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Cherishing Humanity

By practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI, I have gained a deeper sense of my mission as a “lawyer for life.”

Unity—Roger Algase and his wife, Satoko, New York, May 2022. Photo by Anjelica Jardiel.

by Roger Algase
New York 

I first started studying Buddhism 50 years ago when I returned to New York from a business trip to Japan for a company I was working for as a lawyer, and I became interested in learning about Japanese culture. I was going through a mid-life crisis and, despite having graduated from Harvard Law School and having the great fortune to have played a small role in providing legal services to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (without ever meeting him), I lacked confidence and was looking for a source of spiritual support. As I read more about Buddhism, the name “Nichiren” kept popping up as someone who tried to change society rather than escape from it, and I even read a book by Ikeda Sensei without knowing who he was.

In 1978, six years after I first became interested in Buddhism, I started my own practice as an immigration lawyer, because I wanted to do something for human beings, not just corporate profits. But clients were few, money was tight, and my marriage was on the rocks. Finally, in 1983, still looking for a source of inner strength, I was prompted to search the yellow pages for the name “Nichiren.” The number I dialed belonged to an SGI-USA center. Instead of receiving a priestly rebuff, as I had partly expected, I was greeted by the enthusiastic hollering of a young man: “Quick! Get over here! We’ve got a meeting in 30 minutes!” 

Hearing the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the first time, I thought, This is for me. I sensed the deep commitment of everyone in the room. I followed my feelings and, after attending my first district meeting, joined the SGI only a week or two later. I began to develop a sense of genuine confidence. I also met many members who were immigrants. Their stories deepened my appreciation for law as something involving the lives and dignity of human beings. I took on SGI leadership and received invaluable training in caring for others. As I grew as a person, I received many wonderful benefits.

Though my first marriage ended soon after I joined the SGI, a few years later, I met Satoko, who has been my wife, paralegal, office manager and Japanese translator for many fulfilling years. We grew the law practice together, and have also been practicing Buddhism side by side as SGI members ever since our marriage in 1994. Together, we have built a foundation for our lives from which we could more freely support the lives of others. We are striving to build a model marriage based on the relationship of Sensei and Kaneko Ikeda.

Their stories deepened my appreciation for law as something involving the lives and dignity of human beings.

My older daughter, Sara, also joined the SGI three years after I did. In her three decades of Buddhist practice, she has received numerous benefits, including a devoted husband, two highly talented sons, a big Florida house, a challenging school job and 14 cats! Through guidance I received from one of my SGI leaders soon after Sara joined, I developed greater parental respect for her as an independent person than before. My younger daughter, Julie, is not an SGI member, and has followed different spiritual paths, which I also respect. She also cares deeply about helping people in need and changing society for the better.                                                                  

In recent years, I have also had the chance to encourage many sincere members and guests as a district member care advisor. I have also read many of Sensei’s writings focusing on the role of the SGI in promoting justice and human rights in a world where they are now severely threatened, not least by the war in Ukraine and by events in many other places where freedom and human dignity are now under threat. The danger of nuclear weapons is also never far away, and I am gaining great inspiration, courage and hope from reading and studying Sensei’s annual peace proposals and learning more about his many other activities for world peace and human rights.

I am also focused more than ever on instilling humanism into the work that I do and our country’s system of immigration laws, while successfully obtaining work visas, green cards and U.S. citizenship for my clients from many parts of the world. As a “lawyer for life” who is growing younger every passing year and has no intention of retiring, I am determined, as Sensei’s disciple, uniting with my fellow SGI members, to do more than ever to promote the ideals of Buddhist humanism for as long as I live.

What advice would you give the youth?

Roger Algase: I’d advise them to teach us old-timers more about Buddhism! Really, the youth have a lot to teach us. Other than that, I’ll just say this: No matter what, keep practicing, keep advancing. The person who does this, dissuaded and discouraged by no one, will become even happier than they could have dreamed possible. 

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