Elwyn Lan

Personal Experiences

Turning Suffering into Joy

I would like to begin my experience with a quote from President Ikeda:

"The world of Hell is a state in which life is itself painful; where anything you see makes you feel miserable. Such people need someone – anyone – to be at their side. They need someone who will be there for them, to listen and offer even just a few words of encouragement. "

Daisaku Ikeda, www.ikedaquotes.org

When I read this quote, it reminded me of my life a few years ago. Some people might recognise me as a photographer, a cricketer or just another youth member, but not many of those people had any idea what I was struggling with. While I had been studying, attending meetings and working, I was facing my biggest struggle, which was my uncontrollable gambling. For many years, since I reached the legal age, I’ve been a compulsive gambler. During these times, I experienced periods of intense addiction. Many times I made determinations that I would not gamble again, but soon enough I would return to it. I vividly remember the feeling of leaving the casino and thinking to myself, “how useless I am, how I am a disappointment to my friends and family, and how my life is not worth living.”

President Ikeda writes, “Defeat lies not in failing or making mistakes; rather, it lies in giving up on ourselves when we do so.” (www.ikedaquotes.org) At the time, I did feel like giving up.

Over the years I had small wins with gambling. This delusion gave me a sense of satisfaction and fuelled my addiction. My realisation came when I had a bad run of losses. No matter what I did, I kept losing.  I started to chase after my losses, desperately wanting to break even. But the more I gambled, the more I lost. It started to get serious when I began to gamble money that I didn’t have. Weeks of wages would be spent in one sitting. I started to get desperate and withdrew money from my credit cards. Again, that feeling of worthlessness came flooding back. No one knew about this. I was still going through my everyday routine of working, studying and attending meetings. I was giving experiences that were focused on my studies or other parts of my life rather than the struggle of this addiction. I started to chant with conviction that I wanted to gain the wisdom to change my life.

Chanting had always been a struggle for me. During this time, I didn’t chant at home at all and would chant only at meetings. I felt that this added to the façade that I presented, that I was ok. But when I hit my lowest of lows, I started to really chant with the conviction that I needed to change.

The June General Members Training Course (GMTC) was approaching and I had an opportunity to attend. I had applied to previous GMTC’s, but did not get the opportunity to attend and soon after I had lost the conviction to go. But this time I was quite excited because I believed it was the start I needed to change my life. But on the day we were due to leave, after waiting eight hours at the airport, volcanic ash from Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano disrupted and stopped many flights. I was badly affected by the news that I wouldn’t be able to go. It hit me hard, I guess, because I placed a lot of expectations on this training course – I thought it would be the key to changing my life. I decided to make a determination that I would chant one hour a day with the conviction of attending the next GMTC. I shared this experience at meetings, but again there was no mention of the real reason why I wanted to go.

Due to missing out on the last one, I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the next course. But after I arrived at the training course I started to get nervous and scared. Negative thoughts such as, “what if it doesn’t work?” began to creep in. Doubts and a feeling of hopelessness soon flooded my mind. I started to become quite reserved and I didn’t want to share too much of my life with anyone.

The turning point was at the group discussion session in the training course. During this group discussion, about eight individuals from different states freely shared their experiences and thoughts. Someone mentioned something in the group about sharing, which planted a seed that started me thinking about sharing my own experience.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to share my secret that I had kept for so long. With this in mind, I started to get nervous. I started to doubt and I kept waiting for an opportunity to jump in. People were talking, but I had no clue what they were saying, as I was fighting my own mind and making excuses to myself as to why I should not speak. All these things were running through my head and I knew we were coming to the end of the discussion meeting. Suddenly, I spoke out, probably interrupting someone in the process, and revealed my experience and my struggle for the first time. I poured my heart out and spoke about my gambling and the fear of disappointing my friends and family. After I shared this, the atmosphere in the group changed dramatically. People started getting emotional and started to share about their family experiences too. Through these discussions, we started to encourage one another. It was an incredible feeling, releasing this story that I had hidden away for so many years and seeing it encourage people.

I had a one on one chat with Charles Teoh, who at the time was the Nationwide Men’s Division leader. He said to me, “The only way you’ll open up this experience to your parents is when you write to President Ikeda.” I took this quite seriously so I made sure that I did. It was my first letter to President Ikeda. I felt quite hesitant at first because I thought what I wrote had to be perfect. But on reflection of what Charles had said, I am very grateful that he inspired me to share my struggles and my determination to open up to my parents with President Ikeda, which deepened my conviction to challenge the sense of doubt.

When I returned to Perth, I started to share my experience with the other youth in WA. A lot of them were shocked because they had no idea that I was facing such an obstacle. For them, I was just typical Elwyn, who was a working student, who was facing uni and work challenges. But I found that as a result of sharing my struggle, I developed a deeper connection with these members. I had engaged a new level of trust that was not there before.
My next challenge was to open up to my parents. I have never felt more scared or anxious in all my life. It was the toughest thing I have ever had to do. Prior to speaking to them, I did five minutes of chanting and just prayed for the best outcome. I approached both my parents and my siblings and asked if I could speak to them in the living room. While sitting there facing all of them I was nervous, scared, sweating and my heart was pounding like it had endured a marathon run. I pushed through the negativity once again and finally said something. Opening up about my experience with gambling, I told them that I was sorry that I had let them down and that I was determined to change my life. My shock was how they responded. I thought I was probably going to get kicked out or disowned. But instead they responded with encouragement, appreciation and love. I was also glad that my brother and sister were able to see firsthand how unhappy I had made myself through gambling.

Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” I feel stronger now since sharing my struggle with others.  The burden of keeping this struggle to myself has now lifted and I am grateful for the care and support of my friends and family.

Now that I know I have their support, I’m even more motivated that I will not let them down. However, when I look back on my experience I think of how much I actually appreciate going through this struggle. Not only has it allowed me to experience growth in life, it has given me an experience that I can share and encourage people with. Which is why I can now think of struggle as fortune. I see it as part of life and as an opportunity to grow that can inspire others.

As President Ikeda writes:

“Pain and sorrow cultivate the vast earth of your inner being, so you can bring forth the beautiful flower of the desire to work for the happiness of others. (www.ikedaquotes.org)”

I have a different appreciation for my morning and evening prayers. To be honest I do forget at times. But I realise how fortunate I am to practice Nichiren Buddhism. My renewed determination in my morning prayers and my appreciation in my evening prayers are the reason why I have changed my life. When I do remember to chant, I make sure I chant with conviction and determination. I also feel very fortunate to have my group meetings. Through my group meetings I have learnt how to appreciate and support my friends, building incredible bonds of friendship. It is in the group meetings where we are able to openly share our life struggles and celebrate each other’s victories, inspiring and encouraging everyone in the group.

I am determined to continue to appreciate my life, to never give up and to work for humanity by treasuring and supporting the people around me.

I would like to end with an encouragement from President Ikeda that inspires me on a daily basis, “If you failed yesterday, strive to win today. If you were defeated today, strive to win tomorrow.” (www.ikedaquotes.org)