Taking Responsibility for My Life
By Lipika Singh
Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda once said:
"To really change one's life, to transform it at the very core, one must struggle against great evil. Change cannot be achieved by merely accumulating small good deeds like many minute particles of dust. Only in battling against great evil can the mountain of great good, of benefit and fortune, be built." (Faith into Action, p. 217)
In the more than 10 years of my Buddhist practice with the SGI, I have learned that the way I respond to trials has a great effect on whether they become roadblocks in life or opportunities for learning, growth and wisdom. For this development and growth, I thank a wonderful friend in New Delhi who introduced me to this practice when I was 20.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda says, "Youth means to cherish hope; it is a time of development. Youth means to challenge oneself; it is a time of construction. Youth means to fight for justice; it is a time of action" (Faith Into Action, p. 81). My journey has been complex as I have transformed from an introverted, vulnerable, scared and hesitant girl who didn’t know how to love herself, to a woman of strength and belief, self-motivated and confident. Today my vulnerability has become strength as my journey continues.
To introduce myself, I am the youngest in my family with one older brother and my parents. Life hasn’t been easy. My father’s salary met our basic daily needs. We always lived in a rented single or two-room house. Apart from this, my parents never had a happy married life and we grew up hearing them fight over every personal and financial matter. As I child I often felt hurt and frightened and didn’t know what to do. My mother tried to nurture and support us but the difficult backdrop remained. She would tell us things would be fine, but I would hear her crying for us, herself and the family situation. As a child I did not want the life I was living to be my destiny, yet at some level I felt powerless.
Initially in my Buddhist practice, I chanted for small wishes and dreams. In many ways my faith did not have the depth it needed. I practised half-heartedly for two years. I had to learn that while we may chant for things and outcomes, there is no guarantee the answer will emerge as we envisage it. We have to be open to the answers given to us, as well as to the opportunities life presents. Chanting can change anything, often because it changes our perspective on situations. It changes who we are from the inside.
With help from my brother as well as through scholarships and loans, I was able to attend university and graduated with a Master’s degree in Architecture in 2011. In the same year, my father retired and my brother moved to Canada, seeking better opportunities. I was the only person left to take care of my parents as well as to support my family financially.
As a post-graduate from the best institution, I was hopeful and excited to seek work with leading architectural companies. However, I felt immensely let down when I entered into the competitive market during a recession. I ended up underemployed with a small architectural company with half the expected salary for my capabilities. My dreams and excitement turned to dismay. I learned that even with an education, Indian working women have a difficult path. The workplace discriminates against women, resulting in harassment, low pay, long hours and little respect. Women are underemployed while men are given opportunities for growth and advancement. Affirmative action measures and legislation had not changed the reality for young working women. We were not being seen for our potential based on our knowledge, skills and abilities.
I had a family to support and I felt powerless. I asked myself, how can I change this? The personal risks of fighting for change were too high. Concurrently my Buddhist practice and faith were gradually growing. As my wisdom grew, I gained new perspectives and understanding. While there was much I couldn’t change, I became respected by my co-workers, even though the overall work environment lacked respect and real opportunity.
My surroundings and work environment became unhealthy for me to sustain and grow. In spite of everything, I focused on my work with dreams and plans to move to Canada. I started applying for permanent residency in Canada after a year of work experience, but my challenges seemed never ending. I learned that all places for the architectural profession were filled for that year. I waited another year, then another. I became restless but still tried to keep my patience. In 2014, I applied again. It took eight months to apply for Canadian permanent residency, gathering a huge amount of documentation as well as meeting financial challenges. After a further nine months of patiently facing struggles at my workplace, my application was finally accepted. I received my visa in July 2015. I felt immense happiness and relief, especially to leave my office, which by then was becoming intolerable.
My parents and I were terrified about our move. We did not have money to buy plane tickets and show the necessary liquid assets. In order to raise the money, my father had to sell, at half price, the small apartment which was the one asset he had been able to acquire upon his retirement in 2010. With this money, we were able to support our application and landed in Canada in September 2015.
This was a great victory. Our financial situation continued to improve when my brother was able to welcome us to his home, which, as a result of his hard work, he was able to purchase later the same year.
Although coming to Canada was a dream come true, I knew my next challenges were waiting for me. I heard from everyone that people did not get jobs in their own profession easily. I had one hundred per cent belief in myself and this practice. I knew I would get a job. I wanted a job with the City of Vancouver, although this seemed impossible since I was new in Canada, without any local experience or education.
Fortunately, I got a job with a small architectural firm within 20 days. I felt gratitude for my boss, who hired me without any Canadian experience and I worked with all my energy and enthusiasm. However, I quickly realized this firm was like my firms in India. Once again I was underemployed, underpaid, worked long hours and enjoyed little respect.
I kept chanting and exerted myself in my Buddhist practice, studying and participating in SGI meetings. I steadily became more aware of my inner strength, handling my challenges through my Buddhist philosophy. I took responsibility for my own karma and my surroundings.
Buddhism teaches that your situation will keep repeating itself until you learn your lessons. I decided to take charge of my situation at work and faced it fearlessly. I chanted for wisdom and strength. I chanted for better job opportunities. I volunteered for the City of Vancouver and kept applying for every City opportunity.
President Ikeda writes: "If you lose today, win tomorrow, in this never ending spirit of challenge is formed the heart of a victor” (www.ikedaquotes.org). A friend told me to never give up, to think of my journey as throwing mud at the wall. One day, the mud will definitely stick.
A few weeks later, I received a call from the City of Vancouver to attend an interview for an architectural technologist position. I relied on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to have the best interview, as well as chanting for the happiness of the people on the interview panel. I researched and prepared for the interview. My interview went well. I continued chanting for positive results and for a respectful and encouraging work culture. I saw on the City’s website a badge that said, “Respect Works Here.” I needed a workplace that respected me as a person. I wanted to be hired for my knowledge, skills and abilities. I wanted past karma to be past and to move forward where I was allowed to grow based on who I am as a person, not based on gender or colour. I wanted to be allowed to be me.
In this case, my prayer was answered exactly as I asked. I was selected by my dream organization, the City of Vancouver, which is also recognized as the best employer in British Columbia. I was given the opportunity for growth and I am paid a salary that reflects my education and experience. I was given the opportunity to work where respect is real. Thanks to my practice of Buddhism, my life started to expand once again.
My next obstacle arose. I had to have a BC driver’s licence before joining the City in two weeks. I was extremely anxious, as I had already failed the test and was not at all confident that I could pass. President Ikeda writes: "When you encounter a wall, tell yourself, ‘Since there is a wall, a wide open expanse must lie on the other side.’ Rather than becoming discouraged, know that encountering a wall is a proof of the progress that you have made so far” (Buddhism Day by Day; Wisdom for Modern Life, p. 149).
I chanted specifically for this obstacle. A friend told me of a female instructor who only teaches women and was known to have positive outcomes. I took three days of instruction from this teacher and assiduously practised driving in the early mornings, late evenings and on rainy days. Meanwhile, I looked for road test dates. There were none available. I chanted wholeheartedly to get a date in time and to have an understanding female examiner. I couldn't believe it when everything fell into place exactly the way I prayed for it. I got the perfect date and time as well as a female examiner with a cheerful smile on her face. Even the weather supported me with bright sunshine. I passed the test.
BC driving licence in hand, I joined the City of Vancouver on November, 21, 2016. I feel blessed to work in an encouraging and respectful work environment. The City is demonstrating respect for me and I am working hard, adding value for my employer. I am respected for my profession and as a person.
I am impressed by a Buddhist teaching from the Lotus Sutra which says that bodhisattvas voluntarily assume the appropriate karma. This means that, out of compassion, bodhisattvas choose to be born in an evil age so that they can teach people the Lotus Sutra and save them from sufferings. I believe this was my mission, taking charge to change my workplace karma through my Buddhist wisdom and my emerging strength.
I am determined to continue being a volunteer and taking responsibility to change my own karma and to guide others to turn sufferings into blessings and opportunities. I understand there will be more challenges and struggles on my journey. But I have learned to love myself and believe in myself and believe in the strength that flows from this practice.
In life we need to look after not only our physical health, but also our mental, spiritual and psychological health. We must build character and follow practices that bring us the strength to learn from and overcome adversity. For me, this practice has allowed me to have the strength to perceive and to seize opportunities. Without this practice I would not have seen many opportunities and even if I saw them I would not have had the confidence to pursue them. I have gained faith in this practice and hope to support and guide others to develop their faith and reach their human and spiritual potential.
(Published in October 2017 New Century)