How Sebastian Luna is developing self-worth through his efforts to help others realize their fullest potential.

by Sebastian Luna
SANGER, CALIF.

On my 21st birthday, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I dreaded having to live another year, hiding who I really was and feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. That was the day when I came out to my parents as gay. My father and my mother both embraced me and conveyed their unconditional love. Unfortunately, their support wasn’t enough to resolve my inner pain.

Throughout my life, I had been physically and emotionally bullied, instilling in me a lack of self-esteem that didn’t go away. I was severely depressed and suffered from anxiety. After high school, I tried to attend community college but would instead drink and do drugs with my friends to mask my lack of self-worth. Eventually, I was expelled for my poor grades.

In January 2015, I was suffering deeply from a breakup that had happened years earlier. It was during this time that a co-worker began introducing me to the philosophy of SGI Nichiren Buddhism. I told him how deeply unhappy I was, and he asked me what my dreams were. I responded that I didn’t have any. I was focused on the here and now—going out on the weekends and drinking.

I agreed to attend an intro-to-Buddhism meeting, seeking something to help me dig myself out of the hole I was in. As soon as I entered the meeting, I felt more hopeful and uplifted. I left extremely encouraged by the members’ faith experiences and the philosophy behind Nichiren Buddhism. I wanted to become as happy as everyone else in that room, so I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo right away.

The first thing I chanted about was my health. I lacked self-respect and would make poor choices, which triggered health concerns that my doctor could not resolve. Two weeks after I began chanting, I found a great specialist who was able to immediately relieve my health concerns. I also began feeling less stress at work, and I was attracting happier and more positive people into my life.

I had tried other practices to stay positive, but they never changed anything below the surface. Through studying the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism, I was made aware that I already possessed all the qualities I was seeking to be happy. On Feb. 21, 2015, just a few weeks after my first SGI activity, I received the Gohonzon.

Due to my depression, my practice was inconsistent. Then, in May 2016, I received news from my doctor that would shake my life to its core. After a routine checkup, I received a phone call that I had tested positive for HIV. I was immediately filled with the fear of the unknown and ashamed that I hadn’t changed my risky behavior. Even more frightening was the thought of having to tell friends, family and past partners. Instead of returning to my doctor to begin treatment immediately, I began drinking and partying more. This soon turned into a drug addiction that caused me to isolate myself. It would be nearly one year before I returned to my doctor.

In June 2017, due to a drug binge, I had not eaten or slept for three days, which caused me to lose consciousness. That’s when I snapped out of my selfishness and reached out for help.

During the year that I had spiraled out of control, my young men’s leader continuously reached out to see how I was doing. Because of this, I felt he was the perfect person to help me move my life in the right direction.

I told him everything that was going on in my life, and that I wanted to chant again. He listened and encouraged me, and I joined him at our weekly intro-to-Buddhism meetings again. Of course, as much as I wanted to be sober, I still found myself relapsing every so often, but each time, I would redetermine to get better and sought help in various peer-support programs.

Through my refreshed prayer to the Gohonzon, I summoned the courage to face my demons. My whole life, I had been running away from myself, too concerned about what others thought of me. Through the encouragement of my Soka family and SGI President Ikeda, however, my self-confidence and joy gradually emerged from within. President Ikeda states: “True courage and adventure is found in exploring the meaning of life and discovering the reason for your existence. Even greater joy and fulfillment is found in the persistent struggle to contribute to others’ happiness” (ikedaquotes.org).

I decided that to turn my life around, I would need to help other people become happy. Then in July, I was asked to become a unit leader, which I happily accepted! As a unit leader, I challenged myself to introduce others to this practice, starting with my own family. Seeing my transformation, my mother decided toreceive the Gohonzon! After she began experiencing the joy of the Mystic Law, we began sharing Buddhism with the rest of our family. In August, I helped my mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and three cousins receive the Gohonzon! The eight of us love to chant and participate in SGI activities together.

Sebastian with his family members, who joined in August. Photo: Rishi Wadhwa.

I’ve also visited the young men in my unit together with my young men’s leader. Although at first I wasn’t sure how to fulfill my responsibilities as a new leader, I was encouraged to learn that my sincerity to support another person in faith is what’s most important. I’m sober now and no longer suffer from anxiety and depression. I believe this was possible because I awakened to my greater mission to help others and dedicated myself to my own recovery.

Based on my practice, I’ve sought the best medical care and followed the guidance of my doctors. Through such efforts, my viral load—a measurement of the amount of HIV in my blood— decreased from 40,000 to 400 in a few months. I’m determined that by my next checkup in November, my HIV will be undetectable.

Toward the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, I have made a determination to introduce 50 people to the SGI with the hope that each of them will introduce one person as well. I recently started cosmetology school, and I dream of owning my own salon in the future. A long road lies ahead of me, but with my Buddhist practice, I now have the tools to expand my life and achieve all of my dreams.