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Uncovering the Limitless Value of My Life

How changing my relationship with myself changed my relationship with money.

Photo by Marco Giannavola.

by Patrick Smith
New York

For most of my life, I was irresponsible with money. I was drawn to shiny toys, the latest fashion and upgrading gadgets and electronics at the earliest chance. I understood theoretically that I shouldn’t spend more than I had, but I couldn’t stop myself. For example, every time I went out with friends, I usually picked up the bill to seem magnanimous, even though I didn’t have money. Perhaps this was my way of gaining acceptance from others.

I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism in 1988 and participated in district and young men’s division activities. Through my Buddhist practice, I developed lifelong friends and envisioned a dream for something bigger than myself.

In the SGI, I had always heard that “faith equals daily life,” but I struggled to put this guidance into action. I continued frivolous spending, and at one point, I had amassed a credit card debt of $40,000 along with a state tax bill of about the same, forcing me to wash my clothes in the bathtub and count out change for lunch every day. I felt anxious and worthless. Despite this reality, I bought a car even though I had no need for one.

I met my husband, Carlos, in 2008, and he was strict with me about my spending habits, which initially caused some friction between us. I took his “strict encouragement” to the Gohonzon and sincerely chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to change my habits. I decided that I needed to have a financial victory, eliminate my debt and become financially responsible. I also determined to direct my focus to kosen-rufu, so I began giving sustaining contributions to the SGI-USA.

Soon after this, I realized that my toxic relationship with money stemmed from my lack of self-worth. Growing up, I had parents who loved me and gave me everything I needed, but I never felt like I belonged. I was bullied at school and also felt there was something wrong with me. I was lost and lacked a mentor, someone I could open up to and who would remind me, “Patrick, you are great as you are.” In college and my early years in New York, I had retreated into drugs and alcohol to fill this void in my heart.

My behavior negatively affected my relationships, especially with my father. He saw my recklessness with money, and eventually when he sent me “bailout” money, he included a letter telling me that I would need to go on welfare if I found myself in financial trouble again. Our relationship became strained, and for decades we barely spoke.

Because of my resolve to offer financial contributions for kosen-rufu, I began to connect my Buddhist faith to my daily life. I became serious about my responsibilities as a son, husband, neighbor and SGI leader. I also began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with all my heart to encourage others. The SGI’s aim of empowering people by unlocking their potential and creating a vibrant, value-creating society began to truly resonate in my heart. I slowly discovered that the void I had felt inside was being filled with the joy of taking action for others. This was a far greater joy than any shiny bauble could give me.

In 2011, I paid off the last penny of my debt and began saving money for the first time in my life. After making regular and increasing financial contributions to both the SGI-USA and to my husband’s and my “house fund” over the following years, we purchased a beautiful apartment in 2019, something previously unimaginable.

(Left to right) Patrick Smith and his husband, Carlos Cano, in their New York apartment, May 2021. Photo by Marco Giannavola

I also began chanting to change the relationship with my father. Over time, he noticed how responsible I had become and that I was someone he could trust. In fact, he recently asked that I be executor of his will. Though once we did not speak to each other for several years, we now have a beautiful, evolving friendship.

To me, “faith equals daily life” means to apply Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings to all aspects of our lives. This means to keep my promises, appreciate my parents and give my all at work. Now, before I use money, I ask myself, How will this purchase create value?

I deeply appreciate the conspicuous benefits from my practice, but I appreciate even more the feeling of self-worth. This “treasure of the heart” has enabled me to deeply perceive the worth of others as well. Now more than ever, I understand that all of our contributions are like diamonds. Every contributed dollar, every pat on the back, every bit of guidance shared, every effort to better ourselves, every visit with another person is a precious treasure that has no need to be upgraded and can never be taken away.

Buddhahood is as indestructible as a diamond. Likewise, the ‘treasures of the heart’ we accumulate by carrying out the Buddha’s work of kosen-rufu are also as indestructible as diamonds.

Ikeda Sensei, May 6, 2011, World Tribune, p. 4

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