Be Wise Individuals Who Protect the People!
by Amelia Gonzalez and Peter Karuppiah
SGI-USA Student Division Leaders
Commemorating Sept. 26, 1991, the day Ikeda Sensei delivered his first lecture at Harvard University, over 500 student division members, guests and high school seniors gathered virtually 30 years later, for the biannual student division lecture.
Leading up to the virtual meeting, a lecture on the “Jeweled Sword” chapter of The New Human Revolution, vol. 8, attendees studied key excerpts. The meeting, themed “Be Individuals of Wisdom and Intelligence Who Protect the People!” brimmed with the seeking spirit of students, many of whom are attending their schools in person for the first time in over a year.
Regarding the spirit of the student division, Sensei reflects on the purpose of receiving a higher education: “Academic study and achievements are not merely to be tools for personal advancement. They should be used in the pursuit of happiness for others, and university study should be devoted to serving and contributing to the lives of those who could not pursue advanced learning themselves” (The New Human Revolution, vol. 15, revised edition, p. 99).
Samirah Gnangbe, of Flagstaff, Arizona, who studies engineering at Northern Arizona University, opened the lecture as emcee, warmly welcoming all the students.
Lily Stern, a senior at The New School in New York, shared how encountering SGI Nichiren Buddhism in her last year of high school helped her decide not to compromise her dream of studying psychology and jazz. While she recently recorded a song with a Grammy-award winner, she considers her greatest accomplishment developing the ability to believe in herself through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Alex Sheffelin, studying mathematics at the University of Washington, supported the lecture by reading the reference material.
SGI-USA General Director Adin Strauss presented the lecture, stressing the significant role religion and philosophy can play in addressing the issues and problems facing society today. He also spoke of the difference between knowledge and wisdom, and conveyed Sensei’s guidance about the importance of using faith to bring forth wisdom, which enables us to produce value and bring happiness to our lives and communities.
Mr. Strauss also emphasized the importance of clearly differentiating between reality and theory, stating that we can remain grounded in reality through our individual transformation or human revolution. “Ultimately, as Sensei explains, ‘the solution lies in carrying out kosen-rufu, a movement in which each individual reveals the great life state of Buddhahood through Buddhist practice and fundamentally transforms [their] life’ (NHR-14, revised edition, p. 19).”
Since the virtual meeting, students have requested having more lectures. Inspired by the seeking spirit of these students, we are determined to double our efforts to support each of them in achieving their dreams and becoming individuals who can protect the people. We appreciate the tremendous efforts students made to invite their friends despite everyone’s hectic schedules, and we are excited to continue expanding the student division—the future leaders of society!
Voices from the Student Division Lecture
Taylor Camilla Guy, 25
Florida A&M University
Hearing about the Buddhist concept of changing poison into medicine is why I joined the SGI. In high school, I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t keep food down. Specialists didn’t know what was wrong with me. At the invitation of a close family friend, I started going to SGI meetings. There, I heard a youth speak about having leukemia, but he had such a bright smile. I received the Gohonzon my senior year and found ways to manage my health and stress. Now, I’m getting a master’s in public health, with a focus on epidemiology. I’m studying diseases to alleviate suffering. This lecture refreshed my mindset to change poison into medicine and get into a doctoral program.
Renzo Huarcaya, 21
Santa Clara, Calif.
Santa Clara University
My biggest takeaway from the conference was that, as a society, we need to bridge wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge has produced cures to terrible diseases; it has also given rise to atom bombs. Many people are highly knowledgeable. But if we don’t emphasize the role of wisdom, knowledge may not be put to use helping others.
Modern neuroscience, my field of study, is clear: Human well-being rests on community. Without a sense of community, we become anxious, depressive and mistrustful. Growing up in the SGI, I have seen for myself the power of community to generate change. After graduation, I’m going to get involved locally and build from there.
Nelly Gnangbe, 24
Northern Arizona University
I always chant about kosen-rufu, but I struggle with applying it to my life. For example, I want to pursue a second master’s in financial engineering because I love finance, and I know that the salary will be good. Before the meeting, I hadn’t thought about how I could use that master’s to actually help people. I started looking into it. As a financial engineer, I realized I could help the governments of developing nations negotiate better deals with international financial institutions. This was really eye opening, and how I want to contribute to kosen-rufu became clearer to me.