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How Boone, N.C., Became a Hub for Introducing Youth

Friendships—Lani Arsenault (left) with young women at a local intro-to-Buddhism meeting, Boone, N.C., December 2023. Photo courtesy of Lani Arsenault.

by Lani Arsenault
Boone, N.C.

After my husband retired, we left Virginia in 2019 for the quieter, slower life in Boone, North Carolina—a beautiful town in the mountains. By this point, I’d been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for over 25 years, having overcome lupus, cancer and financial difficulties—all while striving in SGI activities. Honestly, I felt I had done enough and that it was time for me to take it easy.

But when I got to Boone, there were no other members, and our district was two hours away. I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something was missing. I wanted bodhisattvas—especially youth—to emerge here, but it took me two years of chanting to finally decide that I had to be the one to make it a reality.

Once my mind was set, I made trips to the local farmer’s market. Over time, I became friends with the one Japanese lady there and discovered that her husband had attended SGI meetings in Japan. Although she wasn’t quite interested, through this connection, I met another lady who had just moved from Virginia, and she was an SGI member! Within just our two families, young people already outnumbered the rest of us. Seeing this amazing start invigorated my prayer for the youth.

Young people have a special place in my heart. In the past, I was too controlling and protective of my two sons, Noble and Nova, and this pushed them away from me and the practice. Our broken relationships made me suffer more than anything else, and I blamed myself. But I said to the Gohonzon, I don’t want to see my children suffer. And this prayer extended to other young people struggling with bad influences, low self-confidence or loneliness.

The more I prayed for youth, the more I saw our town in a new light. When I noticed new businesses and food trucks, I stopped by. At the grocery store, I observed the people around me to find any commonalities. I let go of any pretenses and struck up conversations as one human being to another. Slowly, we had young guests join our meetings, but at the same time, just connecting with others was fulfilling—it didn’t matter if they came to a meeting or not.

Then, I had the most incredible breakthrough. My eldest son, Noble, decided to open up a tea shop here. Because it’s near a university, 95% of his customers and employees are young people. While helping out, I made every effort to get to know the youth—and my son asked why. I responded, “Ikeda Sensei talks about how important each person is, so I want to get to know them.” I’d ask how they were, how their parents were and if they were eating. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to see them win.

Sensing my passion, my son offered his support by hosting intro-to-Buddhism meetings at his tea shop last September! He joined me in inviting young guests, and at one meeting, we welcomed more than 10 people—all of them in their 20s and 30s. Since then, one person received the Gohonzon, with others standing up. Each meeting is full of young people and led by them, too. None of this would’ve been possible without my son.

My younger son, Nova, attended a March Youth Peace Festival in Miami and made a meaningful connection with someone there. Seeing how both my sons now involve me in their lives (my eldest son hosts meetings and my youngest reconnected with the SGI) is, for me, actual proof of my human revolution. When I began trusting their Buddha nature and mission, when I changed, that’s when my relationship with my two sons changed.

In this chapter of my life, I often think of this passage “Single-mindedly chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and urge others to do the same; that will remain as the only memory of your present life in this human world” (“Embracing the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 64). I don’t expect to change the entirety of Boone or the world. But what I can do is focus on the person in front of me. I don’t know how far these ripples will go—maybe that one person will go on with a tremendous mission. I just have to be the one to start these ripples and continue doing so.

What can we do as individuals? We can do our best. We can strive with all our might, challenge ourselves wholeheartedly, just as we are, in our present circumstances, and in our own way, unfazed by the vagaries of praise or blame. We can advance in high spirits, proud that we’re giving our all. If we can keep this up throughout our lives, we are certain to be victorious in the end. (January 2024 Living Buddhism, p. 34)

April 19, 2024, World Tribune, p. 9

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