(Photo above courtesy of Enrique Magan)
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Enrique. What was your life like before you started practicing Buddhism?
Enrique Magan: My family was very poor, so I decided to brave the journey to the United States to help support us financially. I moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., from my home in Panama in 1975. However, work was slow, and even after I got a job, my income was barely enough to survive, let alone help my parents. I got connected with some friends from back home and began hustling in the streets to get by. After an incident where I nearly lost my life, I thought: If anything happened to me, what would my mom think? Why did I leave home—to live this kind of life? I decided to leave that world once and for all.
When were you introduced to this practice?
Enrique: I was introduced 10 years after arriving in New York by my girlfriend at the time. I was out of options and felt I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo a try, and received the Gohonzon in 1985. I joined a local Buddhist neighborhood group in Crown Heights, and the members warmly embraced me. As I began my Buddhist practice with the support of this community, I slowly began to piece my life back together.
Around that time, my mother was diagnosed with a heart condition, and my father with prostate cancer. Their diagnoses really shook me up, because they were both in Panama and I was in New York.
I began chanting hours every day for them, desperately wanting to see proof of the practice. The first signs were that my father found a good doctor and surgeon, and my mom found the right medication for her condition.
What happened next?
Enrique: I decided to fully commit myself to honest work and dove into an apprenticeship as an electrician. Times were still tough, and it was hard to send money home. I barely had money for food and rent, and I was locked in an ongoing feud with my landlord.
I received constant encouragement from my fellow Brooklyn Buddhists to persevere, no matter what. So I chanted and never looked back. I also started sharing this Buddhism with others and reading Daisaku Ikeda’s books and articles.
What helped you persevere?
Enrique: I continued because I was seeing actual proof. Although my girlfriend quit practicing and my friends made fun of my practice, I remained unswayed. In my heart, I felt I was on the right track, and I wanted to see what else I could change!
After I finished my apprenticeship, my salary tripled. I worked all the overtime possible to gain more knowledge. Through these efforts, I got a car and eventually resolved my rent issues. In 1994, I was able to help with the electrics for the SGI center in New York.
Eventually, I became a licensed master electrician, and in 1996, I purchased my first house in Brooklyn.
My mother and father also both regained their health and extended their lives by many years. My mother passed away in 1986. When my father came to stay with me for a while in 1994, he told me, “I’m so proud of you.” After all the struggles I went through, I realized that everything I had experienced had meaning. I had a mission in life.
My father was so impressed with my growth, in fact, that he received the Gohonzon in his 80s! Some days coming home from work, I would hear him powerfully chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo!
Amazing! What internal changes do you believe brought about this shift in your life?
Enrique: My Buddhist practice changed my way of thinking. It helped me realize that I cannot build my happiness on the unhappiness of others. Through chanting, I realized the importance of respecting myself and respecting others. Because of this, I also saw actual proof in my relationships.
Previously, I had struggled in relationships because of my own weaknesses and lack of respect. With my Buddhist practice as my foundation, I was ready to face my negativity, and after meeting a wonderful woman, we married in 1998. I cried tears of joy when our daughter was born. She looked just like my mother!
What was the turning point in your practice?
Enrique: In 2015, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I was shocked, realizing I was going through the same illness as my father. With encouragement from my seniors in faith and reading Daisaku Ikeda’s writings, I determined to fight for my life. I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo as if I were shaking the ground, and because of my prayer, I connected with a top doctor. He gave me a frank diagnosis: The cancer was rampant.
During this time, I read and reread this guidance by Daisaku Ikeda: “Anyone would think that victory is impossible and that’s probably how you feel right now. But don’t forget this marvelous Gohonzon we have. It has the power to transform what you’d normally think impossible into something possible” (The Human Revolution, p. 1321).
I engraved this passage in my heart. In December 2016, I had a successful surgery, leaving me cancer-free.
My Buddhist practice changed my way of thinking. It helped me realize that I cannot build my happiness on the unhappiness of others. Through chanting, I realized the importance of respecting myself and respecting others.
Congratulations, Enrique! How is your life now?
Enrique: Great! I retired with a wonderful pension, and I have been able to fully cover my daughter’s college tuition.
The biggest benefit, however, of my 34 years of practice has been developing compassion for others. When I first began practicing, everything was about me. Now, I think about other people and have genuine compassion for them. To be able to change my thinking like that is incredible. To leave my house, to go on visits, to encourage someone—it’s amazing.