(Photo above by Ruth Thomas)
At 16 years old, Aatish Parson wins the 2020 Congressional App Challenge by sharing resources for people experiencing homelessness.
Since sixth grade, I dabbled in numerous activities such as sports, clubs and weird electives. I had fun, but I was all over the place and had to face the reality that I was not excelling in anything. In high school, I invested in my grades and maintained a 4.0 GPA freshman year and a 3.9 the following year. But I still wasn’t excelling in anything.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With nothing to do, my dad suggested I start an organization to help seniors use technology. We brainstormed methods to address this problem and came up with an idea to create an app, but I had no idea how to make one. So, I spent the following two weeks putting in six to eight hours a day learning how, and before I knew it, I had built an app. I soon launched it on the Google Play Store, but it received zero downloads.
This was very demoralizing because I was really invested in this app and truly passionate about it, but life went on, and I got busy doing other things, including school. I also started to actively practice Buddhism.
I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with my mom a few minutes a day, and it felt great. Chanting allowed me to focus and overcome all the stress that comes with school and life. Also, I began attending more of the local Buddhist community meetings happening over Zoom, and I was asked to emcee a few meetings, which was an amazing experience.
Chanting allowed me to focus and overcome all the stress that comes with school and life.
Soon after, my friend called me and suggested we enter the 2020 Congressional App Challenge created by the U.S. House of Representatives to help students learn to code. I jumped at the opportunity. We spent weeks developing our app while I continued attending SGI meetings and finally submitted it to the competition. In the back of my mind, I was fearful this would be another failure and weeks of time would go to waste, but something was different this time.
A couple of weeks later, we got the results. We won! The app also did quite well in the app stores earning over 1,000 installations. And we got to meet our congresswoman right after winning the competition. She loved our app and even offered to help us grow it! The app, which is now available for use in all 50 states, connects those experiencing homelessness across America to resources in their area, from food banks and restrooms to shelters, transitional housing, medical clinics and job centers.
After the competition, I pondered what I did differently, and why I had succeeded this time. I realized that the only difference was the amount of effort I put into my daily Buddhist practice. Buddhism did not just bring me great confidence but also presentation skills.
I pondered what I did differently, and why I had succeeded this time. I realized that the only difference was the amount of effort I put into my daily Buddhist practice.
Because I participated in local Buddhist meetings, I felt a lot calmer about presenting our app to our congresswoman. My Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda writes,
It’s important … to have the courage to ask yourselves what you should be doing now, at this very moment.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace, part 2, p. 139
Initially, I did not believe that practicing Buddhism worked, but now I can confidently say it does. While I still have to learn gongyo and fully understand the practice, I continue to chant with my mom and support the meetings. I love how Buddhism uplifts people, and I am grateful to be involved.