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Finding a Dream and Conquering Doubt

December 3, 2020

By Harold Hunter, Toronto

District Young Men’s Leader

As a child, school was something I never really cared about. Honestly, it was dreadful, I disliked school a lot. In Grade 7, I would dream about the day of not having to go to class. I didn’t care about learning at all and would skip out on homework as often as I could. This habit of mine carried through to Seneca College, and I became friends with other students with the “I don’t care” mentality. Things then started to spiral as I failed all my first year courses and was on the verge of getting kicked out of college. 

Both my parents have been practising Nichiren Buddhism since I was born. In the year 2011, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my dad had a heart attack. I had no direction in my life, and it was at this time that I started to receive visits from a family Buddhist friend who encouraged me to start chanting. I started chanting five minutes a day, primarily for my happiness. Slowly but surely, not only did I start to feel happier, but everything started to change. Realizing this new sense of self, I started to take charge of my life and managed not only to graduate from Seneca College but also to secure a job in Texas. Also, both my parents showed the power of the practice through overcoming their health struggles head-on. At the time, however, I had not yet learned how protected we truly are by practising Nichiren Buddhism.

While working in Texas, I learned to have a dream. I was given the opportunity to take on leadership as a young men’s leader in SGI-USA. In a meeting attended by some senior SGI-USA leaders, the national women’s leader at the time, Akemi Bailey-Haynie, asked me in front of a group of youth, “What is your dream?” I was lost for words and flushed bright red. She said that youth should have a dream and I really started to reflect on that. Later, I also had the opportunity, with other young men’s members from Dallas, to seek guidance from Danny Nagashima, the General Director for SGI-USA, and I asked him, “What if you don’t have a dream?” He told me that even if you do not have a dream, you should determine to be the best at where you work, and things will naturally open up for you. So I determined to be the absolute best employee, even though I was already working from 7 am to7 pm and even later, every day, including weekends.

Late one night in the office, I was reviewing structural drawings for a fire sprinkler design and I kept seeing Professional Engineering stamps on every drawing. That is when it clicked. I decided right then and there to become a professional engineer.

Even though I had zero foundation for engineering classes and had barely scraped through school, I decided to quit my job to pursue my dreams. Back in Canada, I immediately marched up to the University of Toronto and demanded they accept me. I was quickly led to realize that I needed to redo all my high school courses and attain a 98 per cent average in order to guarantee a seat. By now, having developed a strong foundation in Nichiren Buddhism, I knew what that would take from an action standpoint. From my SGI training, I learned to place my entire life force behind decisions that we made for campaigns, home visits and action plans. So I knew I would have to stand behind my decision and do whatever it took to get enrolled in university.

I completed eight high school courses in eight months, with a 93% average. I wasn’t accepted by the University of Toronto, but was accepted at York University, where I am currently a third-year civil engineering student specializing in structural engineering.

In mid-2019, I realized that while in university, I had done almost no Buddhist study. This was July 2019, and the study campaign for the Level 1 Basics of Nichiren Buddhism Study Exam was just beginning. This was my chance to take the initiative to lead the study campaign for my district, having not studied Buddhism for almost three years.

At the same time, I was broke. I had not worked since 2016. I had paid for all my tuition through savings from my job in Texas., my OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program), my credit cards and line of credit. My credit was maxed-out. I did not know how I would pay for my next semester in January of 2020.

This is when I determined to absolutely win in our SGI study campaign with the prayer of showing actual proof of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. I determined to win a scholarship for my engineering studies. At this time in mid-August, I hadn’t even applied for one scholarship, and school was starting in less than a month.

With all my life force, I dedicated my efforts to our SGI study campaign. With the full support of Fairview District, we formed a study group and started a weekly study of the level one study booklet, reading 10 pages a week as a district. Our weekly chanting meetings transitioned into study prep meetings and more and more members participated. A strong core developed. Fairview District, in the end, confirmed 26 members to write the exam.

During this time in mid-September, I still hadn’t made a single application, but here I was chanting for a scholarship. Mystically, I received a news-feed by email about a scholarship I could apply for, called the Lassonde Scholarship. The Lassonde Scholarship cast a wide net and was very competitive. When the time came for doing the application, I realized that I had completely missed the deadline by one day. At this time I was in a low state and almost didn’t even want to try anymore. I had become really dragged down from all the pressure of university, being isolated in my studies for many years in a row, making a lot of social sacrifices in order to maintain a full course load. Now, not not only did I not know where my tuition money would come from, I felt the need to be working full-time to help my parents, who were both still working to help support my two sisters and me, while leaving nothing for themselves.

I decided just to check if I would still be able to submit my online application. Even though the deadline had passed, it seemed as though I could. But secretly, having fallen into this state, I was almost hoping the chance had passed. I just didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of applying. To my surprise, the submission process was still open! I roused myself and gave it my best, but I really felt my responses were nothing special. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything back. Then it finally occurred to me, “What am I doing? I have placed so much effort into this campaign for the sole purpose of showing actual proof of getting a scholarship, and yet here I am doubting!” In volume one of The New Human Revolution, Daisaku Ikeda writes:

The Gohonzon is absolute; it is certain that all prayers will be answered. The problem is that you doubt the Gohonzon. In that case, no matter how much daimoku you may chant, your…situation will not improve. (The New Human Revolution, vol.1, p. 196)

Even though the idea of getting this one scholarship seemed crazy, I decided to close my ears to doubt and trust the Gohonzon. I started to chant with absolute conviction, with the prayer that I would get the scholarship and show actual proof of Nichiren Buddhism for my efforts in this campaign.

About one week later, I received an email that I had been short-listed for the final round of the scholarship interviews. Fast-forwarding to the final interview, I remember waiting outside the interview room and trying to remain calm. As soon as the door opened, time became suspended, and all of a sudden, I felt as though I had morphed into a different state, as though the Buddha within my life had fully emerged. I felt as though I was in absolute rhythm with the universe. This was a group interview and there were three other students participating. From my SGI training, I picked up on cues right away, such as two other students walking straight into the room without shaking hands with the interviewers. As the last person in, I firmly shook both interviewers’ hands and greeted them. Coincidentally, the final interview was set up exactly like an SGI discussion meeting, in an informal circle of chairs.  I felt right at home as though I were talking with my fellow SGI members. When it came time for the first question, I immediately answered with no hesitation. I just naturally took the lead in the discussion, and in the end, everyone looked to me as though for final words. It was kind of odd!

On Monday, October 14, 2019—the day after writing our Basics of Buddhism exam—I received an email that I had been awarded the scholarship. I ran down to the Dean’s office and ripped open the envelope. I learned I had been awarded a $45,000 scholarship for three years of school, $15,000 for each year. This is enough to cover my whole tuition as well as to pull me fully out of debt. It amazes me how this practice works! Applying for only one scholarship, the odds were not in my favour, but that is what we call the Mystic Law in Nichiren Buddhism.

I would like to conclude this experience with a quote from Sensei, also taken from The New Human Revolution, that has been with me since I started my mission in becoming an engineer.

When our resolve weakens, all we can see are giant obstacles looming on the horizon. We end up believing that they are immovable realities. This is where the cause of defeat lies. The key to victory in our struggle for kosen-rufu, it may be said, lies in battling the cowardice that resides in our own hearts. (Ibid., vol. 3, p. 12)

Published in July 2020 New Century