“I’ve Realized That The Life I Want Is Possible.”

(Photo above courtesy Rory Harper. The statements below reflect the opinions of the individual and are not an endorsement by the DOD.)

Rory Harper, of Texas, shares how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a source of hope for realizing the life he never thought was possible.

Hey Rory! Appreciate you taking the time out today to talk with us. Can you share a little bit about yourself?

Yeah, for sure! I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and was always kind of a lonely kid. Being in a strict religious environment and knowing that I was gay from a young age, made me feel like I couldn’t be myself. Because of this, I even considered suicide and surviving high school seemed unimaginable. To my surprise, I did graduate high school and entered college.

Completing assignments in high school was hard, and college was no different. That’s when I was diagnosed with ADHD. Honestly, I felt relieved to know what the cause was. but learning how to manage my disability was difficult. I couldn’t handle the workload, flunked a semester and was later suspended from college altogether.

I knew I needed to take control of my life.

That must have been a difficult time for you. What happened next?

I decided to drop out of college and join the U.S. Army and was stationed in Texas. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and bring meaning to my life.

Even though I was serving my country and felt pride in that, I still felt unhappy and like my life had no meaning. The shame of my college failures and the low self-esteem that came from my struggle with ADHD hadn’t gone away.

I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and bring meaning to my life.

How did you cope with this underlying feeling?

At first, I distracted myself with everyday activities. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, I spent more time in my barracks and could no longer avoid my struggles.

I always had an interest in Buddhism, so I searched “Buddhism” on Spotify and discovered the SGI-USA podcasts Buddhist Solutions for Life’s Problems and Buddhability.

It was there that I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism. Episode after episode, I listened to inspiring stories of people chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to become the best version of themselves regardless of what they were going through.

I set my phone to give me notifications when something would be posted on Instagram to receive consistent encouragement. As I read and listened to more stories, I noticed that even though people were struggling in their own way, they were still happy. I wanted that same energy and so I decided to try chanting on my own.

How did it feel to try chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on your own?

Well, I would only do it when my roommate wasn’t around and just went through the motions of trying to pronounce the words. But gradually after chanting a little bit each day, I started to feel more positive about myself.

I always had this anxiety and fear about being myself, especially around people I was meeting for the first time. But learning that Buddhability is about recognizing that I already have everything I need to become happy, I started to feel less afraid about being myself.

When I got some new co-workers, I would causally share about going on a date with a guy. Instead of hiding this part of myself, I no longer feared anyone’s reactions.

I always had this anxiety and fear about being myself, especially around people I was meeting for the first time. But learning that Buddhability is about recognizing that I already have everything I need to become happy, I started to feel less afraid about being myself.

My practice started to really take off when I connected with the local SGI Texas Buddhist community in my area.

Can you share more about that?

I’m an introvert so the idea of connecting with strangers combined with my previous experience with religion led to some hesitation, thinking the meetings would be all about rules. But it was the exact opposite. Even though I’ve never met anyone in person due to the pandemic, I feel like they are the best people and I can’t wait to see them every Saturday and Sunday on our virtual meetings. I’m sure walking into a room with the energy that even the online meetings bring is going to be amazing. It’s really helped me to keep going.

Even something like learning gongyo, I was too intimidated to do on my own, but the people in my Buddhist group are so supportive and helped me learn how to practice it each day.

Growing up a lonely gay kid, I always wanted a community to belong to and, for a long time, I thought I wanted a gay community. I would definitely still enjoy one, but having a Buddhist community with so many different people has shown me that what I was really looking for was this community. In the beginning, when I learned about Buddhism through social media was like turning on the burner. But once I connected to a local group, then it became fire.

Even my therapist, who I had been seeing since I arrived at the base, commented how different I seemed. She shared that when I first came in, I was rigid and anxious but now I’m so relaxed. And she’s seen me go through a lot and actually she ended up asking me questions about Buddhism.

That’s so encouraging Rory! I heard that you recently applied to university and got in! Congratulations!

Thank you! It’s a great school, and I’m studying communications. The shame and guilt from dropping out of school held me back for a while. But I think since I started chanting and regularly attending the local Buddhist meetings, I’ve had more hope for my life regardless of my past. I’ve realized that the life I want is possible.

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