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Life Stories

We Make the Impossible Possible

How decades of Buddhist practice prepared me for a crucial moment like no other. Photo by Elyzza Salinas

by Lee Malone
Redlands, Calif.

When I was growing up, my mother was extremely caring, and my father was an upstanding man who worked three jobs to support us. Despite being raised in a good, loving home, I still had a lot of fear in my heart and struggled with cowardice.

I was introduced to the SGI in 1976 while living on the U.S. Air Force base in Tachikawa, Japan. Just a few weeks after I received the Gohonzon, I attended a meeting with Ikeda Sensei. At the meeting, we were kneeling on Japanese straw mats called tatami. I didn’t know who Sensei was, so all I could think about during the meeting was how much my knees hurt from kneeling! But the next day, when a photo of the meeting was printed in the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper, the Seikyo Shimbun, the members were all smiles, saying: “Lee! You did gongyo with Sensei! Congratulations!” I began to learn who he was through the joy and sincerity of the local members.

Two months after we joined the SGI, my wife, Linda, and I were asked to take responsibility supporting local members as district leaders. Because of the training from those members and deepening my understanding of the mentor and disciple relationship, I learned how to fight and win and, most important, how to care for the members.

This foundation in faith was the source for me to overcome my recent battle with COVID-19, which nearly took my life.

Shortly before Christmas 2020, I began feeling winded doing simple household tasks like shaving. My doctor requested that I take a test to check the oxygen level in my bloodstream. A healthy level should be at least 90 out of 100. My oxygen level was 49, which is dangerously low. I was advised to be immediately hospitalized for COVID-19.

This was at the start of the holiday surge in hospitalizations, which made me and my family uneasy about whether I would receive proper treatment or even get into a hospital room.

When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, I was immediately hooked up to oxygen. I knew then it was serious. I prayed to awaken the healing powers of my body, but chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo became increasingly difficult since I had to breathe. My oxygen mask had also fogged up.

At one point, the doctor looked at me and explained how the virus severely damaged my lungs. She then asked, “If you go unconscious, do you want to be revived?” I had entered a full-on battle between life and death. I mustered up all my energy to chant. I even sat up in my bed so that I could look at my small, portable Gohonzon, which I placed in front of me. The medical staff were surprised to see me sitting up, as most in my condition weren’t able to. I thought about my 45-year relationship with Sensei. I thought about all the members and friends I still wanted to encourage. I knew I had a mission, and that this wasn’t my time to go.

As I chanted, I recalled a young man in the news who survived being stuck for days during a rock-climbing expedition based on the sheer power of his will to live. I summoned every ounce of life force through my prayer and vow for kosen-rufu. I even communicated with members and did my best to encourage them from that hospital bed. I received a message from Sensei, saying he was chanting for my speedy recovery, and messages from countless SGI members across the country and the world, telling me that they were chanting for me.

I was discharged on New Year’s Eve, and the doctor was shocked by my recovery. The nurse was shedding tears of joy as she pushed my wheelchair out of the hospital, saying, “So many patients don’t get to leave like this.” I was overcome with appreciation for Sensei, all the members, my incredible wife and my daughter, Lissa. Through my practice, I’ve been able to defeat all feelings of cowardice in my life!

At 71, I’m determined to fight harder than ever for the happiness of others and to support my mentor, Ikeda Sensei. As a new member of the national team for the SGI-USA Many Treasures Group, which is composed of members ages 65 and older, I believe our mission is to ensure the victory of the youth from behind the scenes. I am committed to rallying all of the Many Treasures Group members to raise the next generation of Sensei’s disciples, so that this Buddhism, which can make the impossible possible, endures for eternity.

Q: What advice would you give to newer practitioners?

Lee Malone: Please strive to understand the oneness of mentor and disciple. Our mentors from Nichiren Daishonin to Ikeda Sensei left the blueprint for us to achieve happiness as individuals and to create a peaceful society. When you base your life on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and the oneness of mentor and disciple, you are guaranteed to surmount any hardship and live the most fulfilling life.

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