By Ashish Virmani
Thunderstorms can rain blessings and crises can generate a flowering of faith
In everybody’s life, sooner if not later, there is a turning point which sometimes comes in the appearance of a crisis, that can disrupt normal living. Mine came 10 years ago in the form of a personal and family crisis. It was a point of time when my sister’s marriage broke up and she was undergoing a financial crunch in her work situation; at the same time, my father was diagnosed with a heart condition and required immediate bypass surgery; and simultaneously I had a work and identity crisis that led to a breakdown of sorts and was sent off to recover for a period. My family was coming apart and the only person in the family who was not directly affected at the time was, God bless her loving soul, my mother.
When your world is coming apart, there seems to be darkness everywhere. We didn’t know at the time what the futures of three out of four people in the family would be, or whether we would live to see tomorrow in the same way ever again. In this pitch-black haze of despair, my mother encountered a Buddhist philosophy that guaranteed help to people who were suffering the most, especially to families. The philosophy of the Soka Gakkai was based on a peaceful world where people helped each other live meaningful, productive lives and which centered itself around education and culture. It was a shaft of light in a competitive, often ruthless world where the shadows of suspicion and mistrust sometimes cast an overwhelming gloom. As we became acquainted with the members of the Soka Gakkai, we were introduced to a bunch of happy people who genuinely wished each other well – since mutual helpfulness forms the core of the Gakkai Buddhist philosophy. Though we have plenty of relatives and friends around us, it was the philosophy of the Gakkai that really provided balm to our hurting souls.
Gradually, as we got involved with the Gakkai, we began to see positive changes in the environment around us. My father had a successful bypass surgery with minimum complications; my sister found another business partner, one who was immensely more beneficial to her; and I restarted my career in the most wonderful way possible with the strong mentoring of a famous editor. Over the next two years, our finances, which had once hit rock bottom, began to look up again and the good times started rolling in. I remember the year 2000 as a particular highlight when the economy was booming and we were included in the boom – with money pouring into my sister’s business, my father having restarted profitable work healthily, and I earning a journalist’s adequate salary. The three people who had been most affected by the darkness, were now back in the mainstream of society, primarily thanks to our Buddhist faith!
In the eight years since I have taken to Buddhism, I could write a book on the ways I have changed as a person and benefited as a result. Through a philosophy that stresses non-violence, sanctity of life and guarding against destructive emotions like anger, I have become a far more peaceful person and so very different from what I was. The greatest benefit of this is reflected in my relations with my family. I always had loving parents but was unable to connect with them because of my own growing up issues and confusions and tended to take their love for granted. Now I am much more considerate of their feelings and we have a much more loving and caring relationship than we ever did – thanks to my Buddhist faith.
Buddhism teaches that the root causes of our problems and our benefits lie not so much in the environment as within ourselves. Therefore, if we change ourselves for the better, the environment begins to reflect that change and instead of being antagonistic and hostile, becomes a source of value and benefit. This concept is no easier to accept theoretically as it is to apply practically. However, with constant prayer and self-introspection, I began to see my faults – at least some of them – and struggled hard to change myself as a person. The benefits were apparent even if the process of doing so was sometimes painful and long drawn out. This is what the Gakkai calls human revolution and I was on the track for my very own human revolution.
There were other areas of my life that benefited as a result of this. When I strove for self-improvement and growth according to my newfound faith, I found that over a period of months and years, there was a gradual shift in the way my environment reacted to me. My relationship with my boss began to improve and in the last nine years, I have had three bosses, each better than the other! In fact, I would say that after my family, my bosses have been the most important part of my life – which gives you an idea of the constructive role they have played. This from a person who barely got along with his bosses and was lazy and tardy before his big life-turning episode in 1997!
Still, not everything is hunky dory. One of my constant prayers in life is that I find a life partner who will be the best companion that a man like me can have – and that it is for keeps and not just a May-September alliance as marriages are so prone to be nowadays. Some people might say that it is a bit late in the day to think about it, but I say, better late than never! And I am sure that due to my having transformed my inner being so radically, the perfect soulmate is just around the corner.
Today, when I look back on the grave existential crisis that threatened my family, I feel thankful for having been pulled off the brink and for having discovered Buddhism. In fact, I feel that the great awakening to Buddhism was the direct result of my troubles and the greatest blessing I obtained from them. In Buddhism they call this the process of changing poison into medicine.
Ashish Virmani is a journalist and a member
of the Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist group under
the spiritual leadership of Daisaku Ikeda.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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