Through strong faith in Nichiren Buddhism, Zalde Gallardo, a member from the Philippines, found the answer to a number of questions he had about life and succeeded in changing his family’s life. Influenced by his mother, Angelina, and following her lead to take up faith, chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and participating wholeheartedly in Gakkai and kosen-rufu activities, Zalde was able to achieve successful results in his study, overcome the poverty he and his family were facing and recovered from an illness. In addition, he and his family also succeeded in encouraging his father, who opposed their practice, to take up faith in Nichiren Buddhism, thus achieving their family kosen-rufu. Zalde hopes that the experience he and his family went through can inspire others to take faith in the Mystic Law and become truly happy despite all the problems in life.
My name is Zalde Gallardo from SGI-Philippines and this is my experience in faith:
“Why some people were born in so much poverty, with an ugly appearance and with low intelligence to match? On the other hand, why some people were so privileged who were born not only rich but with beauty and talent as well and high level of intelligence? If we are all created by a benevolent God, why the discrepancy among people are so extreme?”
These are the questions that I sought for an answer since my early childhood. I grew up in one of the slums in Manila, capital city of the Philippines. My parents were both from the provinces who escaped the poverty in their own families and went to the city in search of a “greener pasture”.
Since both of them are uneducated and not familiar with the city, they ended up working for a rich Chinese-Filipino family as housemaid and family driver respectively. There, they met, fell in love and finally got married.
As they could no longer stay together in the house of their employer when they got married, they settled down in a rented room located beside a filthy creek inhabited by squatters in the city who, like them, tried their luck in Manila.
There, all of their four children were born. We were so poor that sometimes we have to skip meals or subsist on rice porridge or rice and dried fish everyday just to keep us alive. All of us children were of course undernourished and most of the time wanting from a comfortable living environment.
The creek beside our “house” is so filthy due to garbage thrown by the residents and it also served as our comfort room since we didn’t have a toilet. To make the situation even worst, my mother developed a heart condition where it enlarged beyond its normal size causing so much discomfort for her as she became weak and couldn’t sleep well lying down as she felt that she’s drowning.
Despite our situation, my mother didn’t complain. Like a majority of Filipinos, she’s also a devout Catholic who regularly goes to church and pray the rosary every day. In fact, I became a religious boy myself and was even trained as an altar boy when I was eight years old. I regularly received lectures from the Bible and instructed to be prayerful as much as I could.
I even dreamt of becoming a Catholic priest when I grow up. But since the abovementioned questions linger on my mind, I asked our parish priest for an answer. He said that we cannot question God because he is God and we are mere common mortals. I just have to continue to be faithful and my rewards will be in “heaven”.
In short, I was not convinced but nonetheless don’t want to end up in “hell” after I die if I continue questioning my faith.
Then, in 1977, when I was 10 years old, our house was demolished by the government to give way for the flood control project of the city. I came home from school with our house being stripped off of its roof and walls. And since it’s just made up of wood and almost already dilapidated to start with, it took the demolition team no time at all to tear it down completely.
I couldn’t forget that day when I saw my mother quietly packing our things with tears in her eyes and telling us to take whatever useful possessions were left for us.
My father looked for a place where we could move to and make a new start. Fortunately, he has relatives living in the outskirt of Manila who upon hearing our situation took pity on us and find a place where we can stay.
Although the house where we transferred was not so different from the one we used to live, we were grateful because it’s not beside a dirty creek and there’s no possibility that we will be booted out like animals once again.
Despite our traumatic experience, our family continued to live as normal as possible. My father gave up his job as a family driver since the place where we transferred was far away from his employer. He became a cab (taxi) driver.
To help my father earn additional income, my mother started peddling vegetables and fish in the neighborhood with a friend who invested a small capital for such a business. They went from door to door early in the morning each day to sell.
One of their regular customers happens to be an SGI Women Division (WD) member and told them about a “prayer” that will surely attract customers and will make them (my mother and her friend) happy. Of course, what will make them happy is to attract customers and have all of their merchandise sold!
She wrote down in a piece of cigarette foil the word – Nam-myoho-renge-kyo – and instructed my mother and her friend to recite it over and over again. She promised that they will experience good results if they do that morning and evening. Thinking that it’s a magic word, they tried chanting and see what will happen.
And as if by luck, they had better sales everyday and they go home earlier than before since they sold out everything early and some customers were still asking for more.
They were thrilled by this newfound “prayer” and became interested to find out what this is all about. When they returned to the lady who introduced the chant to them, she invited them to attend a discussion meeting to be held in her house that evening. In that meeting, they learned that the chant is actually a Nichiren Buddhist chant and they also heard testimonials of its efficacy from the members who attended.
At first, my mother and her friend were reluctant to continue chanting but they were challenged by the WD member who introduced it to them by saying that if they want to change their destiny and become truly happy, then they should try this Nichiren Buddhism and continue chanting.
At that time, my mother’s friend was experiencing a difficult relationship with her husband’s relatives, which affected their family, and my mother was suffering from a heart disease and we were in dire poverty. So, they decided to give it a try and thought that if it won’t work, then, they can just quit the practice altogether.
We were surprised to see one day that instead of the Catholic prayer of the rosary that my mother used to do everyday, she’s now repeating a strange word over and over while kneel sitting with her palms pressed together.
It made us even more confused when some members came over and enshrined a scroll of paper in a wooden box which my mother asked my father to make. Thinking that it would be a medicine cabinet or something, he obliged; only to be dismayed when he found out what it was really for.
However, my mother was undaunted and seriously put this Buddhism to test through chanting and attending discussion meetings. She felt something real about this chant because whenever she chants, she becomes energized and the feeling of weakness disappears.
She can now sleep lying down without difficulty in breathing, which for sometime had been her major problem. And within three months of continuous practice of this faith, she regained her health and X-ray tests showed that her heart returned to its normal size.
That was her first major benefit from her practice and convinced her all the more that this philosophy is true. Meanwhile, my mother’s friend also experienced great benefit with her family encouraging each one of them to continue the practice with members in the SGI-Philippines.
Soon, my mother also encouraged me to chant and brought me to a meeting so that I can hear something about Buddhism directly from leaders and long time members. At that meeting, I asked the same questions (which are at the beginning of this testimonial) that have been bothering me for a long time.
There, I heard about the theory of Karma, the Buddhist principle of cause and effect and the Eternity of Life. The one who answered my questions reiterated that based on the Buddhist law of cause and effect, everything happens for a reason and everyone’s condition in life differs from one another due to individual karma each of us had created from our previous lives; that you should not blame a God or your parents or anybody for your circumstances because you, yourself, had created either positive or negative causes that made you who you are and the situations you are now in.
But since you cannot go back to your past lives, it’s important that you create value or good causes in the present so you can change your destiny and truly become happy. That made sense to me.
In fact, that was the answer that I’ve been long searching for! It gave me hope and courage to go on living because now I have the opportunity to change my destiny as well as my family!
I was 11 years old at that time but I made up my mind to try this Buddhism with the hope that our family’s situation will turn for the better. Together with my mother, I started chanting and involved myself with SGI activities such as zadankais (discussion meetings) and daimoku toso (chanting sessions) in our area.
We became the butt of joke in our neighborhood. Many thought that my mother became insane because of too much poverty that we were suffering from. They said that perhaps because we lacked food to eat most of the time, and my mother became lunatic and entered a religion, which might be of the “devil”.
My father also didn’t approve of my mother’s conversion to Buddhism. He said that he will respect my mother’s decision to change religion but he will never follow suit. His relatives in a way also tried to persuade my father to talk to my mother to return to being a Catholic.
But my mother became persistent with her new faith. She said that, through chanting, she found hope and courage to overcome her problems. She never felt as much happiness inside of her now that she’s chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
She told me that those people who were trying to dissuade her from this practice didn’t genuinely care for our family’s happiness and only say nasty things because they didn’t know anything about Buddhism. With that conviction, she continued chanting and attending SGI activities.
Because of my mother’s influence, I chanted for me to be able to go to high school since we couldn’t afford the tuition fee. During that time, only the elementary education was offered for free by public schools in the Philippines but not tuition fees for secondary level.
I’m the second child, and my older brother who is less than two years older than me, could barely make it to high school because of our financial condition. So, that’s the first thing that I chanted for, to be able to attend high school despite our situation.
My mother encouraged me to chant at least 30 minutes everyday to make my dreams come true. I even learned to do gongyo ahead of her since she had difficulty in pronouncing the words. I also encouraged my other siblings to chant and pray to the Gohonzon everyday.
Because of this, I received my first big benefit, as I was able to enter high school for free. I was able to top the entrance examination given to freshmen students which I really didn’t expect. I was just an average student back in my elementary years and was very shy.
Due to lack of food and school materials like books and notebooks, I couldn’t really concentrate on my studies. Most of the time, my siblings and I were discouraged to go to school because we didn’t have proper school uniforms or school supplies required by our teachers.
Seldom would I’ve eaten breakfast before going to school since we didn’t have any. I was very skinny and suffered from chronic colds. Thus, it was no wonder that my school performance was not that impressive. But I know that I could do better if given the opportunity.
That opportunity came when I started practicing this Buddhism. As I have topped the entrance examination in high school, I was given academic scholarship that allowed me to study in high school for free.
Because of the discipline and confidence I developed through participating in SGI activities such as the drum and bugle corps and culture festivals, I was able to maintain my scholarship all throughout my years in secondary level, became active in school activities, and graduated at the top of my class.
I attribute this achievement to my faith in the Gohonzon and my conviction that through chanting, I will change my destiny.
Because of that benefit of graduating as the class valedictorian in high school, I was able to enter college, once again, as an academic scholar. I never thought that I could finish high school much more enter a university!
But things that I prayed for are now coming true!
I was so elated by these benefits and continued participating in SGI activities as much as I could to show my appreciation to the Gohonzon. We were on our fifth year of practice and our family’s fortune was turning for the better.
My father was able to work in the Middle East as a truck driver which was actually a benefit that my mother chanted for. But since a lot of Filipinos were able to go to the Middle East to work during that time, my father didn’t consider that as a benefit of our faith.
I thought that since my mother, my other siblings and myself were sincerely practicing this faith, everything will be fine. Until one morning, I woke up coughing out blood! I was horrified!
I thought that the simple cough and colds that I was chronically suffering from was nothing to worry about. But I was wrong. It turned out that I was in moderately advance stage of pulmonary tuberculosis and I should take time out from school and recuperate by taking a combination of anti-TB drugs.
I was devastated because I was only 17 then and there were so many things in mind to accomplish. I turned to the Gohonzon and chanted even though I have no voice at that time.
I recall, based on our study of Ikeda sensei’s novel “The Human Revolution”, that sensei himself also suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis and was told that he won’t reach the age of 30 because of his afflictions. However, due to his strong faith in the Gohonzon and rock- solid determination, he was able to overcome that illness and became the SGI President.
That gave me the inspiration to use my faith to defeat this obstacle. I clinged on to the Gosho passage that says, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion, what sickness can therefore be an obstacle?”
With that conviction in mind, I chanted for seven hours a day while I took a leave of absence from the university. I took the doctor’s prescriptions and stayed at home for a while. In two weeks’ time, I was able to go back to school but under medication and continued my SGI activities.
My doctor assured me that as long as I was on medication, chances that I could infect other people was minimal. I just had to be careful with my personal hygiene, cover my mouth when coughing, and separate my eating utensils from the rest of my family.
With that, I continued with my studies and my other activities as if I was not sick. After six months of intensive treatment, and lots of daimoku chanting, I was able to overcome my disease. I believe that it’s the power of prayer that made my recuperation really fast. Once again, I was really full of appreciation for this benefit.
I finished college with a degree in Medical Technology at the Far Eastern University in Manila, with honors (Cum Laude), among almost 300 graduates. This was my most cherished dream, to have a college diploma, which has been the main reason why I started practicing.
At last, I was able to achieve what seems to be impossible when I was just a small kid! Now, I can proudly say that chanting really works! That this faith can really change anyone’s bad karma!
My benefits were far more than what I expected.
After, graduating from college, I took the licensure exams for Medical Technologists so I could practice my profession. I once again used my faith and the discipline I gained from this practice and applied myself in studying to pass the exams. Among the almost 2,000 examinees, I landed sixth place overall and number one from my university. Indeed, with faith nothing is impossible!
However, despite my achievements in school, I found out that finding a job where I could use what I learned from the university was really difficult. I was offered a teaching job from my own college but the salary was not enough to cover my daily expenses.
I have a younger sister whom I promised to help to go to college. Although my father was still working abroad, he was also having problems with his employers and had to transfer from one company to another. As a result, he irregularly sent money to our family which made it difficult for my other younger siblings to go to college as well.
By using once again the power of the Law, I chanted and chanted to have a job that would provide my family financial stability so that I could send my youngest sister to college.
I gave up my teaching job in the university and became involved in the pharmaceutical industry as a Medical Representative wherein we represented our company and visited target doctors to convince them to use our brand of medicine on their patients.
It was a tough job with so much pressure because it was sales related. But I enjoyed talking to doctors, convincing them, giving them information about our products and I loved the challenges that went with it.
I tried to introduce some of these doctors who became my friends to Nichiren Buddhism and SGI. The salary was good enough to support my family and send my sister to a university. And for the next 20 years, I was with the industry acting in different capacity from a medical representative to a sales manager.
I also considered those as benefits since I was, indeed, able to send my sister to college where she graduated as a Physical Therapist. She now lives in New Zealand together with her husband and two children.
I also chanted for my partner in life and for kosen-rufu. I believed that, through the workings of the Mystic Law, that my schoolmate in high school (who became my wife) and I were able to see each other again after several years on a commuter bus.
I had just attended an Young Men Division (YMD) discussion meeting in our Culture Center and on my way home, we chanced upon each other on the bus. After some asking “how’s life going on” kind of questions, we decided to meet again for some more catchup.
We became really good friends and after some time fell in love with each other. At first we never talked about our respective religions. She knew that I’m a practicing Buddhist and she respects my belief.
However, I chanted and prayed to the Gohonzon that she would be able to see the greatness of this faith so she can also become truly happy. She would ask me to join her to attend Catholic mass on Sundays, which I did for quite sometime. Then, I invited her to attend one of our SGI-meetings.
On the first meeting she attended, she noticed a familiar face in front of the members and told me that she thought she knew that lady sitting in front. As she was an SGI leader, I told her the name of that woman. She said that she was not sure because she looks like the lady who was their leader in their parish church when she was a kid. She said that that woman was a devout Catholic and couldn’t be the same person sitting in front of that SGI meeting.
Then, after the activity, we went to that SGI-WD leader so I could introduce my then-girl friend of one year to her. To my surprise, my girlfriend realized that she was the same lady who used to be their prayer leader and a very devout Catholic at that.
Because of that meeting, my then-girlfriend became intrigued about this Buddhism and started to read publications and asked questions to me and to other leaders about this faith. Eventually, she came to her own decision to practice and become a member of SGI. And before we finally got married, she’s already an active Young Women Division (YWD) member who chants daimoku and attends meetings together with me. That was a truly great benefit for me which I really chanted for!
My father, perhaps because of the actual proof that our family is showing, became less critical of our faith. However, he was caught in the middle of the Middle East crisis in 1990 and experienced the terror of war when the Iraqi soldiers conquered Kuwait where he was working.
For almost a year, we lost any form of contact with him and we didn’t know if he was still alive or not. Through all this uncertain times, my family and I only relied on our faith to the Gohonzon that somehow, our father would return home alive.
And that was what exactly happened!
He was repatriated back to the Philippines after the Americans and the Allied Forces were able to free Kuwait from Iraq. Although we were happy to see him back, my father was disillusioned and disappointed when he returned home.
He felt that all those years that he spent working away from his family were useless after all because all of his savings were taken away by the Iraqi soldiers and he went back home penniless just like before.
Despite our encouragement, he indulged himself in self-pity and most of the time quiet and sad. He blamed the Iraqis for his misfortune. He blamed himself for not putting his savings in the bank. He blamed my mother for not saving enough.
Through all these, we chanted for his happiness and the wisdom to realize that material things or money should not be the basis for his and our family’s happiness. For sometime, my father questioned why those things happened to him despite the fact he has been kind and fair to everybody and he believed in God with all his heart.
Then, on New Year’s Eve in 1998, almost 20 years after my mother and I started to practice, my father finally chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo on his own. That was another great benefit that we received from this practice. Finally, we were able to achieve our family kosen-rufu!
Now, my father is an active leader of the Men Division (MD) in our chapter who treats the members like his own children.
After more than 30 years of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, I can truly say that my family and I were really able to change our karma. My wife and I are now living in our own modest house together with our two kids, a son and a daughter, which is definitely a far cry from the house where I grew up.
I am now an entrepreneur who owns a small school supply shop and convenient store. My children will not be lacked of school supplies anymore and children can buy from our store on a discount because I wouldn’t like to see them refusing to go to school because their parents can’t afford to buy the things they need for school.
Not only did we conquer poverty and hopelessness, we are able to live our lives with a noble purpose and share the happiness of practicing this faith to other people who at one time in their lives also suffering from the same difficulties that we had.
I am forever grateful to my mother who has always been strong in her beliefs and encouraged all of her children to chant and practice sincerely.
On 15 February 2010, my mother, Angelina Gallardo, peacefully passed away in her sleep at the age of 65 after succumbing from stroke. She had several episodes of stroke in the past and we attributed the prolongation of her life (since her first attack in 1998) to her strong faith in the Gohonzon. And to my father, who despite his initial antagonistic view toward our practice became the reason why we developed our human revolution.
Maraming salamat po, Nanay at Tatay! (Thank you very much, Mom and Dad!)
I will forever cherish the Mystic Law and the Gohonzon and promise to share this Nichiren Buddhism to as many people as possible through words of encouragement and actual proof.
No matter what happens in my life, whether good or bad, I always apply the Gosho passage: “Suffer what there is to suffer, and enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo no matter what happens.”