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How I Became a Buddhist

Photo by Geneva Lewis.

Introducing another person to Nichiren Buddhism is the highest form of humanity because it enables them to awaken their highest innate potential and change their destiny. We all have vastly different experiences of being introduced to Buddhism. The World Tribune spoke with SGI-USA members who have quite memorable stories about how they began their Buddhist practice. 

From Heartbreak to Happiness

by Eddie Chacon
Pittsburgh, Penn.

I was madly in love with a young woman whose parents were very strong Buddhist practitioners. I was a wreck when we broke up. One day, I drunk-dialed her parents at 2 a.m. Not her, but her parents! I went on and on about how I couldn’t live without her. Her father said, “OK, I’ll come see you.”

The next morning her parents, out of their great compassion, drove two hours to get me and then brought me to a kosen-rufu gongyo meeting. They introduced me to a few powerful pioneer members.

Later we went to lunch. Her father asked if I had gotten the phone numbers of the people he’d introduced me to. I did. “Good,” he said. “You are in good hands. You don’t have to call me anymore.”

In the beginning, I came to meetings drunk, even vomited in the bathroom once during silent prayers due to a hangover. When you don’t value your life, it’s easy to subject yourself to stupid stuff. But the women who raised me believed in my potential, and believed in me, and that’s why I kept coming back. I received the Gohonzon in March 1994. I was 19.

I once angrily told one of the pioneer women: “I’m a piece of crap. Why do you care about me?” I will never forget her words. To this day, I can still remember her 1970s Buick, the one we were sitting in with no AC in the middle of July. “You are great,” she told me. “You just don’t know it yet.” 

Thirty years later, I’m a successful criminal defense attorney married to the most amazing woman, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and we just had our first child, Hikaru Rose. 

I feel that I won because these pioneers taught me to take everything to the Gohonzon. They didn’t just tell me; they showed me.

The ‘700-Year-Old Buddha’

by Anna B. Shannon-Adams
Katy, Texas 

One night, I went to play bingo with my friends when I bumped into a lady. She said, “Excuse me, you meeting Buddha downtown… 700 years.”

“What are you saying, ma’am?” I was trying to pick my bingo cards, and everyone was waiting on me to get started. Then she said it again. “Meet the Buddha downtown… 700 years.” (I was born in Indonesia, and my English was not so good. Hers was not so good either.) I said, “OK,” and sat down with my friends.

One friend asked me what we were talking about. “I don’t know,” I said. “That lady was telling me about a Buddha downtown that’s 700 years old.” My friend then said, “He’s lived for 700 years, he should be rich! He must have a lot of money!” I guess I should have asked her if he was rich, but I was too busy picking my bingo cards. 

Three months later, I met her again. I was sweeping my yard when she walked over to my house. Again, she told me about the 700-year-old Buddha downtown. “He’s still there?” I asked. “Nobody can live that long!”

“Yes, you coming?” she asked. She was insistent. Her face was so honest and sincere. I said, “OK. I’ll go with you to meet the Buddha.” She came to pick me up the next day at 6:30 p.m.  

We arrived at the meeting. I peeked into the bedroom to see if I could see this Buddha. Nope. He wasn’t in the dining room either. I was so anxious looking for him. 

Where is he? Maybe he is in the bathroom, I thought. I waited. Fifteen minutes passed. I tapped the person next to me. “I’m a little bit concerned here. If the Buddha is 700 years old, and he is in the bathroom, shouldn’t somebody check on him? He could be on the floor!”

She was so confused, then she laughed and pointed to the altar. She explained there was a misunderstanding. “If you want to meet the Buddha, you can find him in there,” she said. Now, I was really confused. How could he fit into that little box?  I wondered.

The meeting started at 7 p.m. They did gongyo. I was getting scared. I moved closer to the door. Then they started hitting the bell. Oh my goodness, I thought. What have I gotten myself into?  Then, they explained about the Gohonzon. And I began to relax. Everyone was so nice and friendly. After the meeting was over, they brought out food. This is a nice Buddha party, I thought. I wanted to come back again. 

That’s how I began practicing Buddhism in 1969. I was really going through a lot at the time. I received the Gohonzon in 1970, and I have practiced ever since. 

I’m 85 years old now, and I am so happy. I shakubuku everybody! There are so many people who need the Gohonzon. They call me the flying Buddha because I jet around everywhere on my scooter, planting seeds and sharing Buddhism. Now, I say, “Thank you” to the 700-year-old Buddha!

An Unforgettable ‘Memory’

by Chris Dimopoulos
Los Angeles

It was 1985. I was taking an acting class in Chicago with a number of people touring with the musical Cats, while they were performing at the former Sam Shubert Theatre.

Seven or eight of them had been introduced to Buddhism by a musician in the pit orchestra. As I was leaving acting class one day, one of them asked if I had a minute. “Have you ever heard of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?” she said. I hadn’t. I was sort of interested. She followed with, “Do you want to come to a meeting?”

On Wednesdays, the performers had a matinee and then a later show. In between, they would hold intro meetings backstage at the theater. They chanted, explained the basics of Buddhism and shared faith experiences—all normal stuff—except they were seven cats, dressed in their full stage costumes.

My first time there, I didn’t recognize some of the people from my acting class behind all the makeup. But I kept returning. At the third or fourth meeting, they asked if I would like to receive the Gohonzon. Why not?  I thought. I was really drawn to their life conditions, and I wanted to give the practice a try. I received the Gohonzon on Sept. 1, 1985, at the SGI-USA center in Chicago. It took me several months to develop a daily practice, but nearly 40 years later, I’m still practicing. 

August 18, 2023, World Tribune, pp. 6–7

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