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How Meeting Others Has Changed Me

Meet some of the youth leading the charge toward the chapter-led March Youth Peace Festivals.

Photos by Tomoko Gelbaum and Sanya Lu.

TV friendships stand the test of time. Not so much in the real world, where it’s more difficult to find the Leonard to your Sheldon, the Rachel to your Monica.For young people living in a post-pandemic world, pitfalls riddle the road to genuine, lasting friendship. Stop-gap measures abound—the dating app Bumble, for instance, has rolled out a Bumble for Friends—but the issue calls for a wholehearted response.

While studies show that friendships, especially those that provide social support and companionship, can significantly predict our well-being and even longevity,[1] it can be difficult to take that first step.

The March Youth Peace Festivals (being held from March 11–17) have been a concentrated effort to counteract the fraying of human connection in society. The young people engaged in this process have already shared powerful stories of experiencing deeper connections and friendships.

Who is leading this effort? In chapters across the U.S., a new wave of young people has emerged; they have stood up to ensure the success of their local gatherings. In this issue, we hear their unique take on why they’ve engaged in this effort and what they’ve learned in the process. 

Angela Taylor
Reno, Nev.

There’s no way, I thought, when my husband (then boyfriend) introduced me to Buddhism in 2018. We had just moved from Las Vegas to Reno and couldn’t rent a place because someone close to me stole my identity and racked up evictions in my name.

After I started chanting, we found a landlord who would work with us. Suddenly, we had a roof over our heads.

Since then, my boyfriend and I have been the only active youth in Mount Rose District. For our March Youth Peace Festival, we made a goal of having 10 youth come together. We began connecting with others who hadn’t been to SGI activities since the pandemic. It was great to see positivity come from them and to let them know they weren’t forgotten. Now, we have 30 youth confirmed for our Reno chapter gathering.

Connecting with others really inspired me, and I felt I might as well ride this wave! I applied to finish my teaching credentials, and I start my new program on April 1. I’ll be hooked up with a student teaching job for the three years I’m in the program.

My other great benefit: My dog, Coriander, had been paralyzed since January due to a calcified disk in her back. It required expensive surgery. One day, my husband called out to her and she walked over to him. While she’s still healing, she doesn’t require surgery. We recently moved into a new place that has more room for Coriander to run around in. She likes to listen to me chant and has attended many SGI activities, sitting on my lap, when our district met virtually during the pandemic.

I’m not the biggest people person, but connecting with everyone has really helped me step out of my comfort zone. I want the same for my community—for the youth to step out and do things. My goal is for everyone to leave the gathering happier than they came, more empowered, more willing to go for whatever goal they’re reaching for in life.

Alexis Ayala
Los Angeles

I’m at a point where I need real benefits, not just the shallow stuff.

I’ve been pursuing music since my younger years, so I know the game. People size you up; and it’s easy to focus on the money, the fame and all that. But can you face the resistance that comes with it? Can you move others by who you are?

The greatest benefit, I feel, is the wisdom to strengthen my inner foundation and confidence—so I don’t get lost in my doubts and frustrations. Buddhism gives me that wisdom, that benefit. “Discard the shallow and seek the profound”[2]—that’s what I’m tryna do with our March Youth Peace Festival.

The other day I met with a men’s leader toward the upcoming event. I asked, “Is it the journey that matters or the destination?”

“Hell is the land of tranquil light,”[3] he said. “We’ve got to have the high life condition to enjoy the process of both the highs and the lows.”

I needed that. I realized that both the journey and the destination matter. We want to inspire people, so of course the meeting has to be a success. But at the same time, the bonds we build along the way—whether or not someone attends—is important, too, and that’s ultimately more integral.

Now I’m just focusing on people, on meeting up. My goal is not just promoting the meeting or choppin’ it up but to plant seeds of deeper connections.

One guy I met got real deep. He opened up about struggling with loneliness, which I didn’t expect. In the end he looked really happy, and we both appreciated the meetup.

Another guy I met is a different kind of character, someone I probably would’ve overlooked in the past. But I realized he’s a guy just trying to find himself. He can’t make it to our festival, but that’s fine—we got to break bread and have great conversation, which I want to build upon. I already hit him up to meet again.

With each person I meet, I’m gaining wisdom. And whenever I’m iffy on something, I take it to the Gohonzon and chant it out, which leads me to deeper wisdom. Basing things on my Buddhist practice, I know I’ll be good, that I’ll always get something deeper: the benefits I need.

All illustrations by NGEDIT_VECTOR / Fiverr.

Aditi Aggarwal

I never intended to come to America, but my Ph.D. led me to Chicago, and there I found a community that understood me and made me—a queer, neurodivergent, nonbinary person—feel safe and seen in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

Through the warm support of my local districts over the years, I’ve grown stronger, but I still have my inner battles with self-doubt. Especially when I see all of the injustices and violence around me, it’s a 50-50 battle between caving into this reality versus winning over myself. It really is a day-to-day process of honestly facing the Gohonzon.

I think our efforts toward the March Youth Peace Festivals—to build friendship, to see and understand one another—is important in this, too. Reading the news, it’s easy to feel that nothing matters. But meeting others whose values align with our own, who are taking action to better the world in some way—especially in our local communities—assures us that we’re not alone and that together, we can make a change.

What I want to do as one person is meet with others and give them the same support. So, I’ve been reaching out with the intention of letting others know that they have someone they can rely on to feel seen and heard.

Buddhism is a part of everything in my life. Just as I feel empowered and centered from chanting, I go into each interaction with the hope that the other person will leave with that same feeling. I’ve met with others over crocheting, dinner, a phone call or a quick meetup—nothing formal but just meeting each person where they’re at. Whenever I find myself getting overwhelmed or tired, I go back to the Gohonzon, rest when needed, and recharge myself to go out again.

This year, this March effort, is a time of new things for me. I’m breaking down walls working with people I may not have agreed with. I’m also starting my own business and voluntarily taking on more responsibilities, all while respecting and valuing myself, too.

I want to enjoy and celebrate with my friends, and be a good friend to myself, too—without trying to prove anything. Just celebrate one another together while having a lot of fun!

March 15, 2024, World Tribune, pp. 6–7


  1. <accessed on March 7, 2024>. ↩︎
  2. “The Votary of the Lotus Sutra,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 447. ↩︎
  3. See “Hell Is the Land of Tranquil Light” WND-1, 456. ↩︎

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