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I was first introduced to this Buddhism, when trying to organise a diversity event for a Specialist College in Mansfield where I was a student. I had gone onto the internet to look for Buddhists in the local area and stumbled across a chat room that had some SGI members in it. One guy called Andre started to tell me about Nichiren Buddhism and also about cause and effect. It all sounded very interesting and the more we spoke the more it all made perfect sense to me.
Andre took my postcode and telephone number and told me that he would have some local members (he was from London) call me or invite me to a meeting.
I received a telephone message a few days later from a local member called Tanya explaining that she had been contacted by Andre and she would be sending me a schedule in the post. This she did every month for almost a year! We also arranged to meet to discuss the diversity event .
I had been brought up in a strict Christian family but had recently left the church, which had caused a lot of pain and anguish for my parents and my sisters. I'd always struggled with the concept that I wasn't in control of my own life or destiny. When good things happened to me I always thought this meant that I was being a 'good Christian' and when in 2001 things started to go wrong for me then I believed I was being punished.
I had struggled all my life with my sexual identity. I couldn't tell any body about my feelings and the conflict I had. I even got married to someone I'd only known for five weeks in the hope that it would 'cure' me, but it made my situation worse.
The feelings of desperation I had led me to have series of nervous breakdowns. I spent time in various hospitals. The doctors struggled to find the right medication for me and for the first eighteen months of this journey I was in a hell-like state. I was unable to work and eventually I had to resign from my job as a retail manager. My marriage ended and I got to a point where I couldn't be around people, answer the telephone or the doorbell. I spent two years basically indoors with the curtains closed. I was then referred by a disability employment adviser to a local college, which is a specialist college for people with disabilities and problems similar to my own. The intention was for me to train for a new career and to gain confidence being around other people.The last thing I wanted in rebuilding my life, was to be a member of an 'organised religion.'
The day of the diversity event arrived at the college in July 2004 and I met with Tanya the week before for the first time to finalise arrangements for an SGI-UK stall at the event. I began to tell her about my experiences and conflict with my Christian beliefs. I believed that because I was gay and if I choose to live that lifestyle I was destined to go to hell after I died. She told me that this was not the case with Nichiren Buddhism and in fact I was already in 'hell' - the life state of 'hell', which is the lowest of the ten worlds.
This led me to ask numerous questions about the practice and my half-an-hour appointment with Tanya lasted for an hour-and-a-half! I remember being so impressed by the SGI and how it allowed you to be who you really are, how you take responsibility for your own actions and how simple the law of cause and effect seemed to be. This seemed too good to be true. I had to find out more.
After the event Tanya and her husband, Steph, continued to send schedules of local meetings and even sent me encouraging postcards during their holiday in the South of France. It was because of this encouragement and support that I attended my first discussion meeting at the end of September 2004.
This in itself was a huge ordeal for me as I'd not been in such a large group for many years. I remember feeling terrified and excited at the same time but still could not overcome my fears and didn't speak a word! But I enjoyed the meeting and felt a warmth of friendship from the members of the group. So I decided to test the practice and chant for something that I really wanted most of all.
A week later I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the first time. I was told I would feel the benefit almost immediately and I would have an experience that would make me say "Wow what a coincidence!"
I chanted for a job and to be able to really begin to rebuild my life. The next day I was offered a job on a temporary contract that I hadn't even applied for! It was at the Specialist College, where I was studying, and it was in the administration department for education. My job focuses on equality and diversity issues in the College and I am able to use all my past experiences in training other people.
I couldn't believe that this had happened and a local men's leader explained to me that this was a conspicuous benefit of my chanting.
Aside from my job, I could see other positive changes. Almost immediately I began changing as a person. I started to feel more positive about life, more comfortable being around people and an increase in confidence. Soon I was able to answer the telephone and the front door. I re-gained friendships and felt more comfortable to share my experiences in SGI-UK discussion meetings.
I really started to like my new life and I chanted for the job to become permanent. I was given a permanent contract in Easter 2005. Part of my job is to deliver training sessions to members of staff on diversity issues. This was initially terrifying for me, but through chanting I overcame my fear and now I love providing training on subjects close to my heart.
Because I felt so confident and supported by people and knew I could face any obstacle, I felt it was the right time to challenge my illness. After being on medication for three years, I went to see my GP to discuss coming off all together. With his support and guidance, I am now off all medication. I now have full trust in the Gohonzon and my daily practice to support me.
I became a member and received my own Gohonzon in December 2004, eight weeks after my first discussion meeting and haven't looked back. Since then I've attended my first Buddhist course at SGI-UK National Centre at Taplow Court. I've also volunteered to do a week's support activity at Taplow Court twice. This has been a wonderful experience and strengthened my practice even more. I came across the following quotation from Nichiren Daishonin very early in my practice:
Therefore, if you recite these words of the daimoku once, then the Buddha nature of all living beings will be summoned and gather around you... To illustrate, when a caged bird sings, the many birds flying in the sky all gather around it at once; seeing this, the bird in the cage strives to get out."
WND p. 131
Reading this made me realise that during that dark period of my life I had been like the 'caged bird'. The local members with their support gathered around me and drew out my Buddha nature. I know feel like a bird flying confidently in the sky.
The happiness and freedom being a member of the SGI brings truly amazes me. I hope to continue to be the change I want to see in society. I still have a long way to go, but I feel that through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo I am changing daily, I am certainly the happiest I have ever been. I feel really positive about the future. For the first time ever I feel like there is a life waiting to be lived.