Living a Dignified Life

Max with his son, wife (left) and mother (right). (Aug 2019)

Ling Sun Ginn Max
Young Men Division

I learnt about Nichiren Buddhism since childhood. At first I only followed my mother to the meetings, but subsequently I started chanting when I was challenging my O-Level exam. However, after reading a book titled From Today ONWARD, I was deeply inspired by Sensei’s writings that I decided to practise seriously.

I have gone through good and bad times in life, but never encountered an ordeal so challenging till November 2019. Life was great before that. I was promoted to General Manager of my company, and physically, I was fit as a fiddle.

I had a history of abdominal adhesions, where the intestine is stuck together by scar tissues. This was due to an appendicitis surgery in 1984 which led to intestinal obstructions, an acute and tremendously painful condition, in 1994 and 2000, and I had to undergo surgeries.

After 19 years, it occurred again in 2019. At first, the doctor tried to fix it with a keyhole surgery, but it was so severe that the doctor had to remove part of my intestine. Even after the surgery, the resection kept falling apart because of inflammation, causing a hole in my intestine. This led to seven surgeries eventually, with parts of my intestines removed twice.

Undergoing five major operations in five weeks with no food and water during that period damaged my
physical and mental health. I could not process my thoughts properly and slipped into uncontrollable anxiety. I could not sleep no matter how hard I tried and became delirious. I would text my wife or friend something I have entirely no memory of the next day. I also started to perceive that the floors and ceilings were bending. Believing that I had lost my mind, I lost all hope.

After my seventh surgery, the hole in my intestine reopened. I was given a third opinion by one of the best doctors in Singapore. He advised me to let the gap close by itself, but that would mean going without food or water for another two months. It would be truly torturous, and there was no guarantee
that this treatment would work.

The other option would be to go through an eighth surgery and live with two stoma bags.

The matter got worse. Due to my weakened state of health, I contracted a rare and life-threatening blood infection. I was on intravenous feeding called Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN). However, the TPN also fed the blood infection. The plan was then to put a stop to the TPN and treat the condition
first. This meant removing crucial sustenance for my weakened body. Also, the infection was multi antibiotics resistant; clearing it would be difficult. The situation was grievous. I was at the doorstep of death, and I had an ominous feeling that my life would end.

Heartwarming Support from Family and Comrades

During this challenging time, what kept me going was none other than the outpouring care and support from my beloved family and fellow SGS comrades. My wife and my mother, especially, were challenging my health challenges with undaunted faith through unwavering daimoku no matter how exhausted they were.

They had to manage their work, while taking care of my son and me. However, not once did they complain. Instead, they always put on their brightest smile whenever they visited me. With abundant daimoku chanted, they were composed and fought alongside me.

My comrades in faith fought unflinchingly alongside me too. Time and again, fellow leaders and members
visited me at the hospital, chanted with me, and shared Sensei’s guidance to encourage me even when it was close to the Lunar New Year. With all the support I received, over time, I regained hope and was determined to fight on.

By then, I was transferred to the Singapore General Hospital. I was at the juncture where I had to undergo another surgery if the hole in my intestine did not heal on its own. The doctor said there was no telling if this would even take place, so it was an indefinite waiting game, something seemingly impossible too.

Undaunted faith to fight on

I too persisted in chanting one hour daimoku every day. It was very tough as I felt like throwing up every time I chanted due to the side effects of the medication. I remember chanting very slowly at first, but gradually the daimoku I chanted brought out the fighting spirit and inexhaustible life force in me. Gradually, my anxiety started to subside, and I could sleep intermittently, and later progressing to a full night’s sleep. My rare blood infection was also cleared.

After putting me back on the TPN, everything went uphill and the hole in my intestine started to heal. I had my first meal in three months. Three weeks later, the hole in my intestine mystically closed up completely and I was finally discharged after four months of hospitalisation.

At that time, the Covid-19 situation in Singapore flared up. I lost my job, fitness, and financial stability, but I did not lose hope, and I had unwavering faith in the Gohonzon. I continued to carry out my monthly contribution to the building fund with profound gratitude.

My road to recovery was very tough, as living with a short gut comes with many inconveniences. Due to these struggles and the fear that I could have another relapse, negativity crept in. There were times when thoughts of passing away earlier and peacefully after my son had grown up occurred.

As I was seeking out answers from Ikeda Sensei, I came across a guidance which says, “Mr Toda frequently used to say that Buddhism enables us to savour life itself as the greatest joy. I think he was one-hundred percent right. Those who remain steadfast in their faith and work for kosen-rufu throughout their lives will, without fail, experience a happy and dignified death. I have come to this firm conclusion after years of experience with many, many people.”

I realised I should focus on living a dignified life rather than death. And isn’t dedicating our lives to kosen-rufu and leading life on the path of mentor and disciple the best means to do that?

Determined to Transform Karma into Mission

I started to chant to live a healthy life and transform my karma into mission – my victory would be a great actual proof that can lead others to practise faith in Nichiren Buddhism. This prayer had a profound and positive effect on my recovery. I began to gain weight rapidly, which was a clear proof that my intestines were functioning well.

Max joyously interacting with the members at the online discussion meeting. (2020)

I went all out to engage my fellow leaders and members through dialogues over Zoom. With my fellow leaders, I reached out to the children of our adult division members and made efforts to share Nichiren Buddhism with them. I also recall encouraging an elderly new friend who was ill. I visited her and shared my victory. Wanting to bring hope and courage to her, I presented her with a bouquet at the end of the meeting. She was very touched and decided to try chanting the following day.

During my review, the doctors were all surprised by my remarkable recovery. One year later, in 2020, I was able to resume a normal life and go back to lifting weights, gaining muscles as a result. I regained my normal weight of 60 kg and re-joined my ex-company as a Business Developer in April 2021, just before the Heightened Alert.

President Ikeda once cites a philosopher who said, “A person who has never been ill only understands half of life.” So I am deeply grateful for what I have been through.

I truly feel that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day is the greatest thing a person can ever have. If a person’s material belongings and worldly status cannot free one from the sufferings in life, how much can it do in death?

Ikeda Sensei says: “Death inevitably comes to each of us. Whether it is a time of inner dignity and honour or a pitiful demise is completely reliant on how we live our lives right now, today. In that sense, the ‘moment of death’ truly exists in the present.”

In view of this, I believe our priorities in life should be to carry out our human revolution and strive to gather treasures of the heart, especially by working for the happiness of others. In challenging my ordeal based on faith, I have transformed to become a more empathetic, resilient and better person. All these inner transformations have further enabled me to treasure my life and that of others.

I am determined to foster capable young leaders for kosen-rufu, for they are the bulwark of Soka Gakkai; sharing the Gakkai spirit with them basing everything on faith and Sensei’s guidance. I also resolve to live a hope-filled life where my son and future generations can find strength in knowing.

(Adapted from January 2022 issue of Creative Life)