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The Courage to Try Again

November 24, 2022

By Helen Ho

Warden District, Toronto

Helen with her pet dog Victory

I am called a “fortune baby,” because my mother was practising Nichiren Buddhism when I was born. From a young age, I would often accompany her to SGI Canada meetings. At the time, however, I did not understand the impact that Buddhism could have on my life and the lives of those around me.

My perspective started to change in 2009, when I joined the SGI Canada Youth Band in Toronto. I was a percussionist who played the glockenspiel. Although I was new to this instrument, my piano background was a strong basis on which I could build my skill. I enjoyed playing the glockenspiel because of the cheerful and refreshing tones it added to the music.

I had the opportunity to perform at large area-level meetings, and I participated in the 2010 SGI Canada Youth Festival. In addition, during band practices, we would discuss and study Buddhism, and I found this useful and applicable to my life. I was introduced to the concept of “human revolution.”[1] I understood that this means  everyone has the potential to improve, develop, and become their best self, and I was intrigued by this idea.

From a young age, I had always struggled with social interactions because I was shy and quiet, and often anxious. I could not find the courage or confidence to speak out. Every time I had to speak with unfamiliar people, even in small groups, my palms would get sweaty and my heart would race. As a result, I tried to find every possible excuse to avoid social interactions. I knew this was not ideal and that I needed to change. With my human revolution in mind, I was determined to improve this aspect of myself.

I was inspired by the conviction I witnessed when I saw my mom chanting, as well as the experiences of other SGI members. I put time aside every day to chant and then put my goals into action. My mindset changed and because of this, more opportunities opened up. I took on leadership roles at school and in extracurricular activities. This gave me an environment in which to work at facing my fears, breaking out of my shell, and lessening my anxieties.

Helen with her family on vacation in Taiwan in December 2017.
From left: Helen, Gordon (father), Edward (brother) and Mavis (mother)

This change was important in achieving one of my goals which was to be accepted into the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario. It is a four-year program. The acceptance requirements are very competitive because this is the only veterinary school in Ontario, and it is ranked Number 1 in Canada. One of the admission requirements was an interview process. Even though I was making many improvements to overcome my personal obstacles, I still suffered from extreme social anxiety. This was a major barrier to achieving my goals, and to my own growth as a person.

On my first attempt to apply in 2019, I worked hard to prepare. I felt I had performed well in the interview, yet I was still rejected. I felt hopeless, as I thought I had given it my best. I became extremely discouraged. I started doubting myself, and doubting whether I had made any progress. Fortunately, I had an extremely supportive family and friends. Through continuous chanting, discussions and guidance, I learned to turn my failures into lessons, and to turn my feelings of discouragement into motivation.

Because I was living in Guelph at the time, I did not have the opportunity to participate in many SGI activities in Toronto, which was a 90-minute drive away. However, the Guelph leaders reached out to me and invited me to their district meetings. They supported me and showed me I was not alone in my journey. With all the encouragement from the Guelph members, my friends and my family, I chanted every day with a strong conviction that I could continue to improve myself. I became more determined than ever to deepen my confidence, and I set a clear goal—to improve my social skills and embrace my challenges.

Helen with her family in front of the Ontario Veterinary College Health Sciences Centre in Guelph, Ontario.

In 2020, I summoned the courage to apply again to veterinary school. This time around, I was a lot more nervous. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were major last-minute changes to the screening process, which rendered my previous preparations useless. However, I kept chanting and studying more guidance. It was reassuring to know that I had the power to manifest my Buddhahood with the wisdom to face this uncertainty.

After the interview, I felt uncertain about how I performed, but I could tell that I was much less anxious. I was more comfortable during the interview. I thought that, even if I did not get in, I could be proud of myself for having improved and developed so much as a person. Reaching this point was already an achievement of “success.” Still, I waited anxiously to hear the results.

A few weeks later, I received an acceptance letter welcoming me to the Ontario Veterinary College. My dream had come true. I was shocked to think that this person, who, just a few years before, had felt so much anxiety when speaking, was now on her way to becoming a veterinarian!

I would like to share some words of guidance from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda that motivated and encouraged me throughout my journey:

There may be times when life seems gloomy and dull. When we feel stuck in some situation or other, when we are negative toward everything, when we feel lost and bewildered, not sure which way to turn—at such times we must transform our passive mind-set and determine, “I will proceed along this path,” “I will pursue my mission today.” When we do so a genuine springtime arrives in our hearts, and flowers start to blossom.[2]

Although I have overcome so much in achieving my goal of acceptance into veterinary school, I know that I will face many new challenges and struggles. However, I am determined to grow as a person. I am determined to keep up my faith and conviction, and to share what I have learned with those around me. I am determined to inspire others to face their hardships and embrace their challenges, by sharing the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism.


Published in March 2022 New Century    


[1] Human Revolution: Second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda used the term human revolution to describe the process of attaining Buddhahood, a self-transformation achieved through Nichiren Buddhist practice within the SGI. This transformation involves breaking through the shackles of our ego-centred “lesser selves” and revealing our “greater selves,” wherein we experience deep compassion and joyfully take action for the sake of others, and ultimately, all humanity.

[2] Daisaku Ikeda, For Today & Tomorrow: Daily Encouragement, p. 88.