Let My Victory Inspire Others!
By Erin O’Halloran
Young Women’s Vice District Leader
Riverdale District, Toronto
I was born into a family practising Nichiren Buddhism in Toronto and grew up chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. At 19, I left Canada to attend university in England, and over the next 15 years I made friends from all over the world, worked at the United Nations, completed a PhD at Oxford University, and married my soulmate. These were all direct benefits of my Buddhist practice, contributing to my strong foundation in faith.
Like many people, my life and career came to a screeching halt in 2020. I had been applying for research positions since mid-2018, a process which normally takes a couple of "seasons." However with the impact of the pandemic, the already-strained academic job market went into free fall. I applied to hundreds of university jobs all over the world; most didn’t even bother to send a rejection. It was like screaming into a void. I began struggling with a sense of shame that after all my years of study and training, I couldn’t seem to "make" anything of myself. Paralyzed by self-doubt, I suddenly couldn’t face my own research or writing.
In August 2020, I left California, where my husband, Nick, is completing his PhD, to visit my parents in Canada. I knew that—with the school year about to begin—I was facing at least another 12 months of unemployment. Alone in post-travel quarantine, I spent my time crying, chanting, and tearing through volume after volume of The New Human Revolution. The encouragement and inspiration I found in Sensei’s writing prevented me from throwing in the towel. One of the passages I returned to again and again states:
The human spirit is as expansive as the cosmos. This is why it is so tragic to belittle yourself or to question your worth. No matter what happens, continue to push back the boundaries of your inner life. The confidence to prevail over any problem, the strength to overcome adversity and unbounded hope—all reside within you.
Six weeks later, as I tried to return to California, I was denied re-entry into the United States. Although immigration lawyers later assured me I hadn’t broken any rules, there was now a flag on my passport. They advised me not to try crossing the border for at least a year. Overnight, I found myself stuck at my parents’ home near Barrie, Ontario, with nothing but a few items of summer clothing. My husband and I had no idea when we would be able to see each other again, and I felt more confused than ever about my path forward.
“I found myself chanting to the Gohonzon with only one prayer in my heart: “Let my victory inspire others to embrace the Mystic Law and reveal the immense potential from within their lives.” Above: Erin and Nick in Toronto
As 2020 drew to a close, I found myself in crisis on almost every front: career, immigration, living situation, finances, marriage. Yet from a Buddhist perspective, I understood this represented a crucial turning point in my life and mission. From exile, Nichiren declared himself the "richest man in all of Japan” (cf. WND-1, 268; “The Opening of the Eyes”). He wrote:
"The greater the hardships befalling him, the greater the delight he feels, because of his strong faith” (WND-1, 33; “A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering”).
I, too, was determined to welcome my challenges with a spirit of gratitude.
And indeed, there was much to be grateful for. Living with my parents was a precious opportunity to reconnect with them after many years apart. I also got to spend time with my grandmother during the final chapter of her life (and to say goodbye in person, which felt like a miracle).
When SGI activities moved online, I could also continue in my role as a district leader in California. In particular, we had a young woman guest who was going through serious challenges in her career and personal life. We spoke on the phone and chanted together often. I determined that she would transform her circumstances through consistent practice, receive the Gohonzon, and be able to step into my role as young women’s district leader, since it was becoming clear I would transition to SGI Canada. I also threw myself into sharing Buddhism with others. Thirteen of my girlfriends in various countries began joining a daily chanting session I organized, and seven of them are now chanting regularly and receiving SGI publications in the U.S., UK, and France.
In January 2021, I was informed that Cambridge University had selected my research proposal to put forward for a major funding scheme. Surely, I thought, this was it. I oriented every aspect of my life toward this vision of my future, even waking up to chant in the middle of the night…I was just too excited to sleep.
Then in May, I was informed that—having reached the final shortlist out of 700+ applicants—I had ultimately been unsuccessful. It felt like the final dead end. I remember looking into my Gohonzon that evening and thinking, “Now, we’re going to do whatever you have in mind, because I am all out of ideas.”
That night I received a phone call from an SGI leader who works in a similar field to mine. I told her about my research project and my rejection letter, how sure I had been, and how completely lost I felt now. After listening to me, she shared her experience of a similar turning point in her own career, in which a "delay" getting accepted to her dream program had transformed her life for the better. “Honey,” she said, “This is not a No…this is a Not Yet. Dig deeper. Re-apply. Fight for this.”
When I got off the phone, I emailed my Cambridge sponsors to request their support for two major applications in the next year’s funding cycle. This would involve months of work for everyone, with no guarantees of a better outcome; however they all agreed to support me and my project. I decided not to waste energy applying to other jobs; I would throw everything I had at these applications. It was going to be all or nothing.
Things seemed to move very quickly from that moment forward. Nick secured permission to work remotely from Canada. I found us a beautiful, affordable apartment in Toronto, walking distance to my brother’s house. The address landed us in an SGI district full of old friends from my childhood. On the day Nick arrived, I got an email out of the blue, offering me a contract lectureship at the University of Toronto (U of T). It was a perfect fit—a job I hadn’t even heard about, let alone applied for. Instead, they found me.
That fall, the young woman I was supporting in California received the Gohonzon, having used her practice to completely transform her circumstances. At a November 18th commemorative meeting, she was named the new young women’s leader for my former district. Watching her overcome painful challenges and develop into a confident, capable leader was one of the highlights of my year.
Meanwhile my husband, to both his surprise and mine, fell in love with Toronto and benefited from new research and professional opportunities. He also developed a much closer relationship with my family, especially my brother and his wife—something I had never dared to dream of when we lived so far away.
Erin with her husband Nick (far right) and her parents Heather and Dave
In December 2021, I finished writing the final chapter of my book in time to fly to Colorado to spend the holidays with my in-laws. At the border, I was again held and questioned, but this time I came prepared with reams of personal documentation. Awaiting my interview with U.S. Customs, I listened in amazement as my husband chanted daimoku quietly beside me. With minutes to spare before our boarding call, the agent cleared me for re-entry. I could move freely across the border again—our ordeal was finally over.
That winter, I threw myself into my lectureship at U of T, teaching International History of the 20th Century to 86 undergraduates. I chanted for our weekly meetings to be "ceremonies in the air" of history, and to convey the heart of my mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, through my lectures. Throughout the term, I received dozens of notes from students enthusing about the class, which felt amazing after struggling so much with my sense of self-worth as an academic. One email read in part:
Thank you for reminding us that … for as long as there is agency in the hands of compassionate human beings, there is, too, hope…I believe you are changing the world, one student at a time.
To know that even one person in my class felt this way about my teaching made every year of my training, and all of my struggles in the job market, feel completely worthwhile.
Finally, on March 21, 2022—the first day of spring—I was notified that I had won a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue my research at Cambridge University. This is a globally competitive, multi-year grant funded by the European Union and among the most prestigious awards of its kind worldwide. The salary and research budget are also far more generous than any scheme I had previously applied to.
That morning, I found myself chanting to the Gohonzon with only one prayer in my heart:
“Let my victory inspire others to embrace the Mystic Law and reveal the immense potential from within their lives.”
Published in July 2022 New Century
 Nam-myoho-renge-kyo: The fundamental Law of the universe expounded in Nichiren Buddhism, it expresses the true aspect of life. Chanting it allows people to directly tap their enlightened nature and is the primary practice of SGI members.
 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.”
 Daimoku: Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.
 Ceremony in the air: One of the three assemblies described in the Lotus Sutra, in which the entire gathering is suspended in the space above the saha world. The heart of the ceremony is the revelation of the Buddha’s original enlightenment in the remote past and the transfer of the essence of the sutra to the Bodhisattvas of the Earth. Therefore, it is not a historical event or a fantastical Buddhist tale. In essence, it can be viewed as a metaphor for the emergence of our innate Buddhahood, the potential in all people to bring forth supreme compassion, courage and wisdom.