(Photo above courtesy of Joyce Wang)
I was flipping through some Buddhist study materials when I came across Daisaku Ikeda’s description of what defines a “Buddha.” As my eyes moved across the page, I read the words, hero of the world. I had never thought about my life in this way, wondering, Am I really a hero of the world?
I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, which means I have both schizophrenia and bipolar symptoms. I had been attending therapy and taking the necessary medications but was a bit wishy-washy with the whole process. I knew I had to take my mental health seriously but my goals weren’t about investing in my life or doing any self-work. I was more focused on excelling in school and daydreaming about becoming a CEO. Beyond that, I took the medication and met with the doctors I needed to but that was about it.
I wasn’t thinking about what it meant to be a “well” person or take care of my spiritual, physical and mental health.
I had the attitude of, I’ll take this pill but I don’t really need to work on my overall well-being. My initial goals while chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, too, were all based on achieving short-term benefits, such as graduating college and getting a job, which all came true! But with all those benefits, I started to wonder why I needed the practice at all, and took a break for a few months.
Now I know I need the practice because chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and keeping it up gradually changed my attitude and long-term behavior. For example, I started to go to therapy even when I had to take time off work.
Now I know I need the practice because chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and keeping it up gradually changed my attitude and long-term behavior.
Buddhism and reason go hand-in-hand, and it’s rooted in cause and effect. To illustrate, this is what I used to do:
I would stay up late, wake up at 9 a.m., go to work by 11 a.m. and work until 11 p.m. at night. After work I would go home, not really do anything, and not really sleep. Continuing this cycle was not sustainable, especially with my medical condition, and I would need to take multiple medical leaves.
In this scenario a reasonable action would be creating a routine of chanting morning and evening and sleeping a healthy number of hours. Yes, I needed to work hard at my job but I also needed to work hard on myself. I needed to make sure I used my therapy techniques and my Buddhist practice to move forward on a daily basis.
As I got into a healthy rhythm in my daily life, I began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo really hard to have no more medical leaves due to mental illness, and then… I had my third medical leave! That equalled three extended months-long medical leaves in two years. I thought, Am I chanting for the wrong thing? Or, do I need to make my goals smaller?
I reached out to another Buddhist in my SGI community for advice on what I should do. They shared with me that in Buddhism, victory doesn’t just mean you get what you chant for right away. Victory really means to never give up and never be defeated.
They shared with me that in Buddhism, victory doesn’t just mean you get what you chant for right away. Victory really means to never give up and never be defeated.
It’s like the saying “fall seven times, get up an eighth!” And when I decided to never give up, and keep chanting for my goal even if I had another one hundred medical leaves, I had already broken through. In the past year and a half, I have had zero medical leaves and zero episodes.
But more than anything, Buddhism has taught me that I can have a hero’s journey, just as I am. When I see obstacles in a hero’s journey, I know that they are just there to be overcome. Heroes are there to help people and do good in the world. And what’s a hero’s journey without obstacles? My confidence and sense of purpose comes from this understanding that as a Buddha, I am a hero of the world. All the obstacles I experience are there to help me become the hero I am meant to be. So, there’s no reason to pity myself or wish for a different life. I have a mission but it’s not just any mission, it’s a hero’s mission.