(Photo above by Chingstyle)
Gabe Zune, of Miami, is inspired by his Buddhist practice to be his own person and builds the confidence to design his dream life.
I grew up in Venezuela surrounded by a loving family who inspired me to go after my dreams, but I had a tough time realizing them because of my own insecurities. To many, I was seen as quiet and creative. But to others, I was a person who could be bullied and taken advantage of. I lacked the strength to stand up for myself.
I eventually came out to my family as a gay man, and they warmly embraced and supported me. Despite this support, I still found it difficult to be myself outside of my home due to the ongoing stigma and prejudice in Venezuela toward the LGBTQIA+ community.
When I was 16, my father was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, and he was given three months to live. I saw my stout, strong father vulnerable and willing to do anything to save his life.
He branched off from our traditional religion to look into other spiritual practices. It became his battle to survive. My father outlived his diagnosis and, after fighting his cancer for five years, passed away on October 31, 2009. Looking back, I see that his openness allowed me to start my own spiritual journey.
His passing left us depleted both emotionally and financially, and my mother continued to raise us on her meager teacher’s salary. In 2011, after I graduated from college with a degree in architectural design, she made the courageous decision to send my brother and me to Florida to live with our American grandmother. Eventually, due to the escalating tension in Venezuela, she joined us. She had to leave all of our belongings behind.
Although we were in a new place with new possibilities, I still felt lost and unhappy. In 2014, I encountered Buddhism through a co-worker. She invited me to a local SGI discussion meeting, and every word that I heard resonated deeply in my troubled life.
I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and started to attend local Buddhist meetings. I felt an inner strength awaken in me that allowed me to have more confidence in my ability to stand up for myself and others. And I started to challenge my shy nature by emceeing and giving presentations at these Buddhist discussion meetings in my neighborhood.
Little by little, I felt more comfortable in my skin and less concerned with what others thought of me, especially as a gay man. With this newfound confidence, I wanted to fight for the happiness of others, too.
Since returning to the U.S., my mother had been taking care of my grandmother and was running out of savings. As she struggled to find work, I shared my Buddhist practice with her, with a determination that she would transform her situation. Within days of beginning her Buddhist practice, my mom found a job. To this day, she has the same job and has turned her financial situation around. One month after my mother, my brother also started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and began his practice. I was elated.
With this newfound confidence, I wanted to fight for the happiness of others, too.
Just when I thought everything was going great, I fractured my right foot and sprained my ankle while playing basketball, and soon after contracted the chicken pox. Because of this, I couldn’t attend SGI activities for almost two months. I was in such severe pain that even sitting down was uncomfortable. I had internal blisters in my throat that made chanting painful. These obstacles came at the same time I was trying to find a new job after becoming a freelance architectural designer. Frustrated, my lack of confidence resurfaced and I wondered, Why is this happening to me?
It was my fellow Buddhists calling to check in that allowed me to maintain hope. Thanks to their care and Daisaku Ikeda’s writings, I never stopped chanting and moving forward. As I reached out to other people, I found that they were battling their own problems, too, and with the awareness that I wasn’t alone, I decided to win.
At the end of 2018, I found a new job, but faced the same difficulties as before: Clients bullied me, and the company struggled with financial difficulties that impacted my pay.
As I continued to chant, I realized that I was the only one who could change my life, and it started with challenging my lack of confidence.
Only those who strive to challenge a goal and work toward it at their own pace and in their own way; only those who keep trying, no matter how many times they fail, can develop unshakable confidence in themselves. Self-confidence is synonymous with an invincible will.
Discussions on Youth, p. 292
I took this guidance to heart and determined to find work that would allow me to establish myself financially. In January of 2020, I started a job as a project manager for a larger, more experienced general contractor, with more support and more opportunities to be mentored.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected our work. I eventually left the company in late 2020. I asked myself if I could do anything next, what would it be? I decided to go back to school and obtain the kind of technical skills that would allow me to take on my dream projects in architectural design. I was recently accepted into the perfect school for me. I also received enough grants and financial support to cover my tuition and living expenses.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve also reached out to friends in the LGBTQIA+ community who have been struggling. Some have had to move back in with family who are not accepting of them. Feeling a sense of gratitude for my family and Buddhist community who supported me, I decided to give my all to encouraging these friends. We remind each other to stay true to ourselves and that we have an important mission in this world.
My Buddhist practice has taught me to challenge everything head-on with faith. This has been the key to transforming my life.