In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic halting activities in early 2020, members have continued to engage in one-to-one encouragement and help their friends start practicing Nichiren Buddhism. From the small western Pacific island of Guam—where Ikeda Sensei established the SGI in 1975—Marianas Region Young Men’s Leader Peter Patrick Salas and Leonard-John Ventura, a young man who recently started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, share some of their experiences over the last year with the World Tribune.

Leonard-John Ventura (young men’s guest): For the past several years, I hadn’t been coping well with my struggles and went through depression. In 2020, I finally decided to do something about it and focused on my physical, spiritual and financial health. In August, I came across the SGI-USA podcast
“Buddhist Solutions to Life’s Problems” and listened to people sharing their experiences of how chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo had changed their lives. It was so compelling, and I thought, Yeah, I can do this.

I was excited when I found out about the SGI community here in Guam! I reached out to the local organization and got connected with Patrick that same day.

Peter Patrick Salas (Marianas Region young men’s leader): Leonard and I spoke for over an hour via Zoom. We found out that we were the same age and even had mutual friends. We connected on a personal level, and I shared with him about using my practice to face my struggles. I told him about how I had been separated from my mom after she had traveled to the Philippines for a two-week medical checkup.

Because of the pandemic, however, she was stuck there for nine months. Work was also a rollercoaster—my hours had been reduced before I was furloughed. I constantly read these words from Ikeda Sensei: “Resolve to be the sun. … As long as you are the sun, no matter what problems you may be
facing now, the dawn will always break, fine weather will always return, and spring will never fail to arrive” (Discussions On Youth, p. 18).

It was right when I connected with Leonard that I started working at my current job and was presented with another offer. I opened up to Leonard to show that in Buddhism, we use our challenges to move our lives forward and become like the beautiful sun here in Guam. After that, I invited him to a local district meeting.

Leonard: I knew I could trust Patrick because he was so genuine. I joined Yigo District’s meeting via Zoom that week, and the members made me feel so welcome, especially the women’s division. They spoke from the heart about their experiences of how Buddhism has affected their lives.

Patrick: I’m so appreciative of the genuine care that the women’s division members have given Leonard through answering his questions and giving him the opportunity to take the lead. He’s even led meetings as emcee.

The district’s rhythm of weekly activities also helps connect members and guests. If guests aren’t able to attend, we’ll create an impromptu introductory meeting based on their availability. We always follow up. It’s really about finding ways to support our guests and their seeking spirit.

Leonard: The constant support from my “aunties” in the district, Patrick and other members has shown me that I have the power to change anything—and I can bring that power out by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

In my first week chanting, I got into a scholarship program to become a certified teacher. I wasn’t able to access the courses I needed to take and decided to reach out to a professor for help. In the end, I got into every class I requested, and they were entirely paid for. Chanting gave me the courage to take action; there’s no way I would have asked the professor without it.

I wake up early every morning to chant, do gongyo, then go about my day. I try to do it in the evening as well, but if I skip chanting in the morning, my day is meh. I’m still learning how to do gongyo, so I use the audio track on the SGI-USA app. I also subscribed to the SGI-USA publications, so I can learn more about Buddhism.

I’ve seen a huge difference in how I carry myself and handle daily situations. Some students at the school I work at have even said, “Wow, you changed!” Before, when someone was struggling or a student was having a problem, I used to react based on emotion. Chanting centers me, so I see things more clearly, act calmly and consciously think about what causes I can make toward helping others.

Patrick: There are so many people seeking right now, and my resolve to connect people to Buddhism is refreshed. I turn 29 this year, so I’m determined to plant 29 seeds of hope and victory in 2021. Leonard’s spirit to learn, fight and want to be happy is so incredible. My vow is renewed because of him.