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‘Be the Protagonist’

SGI-USA youth on what it means to be the protagonist in their lives.

Photo by Nicole Walter.

In March, the youth will hold meetings across the country, themed “Be the Protagonist,” in honor of the 65th anniversary of March 16, Kosen-rufu Day.

Beyond being commemorative meetings, these milestone events are opportunities for youth to ask themselves, What does this historic day mean to us? said SGI-USA Vice Young Men’s Leader Martin Saito.

“‘How does March 16 relate to youth today?” he said. “How we internalize March 16 in our daily lives will reflect our own vow for kosen-rufu in 2023.”

Thirty years ago, in March 1993, in Miami, Ikeda Sensei addressed SGI-USA members, saying we are each the scriptwriter and protagonist of our own triumphant drama. He continued:

Buddhism teaches us that we each write and perform the script of our own lives. No one else writes that script for us. We write it, and we are the star who performs it. (The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 1, revised edition, p. 165)

On March 16, 1958, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda passed the baton of kosen-rufu to the youth. At that time, Mr. Toda’s youthful disciples, led by a young Daisaku Ikeda, stood up based on an awareness of their unique mission for kosen-rufu. The gatherings this March celebrate young people awakening to their own profound mission.

SGI-USA Young Women’s Leader Amelia Gonzalez said that while kosen-rufu is a grand vision, what’s important is building its foundation in our daily lives. “What aspect of our lives feels impossible to change?” she asked. “Let’s do our best to challenge that, what’s in front of us. Anyone can do that. That’s becoming the protagonists.”

The World Tribune asked six SGI-USA youth members what it means to be a protagonist in their lives. Here are their answers. 

—Prepared by the World Tribune staff

Becoming a True Leader for Others

by Pavle Kujundzic
Los Angeles

A protagonist is a leader. Not a macho “I have to have the right answer and tell people what to do” type of leader but someone who voices gratitude, uplifts others and makes people feel at ease. For me, this newfound understanding of leadership from Ikeda Sensei has reshaped what it means to be a protagonist in my life. 

Every morning I decide to be helpful wherever I am. I carry myself differently in completing even the simplest of tasks. Something as banal as taking out the trash has become incredibly meaningful because I understand that I can make a positive impact on another’s life. This change is reflected in my career and relationships. 

We live in difficult times. It’s very easy to feel like a pawn in someone else’s game, and it is almost a status quo to be selfish and only look out for yourself. Living as a true protagonist means making each choice in your daily life an act of love, an act based on remembering who you really are—a Buddha. 

Writing My Own Story

by Kyle Maharlika-Roper
Davie, Fla. 

At times, I suffer from intense anxiety and fear. In my lows, I’m plunged into depression that feels impossible to get out of. But if I can make it 10 feet to the Gohonzon and chant, I always break through. 

A year ago, I left a successful nonprofit job to pursue a dream in art that I had abandoned after being told I wouldn’t make it. I had to break through a lot of cowardice, and my Buddhist practice helped me boldly walk forward in the dark. Now I’m working at a company that I love, and I’m closer to achieving my dream of becoming an artist.

Sensei uses a metaphor to say that we are like actors in a play and our life is a dramatic story. Before Buddhism, I would see bad situations as the end of the world, as a moment in time disconnected from the rest of my life. Seeing myself as a protagonist, I know that all my obstacles are just one point in the story of my life, and each obstacle plays a part in encouraging others and becoming my best self; and in the end, I’ll look back at the beautiful story I wrote. 

Believing In Myself Again

by Jesse Thompson
Columbus, Ind.

Being a protagonist means not taking a back seat in my life. It means facing my obstacles head-on and not running away from them. 

In 2019, I was doing poorly in my pre-med program. I drank almost every night, using illegal substances and partying to escape my feelings of inadequacy. I felt hopeless. 

Attending school remotely during the pandemic, I had no more access to drugs, and instead of drinking, I started chanting and doing SGI activities. Gradually, I felt in control of my life again. 

After scoring low on my MCATs, I gave myself two hours to feel defeated, then I decided I would put 100% faith in the Gohonzon and work harder toward a much higher score. I surpassed my goal and got a great job where I’m getting hands-on training from doctors.

I’m planning on finishing an online master’s of public health by next summer, and I will be sending out applications this fall to get into medical school by next year! Now, I have appreciation for my struggles. Through my Buddhist practice, I believe in myself again.

Choosing to Win

Faviola Ramirez
Minneapolis, Minn.

No matter what adversity I go through, I can choose to win. Being a protagonist means that I choose victory.

Last year, after graduating with my master’s, I didn’t have a place to live. I had no savings account and no job lined up. I was scared. Then, I read an article from Living Buddhism that said one of the steps to defeating fear was determining to win. Every day, no matter where I was couchsurfing, I woke up to chant an hour and study for the SGI-USA Introductory Exam. I began to feel grateful for all the people supporting me.

Soon, based on my efforts to apply to many jobs, I was confident I would get a great one. I passed the intro exam, and two weeks later, I got a job offer that was everything I chanted for. But the real benefit was, through this experience, I realized my self-worth. Recently, after two friends had hit rock bottom, I could encourage them—confidently—because I had just experienced something similar. I’m winning over my challenges and helping others along the way. For me, that’s what it means to be a protagonist. 

Something Unique to Me

by Pragya Pragati
New York

Being a protagonist to me means deciding that I am never going to give up, that I will base myself on the Mystic Law rather than just how I feel. 

I am a Ph.D. student right now, and I also recently got an opportunity to do sound design for a podcast trailer.

My dreams keep getting bigger and bigger. By being open to what is in my heart, I discover more talents and passions. I am challenging myself not to give up on what truly matters to me, on what I am passionate about, as I continue to learn more about myself. 

I am so determined to keep going with the conviction that I am definitely on the right path by chasing my passions. I want to continue doing work in sound design. I want to use sound design in my academic work as well, to express myself through my art in a way that is completely different and unique to me. 

No one else knows what is in my heart, so I have to own it myself. I hope my life will encompass something so much bigger as I dedicate my art and life to kosen-rufu. 

Revealing Who I Truly Am

by Yoko Ihaza
Los Angeles

I always struggled financially throughout my life. It’s family karma. 

Last year, I lost my granny, and my mom was facing displacement from her home. There was a time when I actually paid her bills. I saw myself as a victim, thinking, “Why do I have to do this?”

After chanting and studying Ikeda Sensei’s writings, I gained the wisdom and courage to ask my boss for a raise and a bonus. I also started learning how to day trade. The moment I decided that I was going to win, everything already changed. 

Being a protagonist is using every area of my life to win. I realized that my challenge wasn’t to save my mom. It was to reveal who I really am: someone who can overcome anything. 

Never feel like your environment or circumstances determine anything. It’s up to us and how we perceive it. If we see our lives from the mind and spirit of faith, then we will be the protagonist in our lives. 

March 10, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 6–7

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