by Travis James
New York

At a young age, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Social interactions were a struggle for me, and as I got older, making friends became even more of a challenge since I always worried about how others perceived me.

For example, whether I was bullied or a friend simply canceled our plans to hang out, I took everything as an affront to my character and that there was something wrong with me. I let my environment dictate my self-worth.

My dream has been to become a full-time actor, and when I joined the SGI five years ago as a college student in Pennsylvania, I started to gain confidence as an artist and human being. After graduation, I moved to New York to further pursue acting, but the same tendency of seeking validation from my environment kept creeping back into my life, especially as the SGI-USA geared up for the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival in September.

At the time, as a district young men’s leader, I challenged myself to home visit and encourage the young men, and invite them to various activities. But each cancellation or rejection wounded my confidence, and I slowly began to doubt that I could fulfill any of my personal goals, like getting a role in a professional show, feature film and web series. I even became very negative about the whole idea of setting goals in the SGI-USA organization.

Although I felt down, I never stopped chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo or seeking guidance from my seniors in faith. I realized that I needed to use the 50K campaign to make a deeper determination regarding my own life. For so many years, because I wanted to be sure that every single action I took was “right,” I had been too afraid to take risks and go beyond my comfort zone. With a fresh determination, however, I decided that it was time to make fearless efforts and go all out in each of my daily actions to establish my own sense of worth from within.

I learned to enjoy the causes that I made and the treasures of the heart I was gaining, more than how others viewed me or what could be seen in the results.

In May, I supported a meeting with SGI Vice President Yoshiki Tanigawa, who shared that “good friends” in Buddhism enable us to elevate our life condition as well as deepen our faith.

When I heard this, I knew that if I wanted to share this practice and the 50K Festival with my friends—many of whom had already declined any interest in Buddhism— I had to dig even deeper to transform my karma and face my life. To talk to my friends, I would be forced to elevate my life condition. This was the courageous action I needed to engage the gears of my human revolution.

I started reaching out to everyone I knew— friends I had lost touch with and even bullies who used to push me around. In the end, I had a list of 107 friends to invite to the festival. As I took action to reconnect and have dialogues with them, I shared how my Buddhist practice helped me do my human revolution. I was deeply surprised by how many people were touched by my story, and they opened up about their own struggles, too. Nothing but compassion filled my heart, and by the end, four friends registered for the festival!

One of them recently participated in a conference at the Florida Nature and Culture Center as a guest and received the Gohonzon shortly after!

Another huge victory was with my best friend from high school. He came to a meeting three years ago and said to me, “Don’t bring me to another meeting again!” But, two weeks before the festival, I mustered the courage to speak to him about Buddhism.

This time, he showed curiosity, saying he had noticed that I had become a stronger person who spoke from the heart. While he could not attend the festival, he expressed an interest in attending an SGI activity to learn more.

On Sept. 23, the day of the 50K Festival, the SGI’s “To My Friends” daily encouragement, which is based on SGI President Ikeda’s guidance, stated: “One’s true self manifests brightly through the process of struggling, praying and making efforts to surmount a problem. Determine to yourself, ‘I am the protagonist of the drama of my own life!’ Then strength will well forth from within and empower you!”

The festival was a huge success, and I supported as a member of the Soka Group (a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group), but my biggest victory was within. For me, I battled to develop the confidence to challenge my problems and create a solid core for my happiness that was independent of external forces. I learned to enjoy the causes that I made and the treasures of the heart I was gaining, more than how others viewed me or what could be seen in the results. And, I’ve gained a new determination to look at my problems in the face and say, “It’s a hard situation, but I’m gonna solve it!”

A few of my other recent victories include finding an apartment that I can afford, having my health care renewed after numerous delays, launching my own acting website and getting cast in two short films, which hadn’t happened in three years!

I’m determined to give everything toward my dreams and have the most rewarding life possible, tearing down every wall in the process. As the newly appointed Ansonia Chapter young men’s leader, I’m ready to strengthen our discussion meetings more than ever and raise many capable young men, encouraging each of them that no matter how difficult their circumstances, or no matter what the immediate outcomes of their efforts, we can be confident that if we continue chanting and fighting for kosen-rufu, we will definitely transform our destinies!