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Life Stories

The Key to Confidence

Buddhist encounters lead to New York and the realization that I hold the key to the Buddha land.

Achievement—Augusto Palacios in New York, November 2022. Photo by Andrew Bolt.

by Augusto Palacios
New York

I owe a dream of mine to my hometown port of Huarmey, which brought sailors to Peru from all over the world, from Latin America, Europe and the United States. I was intrigued in particular by the sailors from the U.S. and began to dream of living there someday. Huarmey gave me this dream, but it took something, too.

More than the smell of anchovies, my siblings and I knew Huarmey for the sound of our father’s voice, booming above the heads of the sailors and merchants bringing their catches ashore. From sunup to sunset, he pointed them this way and that, ruling the port as he ruled his home, with a big voice and an iron fist. I was 12 when, on the harbor one day, he met a man like himself, had a disagreement with him and died in the brawl that followed.

For a week I walked around with my chest puffed out, no longer afraid of my father’s discipline. But fear of another kind soon struck: hunger. With my father gone, it fell to me to feed the family. 

I found work on a farm but made barely enough to feed my younger siblings. For years, we went without shoes and were bullied by other children. I burned with shame. The answer, of course, was to grow up fast and make lots of money. I tried my hand at all kinds of work before discovering a knack for mechanics in my mid-20s. At 32, I moved to Lima, opened a small engines repair shop and became famous among the motorcyclists of the capital. 

To my friends, it seemed I had everything. I was a married man able to support his whole family, a man who loved his work and had many customers. I’d lose myself in reviving a bike and was satisfied when it came humming back to life. Yet right after, I’d feel anxiety welling up; on the outside, I was a new man, but inside, I suffered from the same fear and shame that had hounded me as a boy. Something was not right, but I didn’t know how to fix it.

Winter in Peru begins in June and brings my favorite weather—cool and breezy—like fall here in New York. But in the winter of 1994, I hardly noticed the breezes; my drinking habit had just ended of my first marriage, and I spent my days bent over engines or drinks, trying to forget myself. I was at my workbench in early July when a man stepped into my shop, walked up and asked, “Why you suffering, man?”

I was about to tell him to get lost, but when I looked up, I saw he was smiling, a very confident smile. To my surprise, I confessed, “I’ve got a lot of problems, man.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I have the key. Hand me a pen and paper… OK, now, with me.”

I squinted at the phrase and said it slowly with him three times: Nam-myoho-
renge-kyo. I looked up. 

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

I put a hand on my stomach. I felt a humming there.

“Remember this day,” he said. “Chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo anywhere, anytime, to achieve what you want. I’ll be back in one week to see what’s happened.” He left.

I began chanting—in the shower, in the shop, in the car, wherever—not for anything in particular, only for the deep stirring, humming, coming-
aliveness I felt when I did. In a week’s time, the man was back.


I shrugged. Actually, I felt better than I had in years, but I’d decided to play it cool. I gave myself away, though, when I jumped at his invitation to a meeting.

All I remember from this meeting was how happy and youthful everyone was and how our vigorous chanting brought confidence surging up from my life. After the meeting, though, the man with the confident smile disappeared. I didn’t have a way to get in touch. But for the next 10 years, I chanted on my own, and my life took a turn for the better. Little by little, I stopped drinking, expanded my business and began to think hard about what I really wanted to do and see in my lifetime. My thoughts turned to the United States. Still, something held me back; I never felt the time was right to go.

“Oh, I have problems! But listen, man, I’m Buddhist! I create benefits out of problems.”

My shop was right beside a police station, so, naturally, the police brought me their motorcycles when they broke down. In 2004, they invited me to a traditional Peruvian Christian ceremony at the station. At some point, everyone recited a prayer together by heart. Not knowing the prayer, I was quiet. A little woman beside me noticed.

“Sir, are you Christian?” she whispered. 

I knew almost nothing of Buddhism—just Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—but I puffed out my chest. 

“No!” I said. “Buddhist!”

I could tell I’d surprised her, but then she surprised me.

“Me too!” she said.

As it happened, for all those 10 years I’d been chanting on my own, SGI district meetings had been taking place in a house right across the street from my shop—mystic, I tell you. I began attending these and, as I did, felt my dream of going to the U.S. waking up inside me. Chanting, I felt, Now I want to achieve my dream! Now is the time to go!

In August 2005, I arrived in Westchester, New York, staying with a friend while I got my bearings. Again, I was disconnected from the SGI community; I knew not one Buddhist in all of North America. However, this time it didn’t take me 10 years to find one. At a laundromat one day that winter, a lady happily talking with everyone began happily talking with me. Maybe because I never once mentioned God, she asked me what religion I practiced. I puffed my chest out and told everyone at the laundromat.

“What?” she cried. “Me too!”

Living and working in the United States has been hard, but my Buddhist practice has made me strong. Though I work long hours, I take great pride, as the men’s leader for New Rochelle District, in making my district a Buddha land. 

A dream of mine is to open my own engine repair shop here in New York, but I’m not waiting for that to be happy; I open the doors to the Buddha land every day I walk into the shop where I work. There, the young men bring to my workbench not only their engine problems but their life problems, too. They tell me, “I want to be like you, Augusto—a man without problems!”

“Oh, I have problems!” I say. “But listen, man, I’m Buddhist! I create benefits out of problems. What do you think of that?”

They say they like that very much! So I grab a pen and paper and, smiling, say, “OK, now, with me!”

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