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Learning to Create Change

Photo by Mary D’Elia.

Manami Koizumi (Southern California Zone Young Women’s Leader): I attended my first student division conference when I was 19. By then, I had overcome a low point in my family and at school through chanting, and I was sure that Buddhism would be a lifelong practice.

In retrospect, I was still dependent on my mom and friends in the SGI. I had a consistent daily practice because of their support. Honestly, I was just focused on getting out of my own suffering. I knew that anyone could make the impossible possible with this practice, but I didn’t truly believe I could.

That conference was all about shakubuku. This was timely because I had just helped my friend receive the Gohonzon. It became clear that true joy and confidence were found in this effort.

After the conference, I transferred to a different university. I still had insecurities and anxiety about making new friends, but I felt stronger. I knew that it was through sharing my struggles that I could empower and connect with others.

Jiwoo Kim (West Territory Young Men’s Leader): The year before I attended my first student division conference, my uncle passed away. This was devastating for our family. I didn’t have anyone I could open up to, so I suffered alone.

Leading up to the conference, a senior in faith encouraged me to attend. I made every excuse not to go, especially because I didn’t have friends in the SGI. Eventually, I decided to go but in such a low life condition.

I was shocked to see so many people smiling when I got there. Throughout the conference, I learned about their struggles, and I wondered, How can they be so happy when they’re struggling?

I wanted to get out of my own suffering—I was ready to. For the first time, I sought guidance from a senior in faith. I felt safe to open up. He encouraged me to chant for my own happiness, something I never thought to do. It was simple but it hit me at the core—I decided I was going to become happy.

Manami: Until then, I was chanting and sharing Buddhism, but I wasn’t thinking about humanity from a broader perspective. I was either indifferent or consumed by my struggles. In actuality, I didn’t think that I could make an impact on the world.

Through the conference, I learned the spirit of a trailblazer, which I feel comes down to two things. The first is recognizing that we each have a mission. Reading Ikeda Sensei’s peace proposals ignited my passion to fight for peace both in SGI activities and in society. This became the starting point of my dream to work in higher education to support students in their crucial years.

The second is creating change by bringing people together. We live in a time when people cut each other off quickly and avoid dialogue. Through Sensei’s example, I learned that I have to stand up as an individual and challenge my human revolution while empowering others and creating unity. They go hand-in-hand.

Jiwoo: I saw others in a new light, beyond my shyness and struggles. Others were struggling, too, and most didn’t have the support that I did. Having received the care that I had, I started asking myself: Who’s reaching out to these people? If I don’t fight for kosen-rufu, how many young people will suffer alone?

Sensei said in Discussions on Youth, “You would not have been born if you did not have a mission to fulfill” (new edition, p. x). To this day, I think of myself as just an ordinary guy. But I know that I can have an impact on the world. I don’t have to be a perfect person to help someone or be a good friend.

This gave me so much hope, and it helped me recognize my own strengths. Similar to Manami, this hope gave me a dream—of owning a soccer team and academy where people can learn how to be great human beings.

Manami: Speaking from experience, I feel your time as a student division member is when you learn to change hopelessness into the confidence that you can create change.

In the student division, you learn about the spirit behind shakubuku. Ultimately, what I learned is how to have dialogue and never give up on someone. Both are crucial in creating change fundamentally, and both require us to get out of a self-centered view of life. I realized that true joy is learning from a great mentor to live for a great purpose.

Jiwoo: I agree. Learning that I could change anything and become who I aspire to be—that’s the best thing I could’ve gained.

And for me, it was the friendships that I made that had the biggest impact on my life. Having friends who you can talk to about anything and everything is so precious. That’s why the student division, this conference, is important. It’s the time and place where you can make such life-changing friendships. Maybe it sounds simple but I’m confident that friendship is a path to peace, and we need more young people to believe it.

July 5, 2024, World Tribune, p. 8

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