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Taking Charge of My Own Happiness

June 2, 2017

By Michael Challenger


Since I started practising Nichiren Buddhism nine years ago, I quickly realized that taking charge of my happiness was something I wanted to achieve. I wasn’t quite sure how things would all come together, but one thing I knew for certain: with Buddhist practice, a combination of discipline, hard work and determination would create a mixture called “happiness.”  

My journey toward happiness started in Paris when a cast member of a show I was performing in was chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo backstage. There was something about the sound and vibration that connected with my life and I wanted more. I came back from Europe, moved to Vancouver and received my Gohonzon there.

As soon as I started to chant, everything started to move rapidly in the right direction. The more I chanted, the more I became clearer with my mission in life.

Buying a house in my 20s and travelling the world with my career as a dancer/singer/actor was something I had already achieved before encountering Buddhism and for which I'm grateful everyday. Yet, the more I learn about this practice and the true power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the more I understood that you can fulfill your mission and be truly happy if you practise correctly.

Buddhism has given me a whole new perspective on how much more I can accomplish with my life than solely achieving relative happiness. My absolute happiness is now what matters the most. SGI President Daisaku Ikeda became dear to my heart when I understood what he had accomplished in his life and what he’s still achieving today at 89 years old.

There were days when I would chant and think to myself, “Who are you?” and “What do you actually want to do with yourself in this lifetime?” Without hesitation, I continued to deepen my practice and trust the rich teachings of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.

The combination of taking action and chanting changed my life so much that it started to accelerate in the direction where faith, practice and studying this philosophy would change the entire scope of my future. I started to change, therefore my environment also started to shift and change. 

One of my biggest challenges in life has been fear of failure and not wanting to make mistakes. The more I would achieve, the more fear would present itself. The deeper I got to the core of my fears, the more I knew I needed to overcome the false expectations that prevented me from savouring the benefits that life had to offer. 

President Ikeda writes: 

 To be fearless no matter what happens—that is the root of true happiness. To move forward resolutely regardless of what lies in store—that is the spirit, the resolve, that leads to human victory. But if we allow ourselves to be disturbed by petty criticism and slander, if we fear pressure or persecution, we will never advance or create anything of lasting value. (Faith into Action, p. 106) 

When I started to truly understand what that meant I knew I had to lay down the foundation of my happiness and fulfill my mentor’s expectation. 

The 2016 SGI theme “The Year of Expansion in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu” has truly changed my life. On January 1, 2016, I vowed that I was going to use the voice of the Buddha and face all the things that have prevented me from truly being happy. I was sick of self-sabotage and I needed to transform everything around me with prayer, focus and determination. 

With the attitude of “now is the time” to win and create lasting happiness in this lifetime, I sat in front of my Gohonzon and faced all the things I needed to balance out in my life: family karma, self-love (every cell and fibre), finances, career goals, friendships, my romantic life, health and my mentor-disciple relationship. Buddhism is a choice between winning and losing, and I needed to prove the validity of this practice by winning in all these areas.

I sometimes look at my schedule and think: “Wow your schedule is crazy.” But I also know that, using every minute wisely and working with the power the Mystic Law, everything is going to be okay in the end. I’ve dedicated my life for kosen-rufu and I need to set an example for family, friends, fellow members and whomever else comes into my life. 

My new direction started with writing and feeling connected to President Ikeda and truly wanting to make a difference. Two years ago, I went to my computer and decided I was going to write a book to empower people around me. Making myself accountable, I shared the news with some of the SGI men’s division members and they supported me throughout the process. Thank you, men! I’m truly appreciative. 

Michael holding an award he received for his short film “Where Do We Go From Here” in 2013.

          Writing this book helped me face my own fears in life and overcome the many things that were impeding my life. I stopped questioning whether I should do it and committed to serve my vow for kosen-rufu. The book is meant to be read by all people no matter their age, background, colour or gender.  

          As a result, my book will be coming out this spring! The journey has been absolutely amazing and I’m so proud to see it come to life. Being bold has not been easy, but looking back now I can’t believe what kind of life I've had professionally and personally. The “Year of Expansion” has truly inspired me to use my life as a Buddha to the fullest.

          So it doesn’t stop there. In 2016 alone, I’ve worked on eight commercials, wrote and directed my first concert, changed my karmic relationship with my father, worked alongside naturopaths and doctors to maintain my health, and am now starting 2017 by building a new live show for a casino in Ontario.   

           This past December, I started visiting schools to empower troubled youth and developing new relationships with people on different school boards. The more I listen to youth, the more I understand how much SGI members are needed in today’s society. To gain such rich knowledge and not do anything about it would be a shame. Nichiren Dashoinin’s Buddhism teaches us that our sole happiness is not the only thing that matters. Once you start to experience your own version of joy, you can share it with others and make this world a better place. One person can truly make a difference.

So all this is to say that it doesn’t just come from luck and things falling from the sky. With hard work and human revolution we develop in this practice, we can truly win. To truly win, you first need to believe that you’re a winner and receive the great gifts that life has to offer. There’s no time to ponder, reconsider or question whether you can do it. When chanting Nam-myoho-renge -kyo, you can do anything. Making the impossible possible is possible in this practice. 

This year's theme 2017 –– “Year of Developing Youth in the New Era of Worldwide Kosen-rufu” –– is so exciting! The future of the youth is so important and I'll be chanting each step of the way to see each of my fellow youth members win and break through their challenges.  

I truly want to thank each and every SGI practitioner for your smiley faces and your determination to win in life. There are no words to explain how grateful I am. There are days that I wake up in the morning and have headaches of joy (I’m not kidding!). I sometimes still can’t believe how fortunate I am that I found this practice. Every day, I thank myself and the universe for the beautiful things that life has to offer. It’s only been nine years of chanting and I can’t wait for another nine to come. 
President Ikeda writes:

If you practice faith while doubting its effects, you will get results that are at best unsatisfactory. This is the reflection of your own weak faith in the mirror of the cosmos. On the other hand, when you stand up with strong confidence, you will accrue limitless blessings. (Ibid, p. 101)