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Awakening to the Value of My Life

Support—Michael Petkov (left) with his comrades in faith, 1987. Photo courtesy of Michael Petkov.

The World Tribune interviewed men’s division member Michael Petkov, of Saugerties, New York, about his experiences as a youth supporting behind the scenes as a member of the Soka Group. The Soka Group supports Soka Gakkai event planning and operations based on the spirit to protect the members.  

World Tribune: Thank you, Michael, for sharing your experience with us! What inspired you to join the Soka Group? 

Michael Petkov: For the first year after joining the SGI and starting my Buddhist practice in 1982, I avoided doing youth division activities. I thought they weren’t a “cool” thing to do, but ultimately, I was holding back out of fear of getting too involved. It was when I saw another young man give his experience that I thought, I need that life condition. A men’s division member who knew I was struggling said to me: “You have to do YMD activities. They will become your golden treasures.” I didn’t necessarily believe him, but I did trust him, so I joined the Soka Group. 

On my very first shift, I got into an argument with the person who was in charge that day. Afterward, a senior in faith came over to me and said, “While you are having a problem with this person, members are being discouraged by what is happening.” It made me realize for the first time the impact of my actions on my environment. Soka Group is about protecting and encouraging the members. For the first time, I started thinking about something other than my own personal wants and needs. 

WT: What was your motivation to keep you going?

Petkov: My own struggles. I had no confidence. I was really unhappy in that period of my life. I was struggling to grow up and felt like I had no value. But as I challenged to achieve my goals in the Soka Group, I was also encouraging and supporting other people. It forced me to push against my perceived limitations and raise my life condition to meet the challenge. Training in the Soka Group gave me an opportunity to expand my limits.

As I fought for my own happiness, Soka Group shifts and my Buddhist practice helped me develop this deep feeling about kosen-rufu, a sense of mission to help other people become happy, and expanded my ability to support that cause. I discovered that I had value in terms of helping other people. Doing Soka Group awakened me to the value of my own life and other people’s lives.

The connections I made with fellow Soka Group members were also really important. I developed brothers in faith, and those bonds are forever.

WT: What was one experience that helped to make that transformation?

Petkov: There was one shift, a big convention where 10,000 people were coming to New York. I was placed in this parking lot where buses might come, but, actually, it was basically a construction site. I was there for eight hours by myself, and no one, I mean no one, came by. 

I remember determining that I was going to be ready if someone did come, that I was going to be encouraging and I wasn’t going to let negativity overcome my life. And I did that. 

Looking back, it seems like a kind of ridiculous thing that I went through, but it was such incredible training. I had to maintain a positive outlook and a strong determination to do my best, to keep challenging myself and protect the members no matter what was happening around me. My life really needed that.

I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but now I see that that is Ikeda Sensei’s spirit. On every shift, I was learning about Sensei’s spirit. It’s become a foundation for everything I’ve done in my life. That training—developing an attention to detail, the ability to give 100%, to focus on encouraging others and expand my limits—has enabled me to develop a successful career, a wonderful marriage and a beautiful family. My kids say if there is ever a crisis, they want me to be there, because I can maintain composure and see a bigger picture. Every benefit I have is due to my Buddhist practice and the training I received in the Soka Group.

WT: How are you using your Soka Group training now?

Petkov: Recently I moved from New Jersey to upstate New York and became a district leader for the first time in a very long time. I always try to be the person who takes responsibility for encouraging everyone, to be that force in every environment. I don’t always accomplish it, but I always try to remember that spirit, to continue to be strong and encouraging in any situation. Sensei’s spirit is that one person can transform everything. 

WT: What advice would you give to young men in the Soka Group?

Petkov: Definitely do it, throw yourself into it. Do it 100%. You will be able to establish a foundation through those experiences. I can tell you now from experience: The men’s division member who encouraged me to do YMD activities was right. It really did become my treasure. 

Courageous Warriors Who Spread the Mystic Law

The following excerpt is from Ikeda Sensei’s message to the SGI-USA Soka Group Academy in February 2012. It can be found in SGI-USA Young Men’s Division Academy Study Guide, pp. xv–xvi.

Nichiren Daishonin implores his disciple who was battling against strong enemies: “From now on too, no matter what may happen, you must not slacken in the least. You must raise your voice all the more and admonish [those who slander]” (“The Fashioning of a Buddha Image,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 597).

You must not retreat even a single step as you fight on the stage of your mission. You must bring forth the essential spirit of Nichiren’s disciples, which is to never be defeated. This is the exact spirit of the Soka Group!

I further ask you to resolutely win at work, in your communities and in the battles of kosen-rufu with the shakubuku spirit and display the unmatched life condition of my disciples for all to witness!

Let us never forget that the protection of Buddhist gods will absolutely emerge for the courageous warriors who decisively fight to spread the Mystic Law.

You are my most precious, cherished disciples. You are the utmost treasures of all my treasures. I want you to spend every single day with no accidents and in excellent health. I am earnestly sending daimoku to you every day. I am wholeheartedly praying and waiting for each and every one of your victories.

November 18, 2023, World Tribune, p. 10

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