Prepared to Meet Difficulties
By Eric Chen, Mississauga, Ontario
Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Regard your service to your lord as the practice of the Lotus Sutra. This is what is meant by ‘No worldly affairs of life or work are ever contrary to the true reality.’ I hope you will deeply consider the meaning of this passage” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1., p. 905).
This is one of my favourite passages, which I have always cherished close to my heart.
Starting in April 2009, I worked for a major financial institution in IT support. I always tried my best at work, including keeping my Blackberry close to me, answering emails and calls late at night. For the first few years, I received either outstanding or distinguished recognition at my annual work-performance review, resulting in a good raise at the end of each year. My goal was to move on to a more senior position as a team leader.
About three years ago, due to a management rotation, I acquired a new boss. Things started to go downhill. I no longer received good reviews. At the time, I thought that maybe the new management was not aware of my skills, so I determined to prove that I deserved a more positive assessment.
I worked hard, built good relationships with various user groups, support teams and vendors. I continued to look after junior team members and to learn new technology. I even initiated a new procedure that eventually helped my team to improve overall performance. My manager was very pleased and showed this to senior management. They were all very impressed. However, at the end of the year, I still did not receive a favourable review. After many frustrations, I started to consider changing my career path entirely. I also started to chant specifically to break through this deadlock.
Deadlock and frustration became my daily reality for almost two years. Then, at the beginning of 2016, the CEO announced a 4 per cent reduction in the company’s workforce, equivalent to 2,000 people. There were signs that the company might be seeking to outsource one or more IT support groups. Although we were repeatedly told by our manager that he did not think the outsourcing would happen, I was skeptical and concerned, but I continued to chant steadily.
A couple of months later, my wife, Jin and I went on a vacation we had been planning for more than a year, travelling home to Taiwan to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday. After an enjoyable trip and lots of spending, I went back to work. As soon as I stepped into the office, I was called in to see my manager. He delivered the news that during my vacation we had been outsourced and handed me a standard severance package. Although I was shocked, I did not experience any resentful feelings, accepting it as a business decision that I did not take personally. In fact, I asked my manager what was going to happen to him, since he would no longer have a team to manage. He was surprised and told me that I was the only one on the entire team who had asked him that question. I appreciated that my Buddhist practice allowed me to have the life condition to think about others even during a difficult time.
The company provided a team of transition consultants to help those who were laid off, and a meeting was arranged for me immediately. The first thing the consultant asked was whether I had an account with a particular professional networking site. When I said no, she strongly encouraged me to create an account, recommending it as a great way to network with people who were seeking professional advancement.
I left work early that day thinking, “I really need to chant lots to overcome this difficulty.” I chanted with two very clear goals: a fair compensation package and a new job. During my remaining weeks in the office, with lots of chanting and help from friends, I was able to negotiate a much better departure package. I also made preparations for my job search, including creating the recommended networking account.
My last day at work was July 29, 2016. After that, I started an even more vigorous daimoku (chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo) campaign. I knew it would not be easy to find a good job with decent compensation and future potential in a job market geared toward mostly younger professionals and new immigrants with equivalent experience and skills, drawing lower salaries. This alone was a big challenge, even if we had not been in a recession.
The first week of full-time job search was frustrating with only a couple of decent positions appearing. I was deeply aware that my chanting was the key to breaking through and that Nichiren's writings was my compass. Determined not to let negative feelings take over, I chanted alot and reread important writings, especially those Nichiren wrote to encourage his close disciple, Shijo Kingo, who faced great challenges in his work.
A passage which encouraged me greatly is “I am praying that, no matter how troubled the times may become, the Lotus Sutra and the ten demon daughters will protect all of you, praying as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood, or to obtain water from parched ground” (Ibid, p. 444).
Setting fire to wet tinder and extracting water from dry land are both impossible. But the impossible only appears so to a common mortal’s eyes. Nichiren is saying that with strong determination and chanting, we can transform the impossible into the possible. There is nothing impossible in the realm of the Mystic Law.1 We are the ones to decide whether to break through or be defeated.
Even with determined daimoku, nothing happened for about a month. Naturally, I felt frustrated. But as a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, I knew that discouragement is only the work of devilish functions (events and feelings which rob us of hope and life force). Every morning I redetermined to break through and chanted vigorously before I worked on my job search. I determined not to be defeated, and whenever I felt depressed, I would go back to chant some more.
One morning, after I had finished chanting, I found an online request to connect with a former colleague using my new networking account. We exchanged messages and I explained my situation, asking him to spread the word for me. He responded that he had appreciated my work when I supported his team and that he would be more than happy to refer me to recruiters he knew.
He forwarded my resume to these people. Within an hour, one of them replied to say that he was not on the recruiting team anymore but liked my resume, which he passed on to a recruiter at his bank the next day. Within days, I received a call from this recruiter, who told me that his bank was building up a new support structure and he felt that I would be an ideal candidate. He arranged an interview for me and sent my resume to more hiring managers within his company.
In the meantime, I received a call from another recruiter my former colleague had contacted. Although she did not have any immediate openings, she took the time to teach me some resume strategies which would allow my resume to pass more readily through corporate structures to the hiring managers, as well as providing me with some interview tips.
A few days later, I went for an interview, which, unfortunately, did not go well. I felt drained and disappointed. However, I took the setback positively and utilized this failure to prepare for future interviews.
My next interview came a couple of weeks later. As the hiring manager led me to the interview room, I ran into a former colleague. We exchanged a few words and I learned he was now working under this manager. The tone of the interview was set when the manager volunteered that he had heard good things about me from my former colleague. This made me feel very confident and I proceeded to feel that the interview concluded successfully.
As soon as I got home, I chanted in front of my Buddhist altar with deep appreciation that so many protective forces had emerged in answer to my prayers. I also chanted for the happiness of all those colleagues and perfect strangers who had helped me during this job search.
A week later, I received an offer from this company. Both the job and salary were equivalent to my former employment! I was overwhelmed upon hearing the news. With only two interviews in just over two months, I had found a good job amid a recession when reducing workforce was the general trend throughout my profession.
When I spoke with my former manager and team leader, I learned that, although some of my coworkers had accepted jobs from the outsourcing company at lower seniority and salary, I was the first of our team of over 50 technicians coast-to-coast to find an equivalent position. Colleagues from my previous employment were all surprised that I could make a comeback in such a short time. This is truly protection from my Buddhist practice so that I can demonstrate the power of chanting.
In the end, losing my job actually resulted in several benefits, including financial ones. Because I found a new job before my compensation package ran out, I was able to pay the extra expenses accrued from our trip as well as completing the final instalments on my car. In addition, I had three weeks before my new job started and was able to utilize the time catching up on visiting SGI practitioners, as well as finishing a home renovation project that I had started two years before but had never had time to finish.
My new work environment is also significantly improved, providing much more communication and collegiality than my former situation. In order to help develop the cohesiveness within this newly formed team, we have instituted a practice of meeting daily to share issues, concerns and challenges. My new manager actually meets with each of us individually on a weekly basis! I no longer feel undervalued or deadlocked.
Since coming to this country as a young man, I have overcome many challenges with my Buddhist practice. Overcoming each obstacle has helped me to further solidify my faith. However, I feel this time is particularly significant. This midlife career crisis came right after I accepted a major responsibility for kosen-rufu in my area. I believe it was both a test of my faith and another opportunity to further develop my faith in order to live a victorious life and carry out my mission for kosen-rufu.2
Just as Nichiren's writing states: “To accept is easy; to continue is difficult. But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith. Those who uphold this sutra should be prepared to meet difficulties. It is certain, however, that they will ‘quickly attain the unsurpassed Buddha way’” (Ibid, p. 471).
There will always be more obstacles on the way. But with strong determination and abundant daimoku, I know I will overcome every challenge and demonstrate the power of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.
1 Mystic Law: The ultimate law, principle, or truth of life and the universe in Nichiren Daishonin’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.