The Art of Happiness by Dickson Leow (VIC)

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda writes:

“Happiness is not a life without worries or struggles. Happiness is the robust sense of fulfilment one feels when bravely confronting hardship. It is that elevation of the spirit, like an airplane gaining lift from the air resistance against its wings” (www. ikedaquotes.org) 

As human beings, we often question “what is happiness”? As a practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism, we seek out challenges and do our human revolution and achieve absolute happiness? So, what is “happiness”?

In 2017, after months of chanting, I was about to make a career-changing decision (as shared in October 2017 Indigo). I had decided to move to a new company, leaving behind my dream job nearing fifteen years. Within a couple of months of settling into my new role, I faced new challenges and an uphill struggle. I questioned my chanting and practice as I couldn’t find my grounding within the new company, I was very lost. Moreover, within a few short months, the Chief Operations Officer who hired me had resigned, together with over 200 people from across Australia. All the agreement and vision of my appointment had vanished with the COO departure. Morale was low and many more people contemplated resigning. As a practitioner, I doubled my efforts and chanted even more to have the wisdom to enact my mentor’s spirit and make this challenge my mission, a beacon of hope for myself and others, creating value where I stand. As President Ikeda writes:

“To unite with and be in rhythm with our mentor means to have the same spirit as our mentor in making our vow for Kosen-rufu, chanting with unity of purpose alongside our fellow members and taking action to wholeheartedly encourage each individual” (SGNL, 9028)

The new CEO appointed just a few months before had questioned my loyalty. I did question myself, “Why did my chanting lead me to this decision”? I persevered for over six months until my probation ended, but things did not improve. I did however take the responsibility and had a “difficult” dialogue with the CEO as to how he saw my role, what were his demands and what were his expectations. Following the discussion, I was somewhat deflated. It was made clear to me that I was not on par amongst my colleagues who had PhDs and some with multiple Masters academic credentials. Naturally, my human mind went into strategy mode, but my SGI training allowed me to chant and use this opportunity to do my human revolution, so I continued to persevere and sought guidance from senior leaders. The guidance was honest but strict, “I need to focus on myself, not external factors influencing how I feel. Be in control of my mind and environment.” As President Ikeda explains:

“…the joints in a piece of bamboo, if one joint is ruptured, then all the joints will split (WND1 p 512) … likewise, when an individual who has been suffering…becomes happy, this opens a sure way to happiness for all others experiencing similar painful sufferings” (May Indigo 2019, pg 19) 

With renewed prayer and redetermination, I persevered and took the opportunity to undertake further studies to complement my engineering, computer science and legal background. My chanting had allowed me not to lament, but focus on business acumen and create a unique opportunity for myself within the company. I had shifted from a hopeless, victimised viewpoint to one filled with courage and determination based on my vow for kosen-rufu.

With a renewed determination, I completed my business course focusing on sixteen areas of business, such as marketing, accounting, human resources and management. Within two years as a full-time student, while working full-time, I graduated amongst the top 10% of graduates, earning me a ‘Golden Key’ Award. I also had the great opportunity to attend the July 2018 SGI Japan Training course amidst the University examination. It all seems impossible for the logical mind, but it was made possible because I have Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Upon my graduation, I was filled with fresh ideas and strategies to contribute to the company. However, even when my wholehearted intention was pure, there was so much resistance from the staff. The staff had been conditioned to fear, they felt there was no need to change and with the new CEO’s radical approach, of only demanding profits (for a non-profit organisation), I started my job hunting (again). However, something was different. I wasn’t applying out of fear, anger or emotion; it was out of the spirit to contribute more to society, more to give. It was during these interview journeys that I had learned new lessons even though I was not successful. I learned about “How ready am I to jump through a window of opportunity”? Am I ready to dialogue with important individuals if they were right there waiting for me, like the Prime Minister?” Interestingly enough, because of the causes I had made previously, I had 45 minutes with the Deputy Prime Minister to discuss the national transport agenda. It had opened new horizons for me, and appreciating the opportunities and the challenges was a benefit I had not fully realised.

At this same time, though I was seeking a role outside of the company, my responsibility within the company expanded and I was promoted. I was appointed to an executive position, with the position description rewritten to suit my eligibility with my qualifications (previously required to be a PhD). I again sought guidance, “why”, “why is this happening”, “why is my prayer being answered in this way?”

The guidance was plain and simple: because it is what I need, not what I want! I also remembered the guidance I read from Nichiren Daishonin:

“No one can avoid problems, not even sages or worthies…regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-Myoho- Renge-Kyo, no matter what happens.” (WND1, p681) 

The important thing is creating value and creating causes. Not to be distracted, and truly focus on my Kosen-rufu. As MD Leader Terry Neel put it, don’t be like a “Yo-Yo”. Determined to create value, my prayer must also be focused and based on my vow. My vow anchored me to propel onwards and turn the poison situation into a medicinal opportunity. As President Ikeda explains:

“The true intent of Buddha is for all living beings to attain Buddhahood, that is to attain a state of indestructible happiness…. the Lotus Sutra is the great teaching that can lead all people to enlightenment…” (Indigo, June 2019 pg20) 

I was now in an executive leadership position with over 30 staff and it was up to me to change the culture, the environment and the company as I had practiced within the SGI. Using my training in the SGI enabled me to help my colleagues on the journey. All meetings within my division were like my SGIA group meetings and training courses; filled with encouragement and hope. Just as President Ikeda empowered the members and the youth, all staff in the division were empowered with hope instead of fear. Each member of the team was embraced when they made mistakes and encouraged to learn from those mistakes. Each team member was of value and could speak without rank or prejudice. Without realising it, my behaviour had slowly transformed a division of fearful individuals into a beacon of hope for others in the company, standing tall and taking full responsibility. They were no longer fearful nor hateful but transformed into confident and shining individuals, because I had shared President Ikeda’s guidance with them during mentoring and personal development sessions. I was very proud of my team and together we had written an article titled, “Hello Future” and titled a section on how each state in the transport sector needs to be united “Itai-Doshin – Many in body, one in mind”.

Despite my issues with the CEO, we are rubbing like two potatoes in a bucket (see box), creating the best of ourselves, focusing on my human revolution training and not focusing on his (CEO) behaviours.

At around this time, just before COVID hit Australia, I was rushed to emergency and then to ICU with complications with my medications (as I found out later). I have been told that I was lucky to have “caught” it in time, not long after I took on the new role as Assistant State Men’s leader. The opportunity allowed me to train my heart but also polish my karma while dealing with my human revolution. Work has also been relentless due to COVID. I had day shifts with work requirements from around Australia and New Zealand, and a night shift with concerns and worries of international agencies in Europe, the US, Korea and Japan due to COVID. There were 3 to 4 hours of meetings in the wee hours every couple of weeks instead of week-long meetings in respective countries. It was taking a toll on my health and body. Therefore, I was thinking about a different role to “help” my body and health recover, and started my determination to seek a role that will allow these measures and… the opportunities started rolling in. I had two offers and one I couldn’t refuse as it was only 15 mins from my house and it would be up to me how I shape the company, product and team.

Upon my resignation, my company had countered the offer and even tried to appoint me to the highest position possible below the CEO and a team of (now) over 50 people has urged me to stay on. On my last day, my CEO had thrown me a farewell party, unheard of in history of the company, not even for retirees of 40 years in the company. It was as the guidance I recall from WND, vol p33,

“The greater the hardships befalling him, the greater the delight he feels, because of his strong faith.” (Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin vol 1, p33). 

I had transformed a sense of fear, frustration, demotivation into hope and encouragement for myself and the environment surrounding me. I know, through chanting and this practice, I will continue to face expanding growth and therefore it will continue to allow me to deepen my resolve and cement my vow.

It’s like the guidance by President Ikeda,

“If you possess strong life force and abundant wisdom, it is possible to enjoy the challenge of overcoming life’s hardships in much the same way that waves make surfing exhilarating and steep mountains give mountaineering its appeal.” (Rio de Janeiro General Meeting, Feb 13, 1993). From “What is True Happiness?” from https://www. sokaglobal.org/resources/study-materials/buddhist-study/the-wisdom-for-creating-happiness-and-peace/chapter-1-2.html 

The focus is not to be distracted by ills or influences from my environment or by the behaviours of others, but to be steadfastly anchored by my vow and focus on creating a valuable and just society; to make the cause and not search for the effect.

The power to transform our thinking to build a just society begins with our vow and the spirit to win over ourselves!

As President Ikeda writes,

“Reality is harsh. Please courageously challenge the stern realities of life and win, and win again in everything… the teachings of Buddhism and our practice of faith are the driving force for unlimited improvement” (Rio de Janeiro General Meeting, Feb 13, 1993). From “What is True Happiness?” from https://www. sokaglobal.org/resources/study-materials/buddhist-study/the-wisdom-for-creating-happiness-and-peace/chapter-1-2.html 

The Art of Happiness for me is none other than seeking the buddha from within and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo!