In the span of three-and-a-half years, I saw my career skyrocketing from just an analytics lead focused on integrating maps and technology to a director at an urban regeneration organisation. This rapid speed growth came from my innate desire to use my knowledge and expertise towards creating more resilient and liveable cities.
However, behind the amazing transformation lies a darker story of struggle that lasted a decade.
My Practice and I
I started practising Nichiren Buddhism at a young age after my father, who struggled with unemployment, was introduced to Soka Gakkai Malaysia. My whole family took up faith without reservation and practised diligently. Over the next few years, our family’s finances gradually improved.
In 1992, my brother, the youngest of four siblings, was born. Eugene was born with congenital diseases and passed away at the age of 16. His sudden death caused my family deep anguish. But this prompted my sisters and I to pluck up our courage to pursue our dreams.
My Dreams and Struggles
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Universiti Putra Malaysia, I successfully applied for a Japanese government scholarship to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. However, I was not passionate about my master’s in material science. I chanted wholeheartedly to the Gohonzon, praying that I would have the opportunity to change my field without losing the scholarship. I successfully transferred to a major that combines arts and sciences to produce maps for sustainable development. My PhD project was at the Luang Prabang World Heritage Site in Laos, an underdeveloped country that strongly needed assistance.
There were endless challenges. First, my relationship with my supervisors went sour. Second, my PhD journey took longer than expected; my scholarship had ended and the data were getting out of date. A supervisor advised me to return to Malaysia and complete my thesis there. I took the advice but felt I was being abandoned by them. Those close to me also expressed I was wasting my youth by taking a longer route. I was depressed and withdrawn. I suffered from tinnitus due to the high level of stress, causing me to hear noises.
After returning to Malaysia for six months, I started to feel restless. I consulted my mother, saying, “After practising [Nichiren Buddhism] so hard and chanting so much, why is my situation not improving?”
My mother answered, “That’s because you are only practising for yourself.” This awakened me as I was only focusing on graduating as soon as possible.
I began to engage in grassroots activities actively and organise weekly chant-and-chat meetings for my local young women’s division members. Initially, only a few members participated. In two years, the number increased to 36 members. Gradually, the members grew in their faith, surmounting their problems and fulfilled their dreams.
During this period of internal struggle, every member of my family was also facing their own problems. I wanted to win with each of them by initiating a one-million daimoku challenge together, with the spirit of leaving no one behind. When we chanted together, our hearts were united. Over time, we saw the family dynamics changing. We were more harmonious, and together we advanced like strong and smooth wheels.
We realised we should dedicate ourselves to kosen-rufu without begrudging our lives. Our attitude towards kosen-rufu started to change and we treated every meeting as an important turning point for members to transform themselves.
Throughout this entire time, I still had a deep-rooted fear of failing, which was my biggest manifestation of fundamental darkness. I was very worried that I would fail to graduate. To conquer my fear, I embarked on a daimoku campaign every Sunday consistently for half-a-year. Initially, I was overcame by misery and cried endlessly before the Gohonzon. All the feelings I had suppressed surfaced, putting me on an emotional roller coaster. Eventually, I became more hopeful and convinced that somehow I would be happy and my life would definitely undergo transformation. No matter how dire my situation may be, daimoku would no doubt transform hopelessness to hopefulness.
Not long after, one of my supervisors reached out to me to request that I return to Japan to complete my thesis for graduation. Upon arrival, I wrote a letter to my mentor SGI President Ikeda about my vow and mission. To my surprise, he replied. I was very moved and felt that he was waiting for my victory. I realised that completing my postgraduate course is not about producing excellent research but showing actual proof of practising the Mystic Law. This became my prime point with my mentor.
The Buddha Land
Returning to campus, I was once again reminded of how cold the laboratory environment was. Everyone was very competitive and minded their own business. Resolving to change this situation through prayer, I chanted to be able to turn the laboratory into a Buddha Land, cultivating good relationships with my peers and supervisors.
Little by little, the atmosphere in the laboratory changed, with fellow students sharing knowledge and encouraging each other to graduate. My supervisors acknowledged that my presence brought positive influence to the laboratory.
In addition, I was able to publish two reputable journal articles within one-and-a-half months. With this, I successfully obtained a doctoral degree, after ten years.
My next challenge was to find a job in Malaysia. I prayed that I would find a place that allowed me to manifest my potential to the fullest, be appreciated, and give me absolute freedom in my career and ample time for kosen-rufu.
In reality, my postgraduate research was so specialised that I was unsure if it would be possible to find a job outside of the academic field. Through sheer determination, I resolved with prayer that the job can even be created just for me. My current organisation did precisely just that!
With this organisation, I represented Malaysia in the City Resilience Programme organised by the World Bank, and my team won the best idea award among 26 participating countries. Last year, I was also interviewed by local and international media for the work my team did on rising temperatures and its impact on climate change in major Malaysian cities.
Amassing Good Fortune and My Resolutions
During the Movement Control Order, while most companies were facing financial difficulties, I received a promotion with salary increment and bonus.
Upon reflecting on this ten-year journey, I see that I was able to surmount all obstacles to transform my long winter into a glorious spring because of the deep conviction in my prayer, vow, mentor and the resolve to bring forth my Buddhahood no matter what.
My PhD journey that caused me so much suffering turned out to be the exact conditions needed for my life to blossom. Practising Buddhism enables me to never succumb to challenges, exert my utmost and persevere till I win.
Through this arduous process, I also saw that my life had completely transformed in all aspects, including my personal relationships. Though my prayers had initially focused on my PhD, eventually it expanded to include the happiness of everyone around me. This gravitated my long-term partner to even move to Malaysia and propose!
With faith as the prime point of my practice, I vow to selflessly dedicate my life for kosen-rufu. To repay my debts of gratitude to my mentor, I am determined to contribute to the grassroots by building ever youthful and joyful districts.
Adapted from Cosmic May 2022