Emerging as a Victorious Dancer
By Enakshi Sinha, Toronto
I was introduced to the wonderful philosophy and practice of Nichiren Buddhism by my aunt 19 years ago in Kolkata, India. I am a classical dancer by profession, with a career spanning the last 17 years. Before I came to Canada, I was doing pretty well in my career and was able to create a niche for myself in the classical dance scenario, performing as a soloist and creating dance productions in major festivals in India, North America and Europe. I was also an active SGI practitioner, taking responsibility for the young women’s group in my chapter. In 2005, I had the good fortune to attend an SGI youth training course in Tokyo, where I met my mentor in life, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.
I had no intention to leave India. It was the place where I could follow my dreams and passions as a performer of Odissi dance, a classical Indian dance form with a long history. Apparently, though, my destiny had other plans for me—or, shall I say, I must have vowed to go to other parts of the world to prove the greatness of the Mystic Law1. In 2006, soon after my Tokyo trip, I got married and landed in the beautiful country of Canada with no expectations or plans. But I knew one thing: I would continue my dancing, no matter what.
My new life started in Windsor, Ontario—a great culture shock for me. I was stuck in a house, not knowing how to drive and far from any classical Indian dance scene. But there were SGI practitioners there, and that was the starting point for me to get hold of my life and dreams and start from scratch. I soon got my driver’s licence and was able to attend Buddhist meetings regularly.
However, things were not moving the way I wanted, since I was looking for some external force to change my situation. I felt that I had two options: either give up my dream of being a professional dancer, or move to a big city like Toronto to start my career afresh. But my husband, a pharmacist with a thriving pharmacy and clinic in Windsor, was not willing to move to Toronto. Instead, he told me to be bold enough to create the situation I wanted to be in. So I opted for that.
I came across guidance that Mr. Ikeda once gave to encourage a new immigrant to Brazil: “Chant that you will achieve kosen-rufu2 in Brazil. To achieve that, show magnificent actual proof of this Buddhism in your life and chant to the Gohonzon3 to enable you to give play to your fullest potential.” I followed this guidance to a tee, resolving to achieve my kosen-rufu in Canada.
I chanted for my career and for Windsor to become a culturally thriving city. I started giving performances in various organizations and schools in Windsor. I started my own dance school and incorporated it as a non-profit organization. Over time, all the communities in Windsor became aware of Odissi dance, and students of all ages started learning it. The University of Windsor invited me to give a lecture demonstration. Meanwhile, I also began to be invited to festivals in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and other places in Canada.
Then I decided to hold a festival of Indian classical dance and music in Windsor, so that people wouldn’t have to travel to Detroit or Toronto to watch performances by renowned artists. I specifically chanted to create an environment in Windsor that would make artists and art organizations in Canada aware of this festival. I applied for and received funding from the Ontario Arts Council to host it, despite the competitiveness of the process. Thus began “Umang (Light of Hope)”—the first-ever two-day dance festival in Windsor, with acclaimed professional artists from a variety of genres from Canada, the U.S. and India.
This festival has grown tremendously, and yes, I can say it out loud: there is a place in Canada called Windsor, where people are very much aware of Indian classical dance! I was also selected to be a juror on the Ontario Arts Council, which showed that I was recognized by the mainstream Canadian dance industry. As Mr. Ikeda says, it’s your work that matters, not the place where you do it or how indispensable you become in your chosen field.
My life in Windsor was the most comfortable one you could ask for, with none of the financial stress that new immigrants usually have. I felt myself really blessed. However, in 2014, while I was in India to receive the International Nritya Shiromani Award from Orissa, India, my husband called me to give the news that there had been a major setback in his business and we would have to downsize and leave everything within a month. When I got the news that we would have to start afresh, I was not at all shattered but looked forward to this new challenge. I was definitely not happy, but I was not worried.
My husband got a contract job in Toronto and thus we left Windsor. And although I couldn’t even in my wildest dreams have imagined how it would happen, I was happy to move to Toronto. However, I could also not have foreseen the many hurdles, previously unknown to me, that came out of nowhere to make our lives as miserable as possible. My husband’s contract ended and he was out work for almost a year, causing him to become depressed. Once again, this was test of my faith: Should I continue my dancing during this crisis? Or should I take a normal 9-to-5 job? But I didn’t give up, realizing that this was the time for me to prove the greatness of the Mystic Law.
I chanted hours and hours specifically for our individual happiness and financial security. I chanted for my dance career, which again had to start from scratch in Toronto so that I could support my family financially. I knew it wouldn’t be easy for me, as I had no car to travel easily, nor did I have my own dance space to practise in; many things that had been easily accessible for me in Windsor were now a struggle. My husband, too, began questioning my career. But I didn’t give up and was very determined and confident. As Mr. Ikeda says, “Buddhism teaches that the heart is like a skilled painter. Both art and our lives are faithful expressions of what is in our hearts.” And my heart knew what I wanted.
I was very happy to be connected in beautiful Pure Gold district with so many vibrant members and regular SGI activities. This kept me going, and I regained the strength to start all over again. I regularly attended the meetings in our district, contributed to SGI activities through my dance and also attended a SGI Canada Caledon Conference in 2015.
Shows from everywhere started pouring into Toronto, and I resumed touring in different parts of Canada. I was able to start my own dance school with two locations, in Toronto and Mississauga, and got invited to play lead roles in major productions with a number of Canadian dance companies. My own dance production was selected to be presented in the Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps, a mainstream Canadian dance series. In 2015, along with my group, I was invited to perform in honour of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Toronto. This was a great leap for my career. As well, my husband came out of his depression and got a permanent job.
I still visit Windsor to give classes and, every second year, host the Umang Festival, and I continue to visit India seasonally to give regular performances in major dance festivals. On my 2017 visit, I had the opportunity to choreograph the cultural program for Kolkata Chapter’s inauguration of their new SGI culture centre. This was attended by the Bharat Soka Gakkai (SGI in India) planning board from Delhi and SGI Vice-President Yoshiki Tanigawa from Japan. After my return to Canada, I got news that I’m very humble and happy to share: out of 120 nominations in performing arts I had been selected to receive the 2017 Women Achiever Award from Dancing Damsels, a non-profit organization that recognizes women in various fields for bold, change-bringing contributions to society. It was a great honour for me to share the stage with Dr. Roberta Bondar, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award.
I know now that my mission in Canada is to spread peace through my dance. It started in India and now continues in Canada. Wherever I travel, I somehow end up introducing friends to this wonderful philosophy or having detailed dialogues about this practice—especially after performances.
When I came to Canada, all I had was my husband, my chanting and the SGI. There have been many joys but also disappointments and hurdles that I had to face to fulfill my dream and passion to be a professional Indian classical dancer. But now when I look back, these hurdles were the golden moments that helped me become a much stronger, more determined person. Thus, I pledge to spread this wonderful Buddhism through my art and preserve this never-give-up attitude throughout my life.
1 Mystic Law: The ultimate law, principle, or truth of life and the universe in Nichiren’s teachings; the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. This term derives from Kumārajīva’s Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word saddharma, from the title of the Saddharma-pundarīka-sūtra, or the Lotus Sutra. It has been translated into English also as Wonderful Law, Wonderful Dharma, Fine Dharma, etc.
2 Kosen-rufu: Literally, it means “to widely declare and spread [the Lotus Sutra]”; to secure lasting peace and happiness for all humankind through the propagation of Nichiren Buddhism. More broadly, kosen-rufu refers to the process of establishing the humanistic ideals of Nichiren Buddhism in society.
3 Gohonzon: The object of devotion in Nichiren Buddhism. It is the embodiment of the Law of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, expressing the life-state of Buddhahood, which all people inherently possess. Go means “worthy of honour” and honzon means “object of fundamental respect.”