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A Firm Foundation

In the Soka Group, I lay the foundation for a winning life.

Mission—Franklin Shih in Ontario, Calif., May 2024. Photo by Yvonne Ng.

by Franklin Shih
Ontario, Calif.

The work was joyless.

Why am I here?  I wondered. The question was larger than work—I could have asked the same about my life here in the states and even, here on earth.

Fresh out of college, I’d entered the workforce in 2020 as a business analyst, a job that I gave maybe 70% of my total effort. For the life of me, I couldn’t bring myself to give more—I simply couldn’t muster the motivation.

At home, I felt as I did at work: like an imposter. I was in a relationship but could not answer the question Why are we together? She had in mind a clear vision for her life. I didn’t even know who I was.

Panicked, I ended things, which only deepened my sense of inadequacy.

It was during this time that the SGI young men’s leader in my area reached out: “You should come out!”

I did and quickly recalled what had drawn my mother to Buddhism in 2011, the year we moved to the U.S. from China. It was my second move, my second culture shock, having moved to China from Taiwan at the age of 7. Upon arriving to the states, I entered middle school, where I was bullied for my limited English and extreme shyness. It fell on me to decipher the utility bills. Once, I forgot and the electricity cut out. To me, the U.S. felt like an unforgiving place, until my mother’s friend introduced her to the SGI community, which welcomed us with tremendous warmth.

At the end of 2022, my young men’s leader asked me to join the Soka Group—a behind-the-scenes group to foster young leaders. I was hesitant, wondering why I’d sacrifice a piece of precious weekend self-care. But I was miserable. I’d quit my job, unable to stand another day of purposeless work. I’d started dating again but felt the relationship was built on sand. Like everything in my life, it was. I had no firm inner foundation.

I began supporting our center every Sunday. I began to grasp the spirit of the Soka Group, which is, in a nutshell, that I am the one who must initiate the change I wish to see in my life.

Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo ahead of every shift, I realized I was certainly not the only one on earth who was suffering. Actually, it was almost certain that someone coming to the center would be struggling, too. Standing at the door to greet those who came, I found myself free of the question Why am I here? Giving my utmost to each arrival, I welcomed them, beaming, determined to lighten every heart.

Catching a ride home with my young men’s leader one day, he asked me, “Why do this?”

I had a simple answer: I felt happy doing Soka Group and sad when I wasn’t. He pressed a little further. Sensei had founded the Soka Group to serve as the training ground for society’s future leaders. The training received on shift was meant to serve as a foundation for whatever life I chose to build upon it. What he was asking was, Who do you want to become?

I knew the answer wouldn’t come sitting at home. Taking responsibility for my community, I met and encouraged the young men in it. Doing so, I learned of the challenges they faced and their common tendency to withdraw from them. Like me, many had withdrawn during the pandemic, and I was often met with silence. Easily disheartened, I, too, considered withdrawing, giving up on certain guys. It was a reflection of my own willingness to give up on myself and a tendency that continued to show up in my work. 

When, this past February, I was laid off for the second time in half a year, I realized something fundamental had to change.

Leading up to the March Youth Peace Festivals, I ingrained in my heart this guidance from Sensei:

The road we walk is not level. We must climb a great mountain, a task that invariably requires painful effort. In the world of Buddhism, … all the causes that you make will be engraved in the depths of your life; they are passages in the golden diary of your eternal existence. … 

Victory is not easily won. If it is, it will not be a source of pride. … Only when one fights and wins over dire circumstances will one’s victory shine brilliantly in history. (My Dear Friends in America, fourth edition, pp. 13–14)

Taking action became my focus more than ever. I studied this passage and others with the young men, meeting with them whenever I could, determined to muster conviction and joy, to uplift them regardless of their circumstances. I put aside self-pity and tackled my karma head-on—how else could I inspire others to do the same? Once I’d made this determination, the young men began to respond, setting their sights on clear goals and putting faith to the test. 

In March, I applied for an IT position with the City of Ontario and was granted several interviews. I prepared for each with a prayer to show actual proof. In April, I was given the job and brought to it a sense of mission. The values celebrated in the Soka Group—collaboration, innovation, communication, etc.—are celebrated at my work, a place where I lend my utmost to others, while being supported in turn.

My relationships with my parents, siblings, friends and partner are solid—resting on firm faith forged behind the scenes, a faith that sees all obstacles as stepping stones to victory.

June 7, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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