we just don’t have any openings.” I chanted a lot each day and poured my life into encouraging SGI members and friends as a region men’s leader. I even had 43 friends attend the World Youth General Meeting in September 2020.
That same month, I landed two jobs: one at KTLA and another at France24. The environment at my current employer is exactly what I had envisioned. In most news stations, reporters are expected to simply deliver news in an objective manner, but here, our bosses applaud the spirit to openly talk about our lives and be our authentic selves.
Which brings us to the live segment you did in February, sharing about your Buddhist practice.
Gene: Yes, this February, we were scheduled to report about the rise in domestic violence amid the pandemic. One of my co-anchors had read my social media post about using my Buddhist practice to overcome the trauma of domestic violence and asked me to talk about it live on air. I spoke about my own past abuse and explained the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and about our supportive SGI-USA community.
Later, with the rise in hate crimes directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I was on a panel of Asian American journalists sharing our stories. There, I spoke about how Sensei’s encouragement had enabled me to stay strong during this difficult time.
Since the first segment, I have received emails and messages on social media from viewers sharing how inspired they were. Many of them are currently facing domestic violence and wanted to get connected to a local SGI meeting. I’m so happy that I was able to provide them with hope. Recently, I wrote to Sensei about my career and family victories and his warm response encouraged me even more to help people practice Buddhism.
What message would you like to share with young people who may be going through difficulties?
Gene: In my teens and early 20s, I was miserable. I didn’t value my life whatsoever. But now, I can say with confidence that there is so much more to life beyond this moment of suffering. Your life has so much more value than what you give yourself credit for. You’re in charge of making your life better, and with this Buddhism there is no suffering you cannot conquer!