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A Million and One

Enduring gain and loss, I understand that victory is decided by my determination.

Unbeatable—Frank Gardner at a band rehearsal in Palm Springs, Calif., February 2024. Photo by Ashley Loth.

by Frank Gardner
Palm Springs, Calif.

Stepping outside my apartment after doing gongyo for the first time, I noticed, before all else, a change in the city. People were smiling—smiling—on the streets of 1976 New York. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps people were returning a smile—my smile. And this might tell you something about the kind of young man I was—the kind to start a fistfight within a block of any door I stepped out of. 

My father was both a successful businessman and an angry drunk. He owned a home and hotel on the coast of south Jersey, both of which he lost in the Great March Storm of 1962 (among the most destructive storms to affect the mid-Atlantic states). More than his livelihood, he was robbed of his will to live. “Sepsis,” a condition promoted by alcohol, was the given cause of death, but it seems to me the more appropriate designation is “suicide.” He was 47 in 1963, nearly the same age as John F. Kennedy. Both were dead within the year. The lesson, engraved in my 6-year-old heart, was that life was hopeless. 

Needless to say, my first SGI meeting was a shock to my system. 

“Chant for what you want,” I was told. Plain advice, it impressed me, nonetheless; my dreams were usually discouraged. My dream of becoming a drummer, for instance, was considered by friends and family to be a shortcut to starvation. 

As I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, life seemed to open up and to respond to my determination. Be it getting a date, pursuing music school or finding venues to drum, opportunities presented themselves, and I took them. I began to realize that the deciding factor in victory is not past or present circumstance but one’s determination in the here and now.

My drumming dreams were put on hold by a broken hand. When a friend offered me a marketing job at a casino, I took it. That work took me all over the world and gave me the financial stability that I hadn’t had since childhood.

A cycle of gain and loss has been my lot, with gain bringing joy and loss bringing fear. When, at the turn of the millennium, I was forced to sell my newly purchased home (my employer folded overnight), I was shaken. Then in my 40s, I couldn’t help but dwell on the fate of my father.

A senior leader congratulated me. “You’re not practicing ‘consumer Buddhism’ any longer. Some practice only for conspicuous benefits, but you’ve entered the path to the inconspicuous benefits of human revolution and personal growth.”

Certainly, I had. I put my head down, chanted daimoku and moved forward, overcoming that challenge while strengthening my resolve. It was around this time when I took on leadership in Las Vegas and began meeting with and encouraging the men living across Las Vegas Chapter. I wasn’t there to badger them. I went as a friend. 

But as many men’s division members reemerged, I found myself struggling. With the collapse of the global economy in 2008, marketing jobs dried up. I did a slew of physical labor jobs to stay afloat: landscaping, burger-flipping, etc. This went on and on. Twice I came up for air in 2015, landing two promising marketing jobs that fell through back to back. By 2015, I’d put my condo on the market. No offers came in, however, and I had a month to sell before it would be seized by the bank. Emotionally and physically drained, without any sure plan for the future, I felt again the fear of failure. 

Fortunately, at the start of 2016, I had the opportunity to seek from a senior in faith. We sat out front of the Las Vegas Buddhist Center as I vented.

“Here I am, a leader, in my 50s, working these back-breaking jobs after years of practice—a loser!”

“You’re not a loser,” he said, firmly. “You’re going to win. You’ve overcome a million things. Well, here’s a million and one. But you’ve got to dig deep. You’ve got to decide that you’re going to win.”

It took some time, but over the next few days, I began to chant with growing conviction. It was true: as of right then, I was in a slump. But it was just as true that I’d overcome every obstacle up until then with faith. I began speaking with the members with greater confidence, no longer feeling the brave face I put on to be such a stretch.

As I did so, incredible things began to happen. In early spring, I received a check for several thousand dollars from a deceased uncle whose will had been in probate for years. It was exactly the breather I needed: a benefit pulled straight from the universe. 

By fall, however, I still hadn’t found a buyer for the condo. Even as the deadline drew near, I didn’t succumb to fear. My real estate agent had advised that I shouldn’t be on site when prospective buyers were touring the house. But with two weeks to go, I bucked orthodoxy and began greeting those who came by. 

“I won’t lie,” I told one woman, in the home’s last week on the market, “there are some problems with this place. I’ll show them to you. I also know a great handyman who can help, who’ll do everything at this price.” I waited.

“Is there a dog park nearby?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“I’ll be in touch.” I’d heard that before, but within the week, she put in an offer at the full asking price. That summer, I got a great job offer and took it.

All these were wonderful conspicuous benefits, but the deeper benefit, I realized, was attaining a state of life in which I could confront my situation with determined prayer, confident that I would win—that I have won, a million times. What’s a million and one? 

Q: What advice would you give the youth?

Frank Gardner: If you can endure, you will win. I’m now living my dream as a drummer here in Palm Springs, which is plumb full of live music. So many times, I could have given up. But Nichiren says: “The journey from Kamakura to Kyoto takes twelve days. If you travel for eleven but stop with only one day remaining, how can you admire the moon over the capital” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 1027)? It’s just like that.

March 8, 2024, World Tribune, p. 5

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