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Honest Courage

To lead with integrity, I summon the courage to seek my mentor’s heart.

Seeking spirit—Kyle Maharlika in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., May 2023. Photo by Mary D’Elia.

by Kyle Maharlika
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Oddly enough, my first major burnout came on the heels of victory. At work, I’d spearheaded a near-total revamp of our software, which, as a tech company, was our primary product. At 24, I was the company’s chief technology officer and, following the successful revamp, I was praised as some kind of “hero.”

I’d oriented every aspect of my life toward the success of the revamp. Whatever needed doing, I did it. Exercise, meals, sleep and a meditation practice were all built into my schedule to maximize efficiency and sustain me at work. 

After the revamp, after things calmed down, after the software was running smoothly, it wasn’t clear to me what I’d gained, other than high praise. In the calm after the flurry, I wondered: What was that all for? Isn’t there more to life? My meditation practice had carried me through many stressful moments, but when I arrived at a crossroads, unsure of life’s purpose, it yielded no answers.

Throughout life, I’ve struggled to have courage. As a child, a mere “hello” from someone I didn’t know could prompt immediate tears. Eventually, I made friends but from a place of insecurity. I used self-deprecating humor to make others laugh. If I disagreed with something being done, I hid those feelings out of fear of losing friendship. If friends were discussing a show, book or game I’d never heard of, I pretended I had, afraid of being left out. At 24, I’d accomplished a lot, professionally speaking, but all of it, I was coming to realize, I’d accomplished out of a sense of fear. 

The year of my great success, I went on a quest to explore my spirituality, searching for what I called “my best self”—without much luck. Until a woman I’d befriended a week prior responded to my social media post about a musician I liked.

“Do you practice Buddhism?” she wrote. I told her that I practiced meditation, to which she responded that she chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I skimmed the article again and realized it was the same Nichiren Buddhist practice the musician said fueled his creativity. 

As it happens, she was a district women’s leader. She invited me to an SGI meeting, and I went. Chanting for the first time, I felt uplifted, courageous and energized, like, Whoa, this is different than what I’ve been doing. 

I began to chant on my own and study the writings of Ikeda Sensei. It was while reading The New Human Revolution that I came across examples of both gentle and strict guidance given by Shin’ichi Yamamoto, who represents Sensei in the novel. To be honest, the strict guidance upset me—sometimes I felt it was unfair, uncalled for. It was not until I accepted young men’s leadership that I began to see the wisdom in his encouragement.

Befriending and expressing concern for other young men in the SGI came easily to me. It was when someone said or did something that was not in alignment with the values of Nichiren Buddhism that I felt myself shutting down, caught in an intense internal struggle. Should I say something? I’d wonder. Then: Who am I to tell them how to act? I sensed I was sidestepping something I had to confront, and that doing so was not only holding me back but the other young men as well.

The prospect of engaging in constructive dialogues pushed me to confront my cowardice. There were some young men who seemed to always be late or no-shows for the activities they’d committed to attend. Moreover, for those with this pattern, it was clearly reflecting in other areas of their lives and causing them to suffer. I knew I had to be forthright but didn’t have the courage to do so. 

Seeking guidance from seniors in faith, I received the recurring message that my intention, my heart, is most important. Earnestly chanting to help someone grow and conquer their fundamental ignorance, they said, would definitely give rise to the wisdom to communicate what needed to be said. If I didn’t base my actions on sincere daimoku for the other person’s happiness, however, I’d be merely venting, causing more suffering.

I chanted hours about this, trying to figure out if the words I wanted to say were coming from a place of anger or arrogance. Seeking Sensei’s heart, however, I chanted to have the courage to call forth the Buddha nature from my life and others’. Between my daimoku, study and seeking from seniors in faith, I eventually gained the confidence to express concern in a way that was forthright and compassionate. I resolved to lead by example, taking full responsibility for our activities behind the scenes in Soka Group and Gajokai to ensure the success of every meeting while frequently checking up on my guys and expressing care. What a difference this made! The chronically late began showing up on time, and we all began to grow immensely together. 

Seeking Sensei’s heart … I chanted to have the courage to call forth the Buddha nature from my life and others’. … I eventually gained the confidence to express concern in a way that was forthright and compassionate. 

In 2022, I took on young men’s leadership for Florida Everglades Region, a responsibility that continues to challenge me to summon courage. Our SGI center here has been the most consistently staffed by Soka Group and Gajokai in our zone. The young men who regularly do shifts have been manifesting many personal benefits: scholarships, more clients, promotions—and the list goes on. Compassionate and self-motivated, they shine with the spirit to take on full responsibility to protect and support others.

In my work life, I’ve also learned to compassionately challenge my employers and supervisors, providing direct and honest feedback instead of being a “yes man.” For me, work has become a place where I strive to create a space where everyone feels they matter and belong, where they can grow into their best selves. This has led to promotions and collaborations that would have been beyond the reach of my former self. Above all, I see these as opportunities to act as a “signpost” of sorts, an example pointing the way to my mentor’s heart.

“The Buddha is watching over all our efforts. The courageous actions engraved in our lives will become the power to open a brilliant future.”

Ikeda Sensei, The New Human Revolution, vol. 24, p. 122

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