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Why I Share Buddhism

Young people’s take on why they engage in the important practice of Buddhist dialogue.

Illustration by Irina Cheremisinova / Getty Images.

For the Soka Gakkai, July is the month of youth, as it marks the establishment of the young men’s division and young women’s division on July 11 and 19, 1951, respectively. 

At a time when people weren’t afforded serious responsibilities until much older, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda focused his efforts on fostering youth, believing wholeheartedly that they would bring hope to humanity. He went so far as to say: “Kosen-rufu will definitely be achieved if even one young person is willing to dedicate their entire life to it” (April 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 62). Ikeda Sensei stood up as that “one young person,” leading the way to the global expansion of kosen-rufu. 

Countless young people have since stood up with the same passion and resolve to expand our movement for the happiness of all humanity. Sensei wrote of the youth who shoulder the responsibility for the future:

I hope that you will rouse your courage, break through your inner limitations and initiate dialogue aimed at spreading our movement, without worrying about what others do or say. The foundation for today’s remarkable development of kosen-rufu has been built through such earnest all-out efforts by our pioneering members who broke through all limitations to set new records of achievement. When you challenge yourselves based on strong prayer to engage in dialogue out of a wish for the happiness of others, you will definitely pave the way for fresh breakthroughs in expanding our movement for kosen-rufu. (April 2020 Living Buddhism, p. 62)

From June to August, the SGI-USA’s focus is on introducing many people to Nichiren Buddhism and their inherent Buddhahood through Buddhist dialogue and welcoming them to the SGI family. Living Buddhism interviewed four youth members about why they engage in the practice of shakubuku.

Kortland Snowden  • Oklahoma City, Okla.

Where did you learn the spirit to share Buddhism with others?

That’s a tough question because it’s always been something that I’ve known was the correct way to practice. We don’t just practice for ourselves. We practice for ourselves and others. 

The first time I introduced a friend was in fifth grade. We were walking home from school and he told me he was Buddhist. He practiced a different kind of Buddhism, so I told him about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. 

Being Black and Buddhist in Oklahoma is not the easiest. I’ve always known that I was different in that way, but it has helped me connect with people in all different types of ways. 

The other day, a friend of mine at the University of Oklahoma was sharing with me how he had a rough week because his grandfather had just passed away. I shared the Buddhist perspective on life and death and talked to him about the eternity of life. Although he believes in God, he told me how much I put a smile on his face every time we talk. 

I think it’s about being down to earth and not putting on a front. The world needs people that others can trust. I do my best to be a good friend to others.

Why do you think it’s important to teach others about Buddhism?

Buddhism gives hope. We are not just out here for personal gain. Ikeda Sensei spread Buddhism around the world. What he did was incredibly noble, and now we have the responsibility to continue the legacy. It’s hard for young people. It’s hard to wake up and get out of bed, and there are going to be some days you don’t want to do it. But when you center your life on a mission and chant to the Gohonzon, you can win. 

What have you learned through sharing Buddhism?

I’m getting over the fear of rejection and the fear of judgment from others. That’s a big thing for youth. I think, What are my friends going to think of me? But I’ve had many great dialogues about Buddhism, and it has gotten easier the more that I do it. 

Any advice for people who want to do shakubuku?

Don’t fret. Keep it natural and be yourself. Get comfortable in uncom-
fortable conversations. People have great questions, and we get to learn more when people ask them. So it’s a great way to learn more about Buddhism, too!

Ariana Jaramillo • Santa Cruz, Calif.

How did you start practicing Buddhism?

My grandmother and mother practice Buddhism so I was born into it. I’ve had several experiences of strengthening my faith since middle school, but I would say that when I was 18, I started reading Ikeda Sensei’s guidance and understanding why I was chanting, why I have certain karma and experience suffering.

What helped you learn how to share Buddhism?

Watching my youth leaders was helpful. I’d go to the introduction-to-Buddhism meetings and listen to how other people explained Buddhism. When I transferred to the University of California, Santa Cruz, I encountered people seeking a deeper meaning in life. I always share the Buddhist perspectives on things naturally in conversation.

One day, a friend asked if we could chant together, so we did. He started attending district meetings on his own, and he recently received the Gohonzon.

Why do you feel it’s important to introduce others to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?

If I see my friends struggling with something, I’m reminded that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the only thing that I know works. The best thing I can do for their life is guide them to the Gohonzon and chant for them to become happy. 

I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t chant or if Sensei wasn’t my mentor; I don’t think I would have had the courage to study neuroscience and pursue my dreams of becoming a brain surgeon. I would have settled for something easier.

Also many youth don’t have a community like the SGI—a place where they can go and feel the energy of the people there—where everybody is happy. It’s a privilege to tell somebody that they’re inherently powerful and their life is so precious. 

What’s the greatest benefit you’ve experienced?

Not on a materialistic level—but it’s what my life looks like. I am following my dreams despite challenges. I have wonderful roommates and friends who support me. I have a place for the Gohonzon. Even just six years ago, my life looked so different, and it felt very unstable, financially and emotionally. But now, I feel so protected. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Because I’ve seen so much actual proof, I have no doubt in the power of the Gohonzon or my Buddhist practice. It’s my responsibility to share it with others. 

Jordan Nodarse • San Diego, Calif.

Can you tell us about yourself and your Buddhist practice?

The past year and a half is when I started to develop my practice. Even though I grew up in the SGI, I studied stoicism and other spiritualities a few years back. I concluded that all of my favorite aspects of these other philosophies were taught in Buddhism. Now I believe it is my duty to share this way of living with my friends and even strangers.

What was the catalyst for exploring other philosophies?

I think it was partly being young and rebellious. It’s like living in your hometown your whole life and wanting to leave and explore other towns but then realizing that there aren’t a lot of places better than where you came from.  

When you speak to others about Buddhism, what are they most interested in?

I think the first thing is chanting. It may catch people off guard at first, but people can feel the power of chanting. And the second appealing factor is our philosophy and that we wholeheartedly believe we can make the impossible possible. Who else teaches that or talks about that, right?

How did you learn how to share Buddhism?

On both sides of my family, my grandparents do a lot of shakubuku. My grandma, every time we go out to eat and pay the bill, she tells the person about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. When she had grandkids, she started asking us to do it. 

Now I feel motivated to tell others because I’ve had my own experiences through chanting. If you truly believe in your practice and you share it from a place deep inside your heart, people are going to feel that.

What do you keep in mind when telling others about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?

Nichiren Daishonin talks about how out of 1,000 followers, only one stays. Not everyone will practice, but even if it’s only one person, you’ve changed that person’s life. Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in the effect of sharing Buddhism, but the cause to share it is enough. Just hearing Nam-myoho-renge-kyo can change someone’s life and leave them better off than if they hadn’t heard it. 

Also, you don’t need to be in a high life condition to do shakubuku. It might sound selfish, but sometimes I feel like sharing Buddhism helps me more than the other person, at least in that moment. I think it’s OK to have doubts about the practice but still share it with others. 

My high school friend recently received the Gohonzon, and he’s already introduced several people on his own. So, it’s not about how much experience you have in sharing Buddhism. It’s just a matter of having courage. It’s like our Buddhahood—we’re all capable of doing shakubuku; we just have to reveal that ability and bring it out. 

How has sharing Buddhism transformed your life?

I look at my friend who just received the Gohonzon, what his life looked like before he started chanting and now, and it’s inspirational. It’s my motivation to keep going, to do better in my life. I recently invited my friends to come learn about Buddhism. Fourteen attended an impromptu intro meeting. It was amazing, and I’m determined to keep reaching out to others.

Haru Koga • Durham, N.C. 

What have you learned through introducing others to Buddhism?

Regularly meeting, chanting together and supporting one another through struggles is so important. Two of the people I have supported to receive Gohonzon this year have become great friends. 

I grew up in the garden of Soka and attended Soka schools from elementary school to college. Going to graduate school at Duke University was my first time being outside the “Soka world.” Before this, I never had to question why my Buddhist practice was important to me or why I needed it. But when sharing with others, I had to study concepts like the Ten Worlds and the oneness of mentor and disciple and learn how to explain it to someone who knows nothing about Buddhism. It’s helped me understand the reason why I practice, and I’ve developed confidence in my faith.

What made you want to share Buddhism with others?

I actually never imagined that I could share Buddhism with others because I didn’t have the confidence to do so. But once I started seeing benefits myself, it became natural to tell others. I also want to see my friends become happy.

Last year, I was struggling to feel like I had enough time to do anything as a student and district leader. But I wanted to make causes for my life. After the Student Division Conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center, I determined to start a campus club at Duke. Since January, we have had a campus club meeting every month. 

Because of my practice, even when I’m struggling, I can look to the future and remember to appreciate everything. It’s easy to get stuck in a negative cycle, but we have this tool that allows us to remain hopeful, take ownership and change the course of our lives. I see a lot of young people who don’t know how to deal with challenges that come up. This is why I feel it’s important to share Buddhism with them.

How has your life changed since helping others start their practice?

I have more confidence! Not just in sharing Buddhism but in every aspect of my life. I recently graduated from Duke with my master’s, and the same week I got a job offer from a company that I’ve dreamed of working for. I can now confidently say that this opportunity came because of all of the good causes I’ve been making. Chanting, sharing Buddhism, supporting campus club activities and district meetings helped me stay positive and hopeful, and gave me confidence that everything would happen at the right time. 

Now, I’m determined to help my two friends receive the Gohonzon before I move!

Many people genuinely need this Buddhist practice, and I’m looking forward to continue fulfilling my mission of helping others become happy.

From the July 2024 Living Buddhism

Blue Hawaii—Embodying the Aloha Spirit

Thoughts on Education for Global Citizenship