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Our Mission as Humanistic Leaders 

Photo by Bernard Kuehu.

Bora Colak: In February 1990, Ikeda Sensei founded the SGI-USA culture department, which consists of professionals, students and retirees in education, academia, health care, law and medicine.

I feel the group’s mission is succinctly articulated in the motto he presented on Aug. 8, 2015: “Be humanistic leaders, overflowing with faith and intellect.”

Like all groups in the SGI-USA, the culture department exists to advance kosen-rufu. While we are teachers, doctors, etc., in society, our deepest identity is that of Bodhisattvas of the Earth—who the Buddha entrusted to spread his life-affirming teachings in this defiled age and bring about an era of peace. With that awareness, we strive to show actual proof and infuse the Buddhist ideal of respect for the dignity of life in the frontlines of society.

Paige Asawa: Yes. I think our role as culture department members is to take everything Sensei has taught us and bring it into society.

For example, during the pandemic, I recall a nurse who chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo wherever she was every day so that she would be equipped with courage, compassion and wisdom during such intense times.

While this sounds simple, the ideals of human revolution and valuing the dignity of life aren’t exactly held by everyone in society. We are each the models of what this means within the fabric of our society. We show others a new culture through our behavior.

Paige: For me, it really started during my time as a student. I never imagined I could have a Ph.D., but I wanted to continue challenging the idea of creating value in society. It took Sensei’s encouragement and a lot of courage to face my fears and go for it.

Since then, I’ve achieved that dream and worked as a therapist. During the pandemic, though, I was furloughed. I could’ve easily given up and thought, They’re not paying me, so I’m not going to do the work. It’s human nature to react that way. But I have the Gohonzon and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; I have the tools to operate from the greater self. I couldn’t give up. I was determined to continue supporting the efforts of everyone in the medical field. Even without pay, I decided to hold support sessions for hundreds of medical staff to provide them with ways to deal with the stress of the pandemic.

One day, I saw some 200 people. And a person on that session told me how moved she was by just my life condition. Of course, my intention then wasn’t to find new work, but she was the one to recruit me to my current position at a new institution. We just have to bring our Buddha nature wherever we are.

Bora: Currently, I’m a psychiatrist for a first-episode psychosis program that brings together various specialists to help patients toward recovery.

I have experienced firsthand how dehumanizing it was to be treated as just a diagnosis. Because of that experience, I’m driven to believe in the infinite potential of our patients, who have often been relegated to the idea that they will never recover.

There are some things that science cannot yet penetrate, so it calls on me to apply my Buddhist faith. It’s a daily struggle to believe that I can stretch myself that much more to make a difference.

So, to overcome our toughest times and make a positive impact in our respective corners of the world, it comes back to our vow for kosen-rufu. In his message to the July 2006 culture department conference, Sensei wrote: “It is my earnest hope that you … will manifest your unparalleled potential in your respective fields of endeavor with the effectiveness of more than 1,000 other individuals, carrying out successful activities in your individual battlefields of kosen-rufu as a ‘practice-first general of wisdom.’”

Bora: There’s no genuine transformation of our communities without the difficult, day in, day out work of our human revolution. Sensei embodied that message.

Honestly, I don’t feel like any kind of sophisticated person. Sometimes, people ask me, “You’re a psychiatrist and Buddhist, what’s your thought on this?” thinking that I have some special knowledge. I’m just struggling to be someone respectworthy and do my very best.

We’re in these fields where people expect us to be one thing, but I feel what’s most important is bringing out our humanity. A doctor is just one role that I play—it’s another avenue for conveying the heart of the Mystic Law. It comes down to heart-to-heart connections, to being an ally to those suffering. I have to constantly self-reflect and ask myself, “Do I truly care about this person?” We’re tasked to bring the light of hope and joy to our disenchanted, disconnected world.

Paige: It’s our great responsibility to bring our Buddha nature to the work that we do in our communities. This means coming from a place of equality, dialogue and respect for each person we encounter.

It requires us to continue polishing our lives through chanting and overcoming obstacles. In Sensei’s message to the July 2019 culture department conference, he said: “Because you embody the qualities of Universal Worthy and are thoroughly dedicated to your vow for kosen-rufu, you will no doubt prevail over every obstacle and hindrance. As you win over each challenge, your wisdom will shine all the more brightly and you will gain even greater conviction.”

Our own suffering becomes the springboard to create value in our professions. It’s what enables us to connect with people in a way that has depth. This understanding that we can transform difficulties into something positive is so important. Incredible hope and conviction are born of it.

July 5, 2024, World Tribune, p. 9

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