by DeJohn Scott
Our daily practice of gongyo and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is key to strengthening this life force of Buddhahood within us. When you become stronger in this way, you can transform any obstacle or negative function into a springboard for personal growth.”(Ikeda Sensei, Dec. 4, 2020, World Tribune, p. 3)
As a child, I saw my father’s life unravel from alcohol and drugs. While he had multiple master’s degrees, many doors closed on him because of the Deep South’s engrained racism. In fact, many of those who abused drugs and alcohol with him were former newscasters, politicians and academics pushed aside because of the color of their skin. I later found out that my grandfather, too, had suffered from addiction.
I also turned to heavy drinking in high school with a group of friends with similar family struggles. I knew I needed help in 2009 when I totaled my friend’s car while intoxicated. I checked myself into rehab for the first time.
I had just begun practicing Buddhism with the SGI, and my newfound practice and the support I received forced me to get help sooner than I would have otherwise. But I struggled to practice consistently, and, a decade later, I checked into a rehab center in Lafayette, Louisiana, after a relapse. I had been to rehab several times before, but I had never once set up my Buddhist altar there to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day. It took some courage, but I set up the Gohonzon in my room and said to myself, This time you will put your Buddhist practice first and make this the last time you need rehab!
I made several goals, which included transforming addiction and pursuing a career in recovery. Putting my Buddhist practice first completely changed the outcome of the rehab. I did gongyo twice a day and set goals to stay focused on my recovery. My practice and study also made me more open to advice from counselors.
I soon began introducing other residents to Buddhism. One had recently started chanting but hadn’t received the Gohonzon. We became roommates and chanted and studied Buddhism together each day. Others joined us, too.
A consistent practice became more difficult when, in July 2019, I moved into a transitional living facility where a counselor forbade me from enshrining the Gohonzon. We all had to sleep several to a room, and many residents had behavioral issues. Nevertheless, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. every day to chant quietly with a flashlight so as not to disturb the others sleeping.
My consistent practice soon helped me gain a new perspective on my earlier life. I had always thought that having a dysfunctional family and falling into addiction had broken me. I felt victimized by my environment and that I could do nothing to change it. By exerting myself in faith, however, I realized that I chose to be in this position in this lifetime and that it was now time for me to change the direction of my life, helping my family and friends in the process. This new perspective opened many doors for me.
I got into a much better living facility and began dating Christa, the good friend who urged me to go back into rehab in June 2019. We even purchased a home together in September 2020. The next month, the substance abuse center I had attended the year before offered me a full-time position as the residential technician! I now had the opportunity to help those suffering in the same halls where I had chanted a year-and-a-half before.
In my job, I aim to instill in everyone the Buddhist principles of respect for each person and changing poison into medicine. People enter our program at a low point in their lives. But I say to them with confidence: “This is your moment. You can make this moment amazing.
This is the greatest day of your life.” I’m determined to use my experience, and my new career in recovery, to inspire countless people to likewise transform their hardships into happiness.