A year ago, you could have described me as negative, standoffish and generally unhappy. Though I hadn’t experienced any serious hardships in life, I lacked appreciation for everything and everyone around me.NYZ_MARC_GIANNAVOLA_YNG_001

My attitude caused me to be so short and dismissive that classmates in college would approach me and say things like: “Why don’t you like me?” or “What’s your problem?” I’d constantly get into arguments, which sometimes led to physical fights.

My attitude became a bigger issue when I moved back home to Connecticut after graduating from college in May 2012. I often instigated fights with my mother’s fiance, jumping down his throat whenever he did something that displeased me. I gave him such a headache, in fact, that he questioned marrying my mom out of fear of having to deal with me for the rest of his life. Eventually, he asked me to leave their home in October 2012.

Within a few weeks, I moved to New York City. I was excited to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a world-renowned photographer. However, my problems continued to follow me. I found a girlfriend, but showed her little consideration. I eventually decided to break up with her on my birthday after she bought me a present. When I began to miss her, I asked her out to brunch, and she told me she was seeing someone new. I was so upset: How could she leave me? I felt like I had done nothing wrong.

After that, I began reflecting on our relationship and realized each of my past relationships had ended the same way for the same reason—I could not appreciate and respect whomever I was seeing.

I became increasingly hopeless. My stress and negativity began to aggravate my psoriatic arthritis—a recurring condition that causes my knees to swell, making it excruciating to walk. To escape from the pain, I would often turn to drugs.

Every day, I constantly complained about my situation to my roommates. Sick of my moaning, one of my roommates had the courage to invite me to an SGI-USA introduction-to-Buddhism meeting. Although the meeting was extremely moving, I sat in disbelief that people could really be this happy. I also couldn’t believe how much they seemed to care about me even though I hardly knew them. I continued to attend meetings and realized this care and concern was completely genuine.

As I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I realized that I utterly lacked appreciation and that I wasn’t treating those who cared about me with the same dignity and respect they showed me. I also realized that, though I had dreamed of becoming a world-renowned photographer, I hadn’t taken any concrete action to take my art to the next level. To break through this deadlock, I decided to receive the Gohonzon on Aug. 14, 2013.

Immediately after receiving the Gohonzon, I began to appreciate many of the things I had taken for granted. Suddenly, I felt extremely fortunate to be a young man living in New York City pursuing a career in photography! I also had another surprising realization—without the turbulent experiences with my former girlfriend, I would not have had the seeking spirit to start practicing Buddhism and change my life.

One day, I mustered the courage to call my ex-girlfriend and express my

appreciation to her. I learned on the call that she was suffering in a relationship. I spontaneously began sharing my new Buddhist practice and invited her to a meeting. Within two weeks, she began chanting and decided to receive the Gohonzon. She told me she decided to join the SGI because of the immense changes she saw in me within just a few months.

Knowing how much her life would

change as a result of receiving the Gohonzon and how happy she would feel, I experienced a level of joy I had never known before.

Feeling especially confident and hopeful, I made a determination that would have seemed beyond my reach before I became a Buddhist—to have my work shown in a gallery and to travel to Japan to photograph a new body of work. The following guidance from SGI President Ikeda particularly inspired me: “Among other things, Napoleon is famous for the remark ‘You write to me that it’s impossible; the word is not French.’

“By this Napoleon was not boasting of his great deeds, saying ‘Nothing is impossible for me. ’ Rather, he was saying that it was precisely because he so firmly believed that nothing was impossible for human beings that he had achieved such great accomplishments” ( My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 261.)

Within a month, a gallery owner contacted me, hosting my first show a few weeks later. In January, I traveled to Japan to shoot two new bodies of work.

While in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to visit the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu. It was the most magnificent building I’d ever seen! Inside, I found myself praying deeply before the Soka Gakkai Kosenrufu Gohonzon to become a world-renowned artist and photographer. While chanting, I realized that this was more than a prayer for my own success; it was a prayer charged with a vow to inspire other youth who’ve experienced the same negativity and lack of self-worth as I did.

In his message to the first gongyo meeting held at the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosenrufu, President Ikeda writes, “When we remain true to this vow [for kosen-rufu], the limitless courage, wisdom and compassion of the Buddha flow forth from within us. When we wholeheartedly strive to realize this vow, the ‘poison’ of even the most difficult challenge can be transformed into ‘medicine,’ and karma transformed into mission” (January 2014 Living Buddhism, p. 8).

Through my practice, I realized that the source of my struggle was my own self-doubt. With my newfound sense of mission, I am determined to completely eradicate this tendency from my life and, seeking to embody the unwavering determination of Sensei, become a world-renowned photographer for kosen-rufu.