Skip to main content

Life Stories

Closing the Gap

Seeing myself through my mentor’s eyes, I open my life to the love I deserve.

Transformation—Nandini Choudhury catches up with a friend, New York, September 2022. Photos by Anjelica Jardiel.

by Nandini Choudhury
New York 

At SGI-USA’s New England Buddhist Center, listening to other young women share how Buddhism had helped them find love, I drew up a mental list of other, unspoken things she’d been helped by: By being more beautiful, sincere, more all-around amazing than me

Of course, part of me believed what she said: that she had found someone truly great for her life because she had centered her life on something truly great, a Buddhist practice to bring happiness to herself and others. And yet, another part of me said that those who found love found it because they had something I fundamentally lacked. I might score other victories with my Buddhist practice—but a great relationship? Experience from childhood taught me to expect things to fall apart.

I was six in 1997, when my parents separated. My mother and I moved out of my childhood home in Pune, India, to live with her parents in Delhi. The separation turned our lives upside-down. Soon my mother began practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI. Desperate for things to return to what they’d been, I chanted for my parents to get back together.

As I grew older, I found in Ikeda Sensei’s guidance clear answers to my questions. In particular the question Why did this happen to me? I learned that, from the Buddhist perspective, precisely because I had experienced suffering at a young age, I had a mission to become happy and help others do the same. I also learned that happiness is something generated from within my own life. Demonstrating this, my mother worked for the happiness of others, developing the inner strength to appreciate and overcome hardship. As she did so, she supported the SGI financially, expanding her life by expressing her gratitude. 

Inheriting her spirit, I strove to live by Sensei’s guidance, experiencing things that should have been impossible. For instance, in 2008, at age 17, I moved from India to Southern California to attend the university of my dreams, Soka University of America. In 2014, I moved to Boston to pursue my master’s in public health. What’s more, I developed a great relationship with my father. Despite these victories, however, romance eluded me.

In Boston, I took part for the first time in sustaining contributions to the SGI—my way of expressing appreciation to the practice that had taught me to how to challenge my deepest fears head-on. Each year that followed, I challenged myself to up the amount, seeing each contribution as an extension of my daily practice, as a cause to refute the false but deep-rooted belief that I’d never be in a happy relationship. Inducted into Byakuren in 2015, an SGI-USA training group for young women, I made many friends and was astonished to find how many of them were challenging the same insecurities. A few years later, determined to uproot this fear from my life and the lives of other young women, I accepted vice-zone leadership, working all-out to support the Lions of Justice Festival, a gathering of 50,000 youth, to take place in September 2018. 

Previously, I considered feeling “not good enough” for a relationship a rather shallow thing to seek about. But the young women of Boston changed my mind; they sought guidance for all kinds of problems. When I opened up to a senior in faith, she looked me in the eye. 

“Nandini, if your core belief is that you’re not good enough, you’ll interpret all your relationships, not just the romantic ones, through this lens. It’s so important that you tackle this.”


“Whenever you begin to disparage yourself, ask: Is this what Sensei thinks of me? It’s time to close the gap between how Sensei views you and how you view yourself.” 

As I traveled across the zone, meeting one young woman after another, I shared with each of them the spirit of these words from Sensei: “Each of you is the most precious treasure of all” (The Vow of the Ikeda Kayo-kai, p. 20). Eventually, Sensei’s words sank into my own life. One day, riding the Amtrak to support an SGI activity in Rhode Island, I looked up from my copy of The Vow of the Ikeda Kayo-kai. The heavy feeling I’d had for so long was gone. Instead, I felt this palpable joy. 

I really get to be here, with these young women fighting alongside Sensei. No way am I doomed for a broken relationship. No way am I gonna lose! 

The festival itself was a blur—intense in a great way. When it was over, I looked around and saw my women’s leader: “Where’s my partner?” 

She laughed. “It’s not magic, Nandini! He’s not going to open the doors of the Buddhist center the day after the festival. Have confidence in the causes you made. He’ll show up.”

Nandini and her husband, Ken, New York, September 2022.

In February 2019, he did. Actually, he was someone I’d had a crush on for some time. When I was asked to support an SGI event behind the scenes, I discovered he was supporting too.

Anxious, I confided in my young women’s leader. 

“Just try to enjoy being yourself,” she suggested.

The idea was simple, yet profound. Focused on doing my best to support the event, I experienced the same joy I’d felt on the Amtrak. The thought actually occurred to me: This person is really fortunate to get to spend so much time with me. No fear. No worry. Just comfort in my own skin. 

Long story short, we connected. In August 2020, we moved in together in New York. Earlier last year, we married in a small, beautiful ceremony. 

Starting a life together has not been easy—of course, we did so in the midst of a global pandemic. When things were most uncertain, however, we significantly increased our sustaining contribution to the SGI. We made this cause in the spirit of deeply appreciating all obstacles, confident that we, as disciples of Sensei, would turn hardship into benefit. Soon after, my husband had several major breakthroughs at work.

Having transformed my view of myself, I experienced a shift in my sense of mission. With my wonderful partner cheering me on, I took a leap of faith and pursued a Ph.D. in population health, to help underserved communities. 

I still struggle at times to see myself as my mentor sees me, but day by day I’m closing the gap. By basing my life on something great—on Sensei’s heart—I’m confident that my partner and I will build a strong, happy, harmonious family.

Even the most outstanding or talented individual cannot display their full potential if they are ruled by fear. … Should fear creep into your hearts, dispel it with daimoku. 

from Ikeda Sensei  (June 18, 2021, World Tribune, p. 3)

Read more