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Everything to Gain

Saving day by day for May Contribution, my husband and I embark on the business venture of our lives.

Fortune—Youngsihn and her husband, Yeon Soo, in Chicago, April 2022. Photo by Bob Nardi.

by Youngsihn Jong

We bought Harry’s, a sandwich shop, in 1988, in our sixth year in America, from a surprisingly unwilling Greek couple. 

“Maybe don’t buy it!” the husband said. “Maybe in six months you’ll have lost everything!”

The warnings were made in sympathy; they were immigrants, like us. Hearing our broken English, seeing our two little kids, they worried we didn’t stand a chance at keeping a business afloat in the heart of downtown Chicago. I let them know that everything would be all right—they were talking to Buddhists.

We had moved to Chicago in 1982, my husband, Yeon, for work, and me, to do kosen-rufu in America. I found my first job listed in one of the city’s Korean-language newspapers, sewing clothes in a factory. That first year was hard, especially on my husband, who had not yet taken up Buddhist practice. Like me, he had been to college, yet here he was washing dishes in any restaurant that would take him. Of course, he was despairing and frustrated.

“Just try chanting,” I urged him. “What could you lose?”

At his wit’s end, he came to a meeting, which turned out to be a chanting session of more than an hour. I was nervous. Knowing him, I thought he’d get restless and leave midway. But he didn’t; he stuck around. Afterward, I looked at him, and was taken aback.

“Already?” he asked. His face was restful and glowing, like the moon. 

Soon after, he got an interview with the chef at a big downtown hotel. A Korean immigrant, the chef happened to have been close with one of my husband’s former employers back home in Korea. Yeon got the job and, ever since, has joined me for morning and evening gongyo.

Out of appreciation for the changes he felt and saw in his life, he started his own Sustaining Contribution to the SGI-USA, something I had always done but that he had never understood. For the next five years, we showed actual proof at work, he at the hotel, me as the owner of a small but efficient, in-demand cleaning company.

One day, I told him, “Let’s work together!” We wanted to do SGI activities freely and raise our children without financial restrictions.

When we purchased Harry’s, on the ground floor of a beautiful, 16-story building of red brick, I received strict guidance from a senior in faith: “Whether or not people come in the door will depend on the sincerity of your prayer.”

Each day, I woke up early to chant abundant daimoku for courage and joy, before dropping my son and daughter off at school and heading to the shop. There, my husband would be preparing to open. Things were mostly quiet until noon, when everyone in the building—lawyers and their accountants—took lunch. Then it was a whirlwind rush until around 2:30 p.m. I’d leave at 3 p.m. to pick the kids up from school and then, when everyone was home, would head out to SGI activities. At the day’s end, with deep appreciation, my husband and I would set aside money toward the May Commemorative Contribution activity. Despite the ups and downs that come with running a small business, we never touched that money.

This might sound odd. We had borrowed all sorts of money to purchase Harry’s—from relatives and the bank. We were in debt. But we had faith that this cause, this contribution to advance kosen-rufu in America, was profound. From sincere prayer and sincere action, all else would follow. And it did—the business was a hit.

Maybe it was because our customers spoke highly of us, or maybe it was that our credit score had soared; still, it came as a total surprise when, in 1998, at the time of our shop’s lease renewal, our landlord proposed a significantly reduced rate. So significant, that at first I didn’t understand. He kept drawing a line in the air, slashing down with a finger. 

“What?” I exclaimed. “Down?” He nodded vigorously. A small annual price hike was built into the lease to keep pace with inflation, but every time our lease renewed, he slashed it again. When we sold the business in 2018 to retire as new grandparents, our monthly rent was nearly the same as when we’d opened shop. 

We’re excited as always for this year’s May Contribution activity. Though retired, we’re not putting our feet up, not done fighting for kosen-rufu. Each day, I ask myself, how can I contribute to our movement for peace? What can I do for the SGI youth? I wake up with deep appreciation for the happy, strong family and many friends we have made, brimming with conviction that today I have work to do, and everything to gain.

The real benefit of the Mystic Law is inconspicuous. Just as trees grow taller and stronger year after year, adding growth rings that are imperceptible to the human eye, we, too, will grow toward a victorious existence. For this reason, it is important that we lead tenacious and balanced lives based on faith.

Ikeda Sensei (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 428)

Let Us Continue on Our Journey to Guide Humanity to Peace and Happiness