A Time to Grow: Making the Unimaginable Possible

Julien Darty, France
Man in a chef’s uniform in a courtyard
[Photo courtesy of Julien Darty]

Julien Darty dreamt of becoming a great chef. Drawing strength from his Buddhist practice, he persevered for over a decade, facing both racism and financial setbacks along the way, and was able to make his dream a reality.

It was with the dream of becoming a great chef and having my own restaurant that I started practicing Buddhism in 2010. This was a very ambitious dream at that time as the reality was that I had no money to open a restaurant. My mother continuously encouraged me that through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo I could take on this great challenge.

In January 2011, I left Réunion Island, where I lived, to settle in a charming village in Normandy, France. I connected with a family who also practiced Nichiren Buddhism, and every week, we chanted and studied Buddhism together.

Although this village was very charming, racism was very present. Two months after my arrival, I was the victim of a shocking racist act. I was walking through the village streets when a man stopped next to me and, before running away, insulted me. Afterward, I felt bad and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Building Friendships and Trust

I wanted to create trust in my environment so that I would never have to experience racism ever again.

As I continued in my Buddhist practice, many questions arising from this experience troubled me. I asked myself, “Why?” and “How can anyone be judged by the color of their skin?” I decided to follow the example of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging from the Lotus Sutra who never stopped believing in the good in people no matter what happened.      

I opened a takeout business with my sister and managed to save some money for my future restaurant. I wanted to create trust in my environment so that I would never have to experience racism ever again. I had several friendly exchanges with the mayor and the villagers—I always remained very courteous and offered a smile and kind words to everyone I met.

However, in July 2011, four months after the first incident, while I was selling my takeout food, I was again a victim of racism. But this time it was different. All the people I had engaged in dialogue with and built friendships with came to my defense. This showed me something had shifted in my village. And for me, things really began to change—my business began to grow and orders poured in.

Determined Perseverance

Despite the increase in sales, my income remained very low. My personal financial situation was deteriorating day by day, and I just couldn’t understand what the problem was, why my finances were so bad. I decided to persevere with the strong determination to transform my karma, to see actual proof that this Buddhist practice works.

Through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I was able to draw forth hope and redetermine not to be defeated.

At the end of January 2015, I was overwhelmed by all my financial difficulties. I deeply wished to transform my financial karma. However, I got swindled out of a large sum of money. Despite all my efforts, I felt very fragile. It was true that life had given me the chance to grow more, but not in the way I had expected. Life can be very harsh, if you are not prepared, it can be brutal. I felt like a young tree that has just experienced its first storm. In this time of distress, I even considered ending my life, but through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I was able to draw forth hope and redetermine not to be defeated.

As well as traveling long distances to encourage other Soka Gakkai members, I was working more than 80 hours per week, which was extremely demanding. However, I was able to use all my difficulties to create a solid foundation for my life, and I developed a very joyful state of life. In spite of all my debt, my priority still remained the same—starting my own business. I kept remembering Nichiren’s quote, “Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens.”

An Unexpected Turn of Events

In July 2017, despite numerous setbacks and more financial difficulties appearing, this time my attitude was completely different. I viewed my financial difficulties as an opportunity for personal growth. However, I wondered whether to expand my takeout business or close it and work elsewhere to save money. In November 2017, I renewed my determination, and my decision became clear. I had to close my business and stop for a while to save money to open my restaurant in the future.

Unexpectedly, things started to look up, and because I was living below the poverty line, I was able to receive financial aid from the state and could pay off all my outstanding rent and more than half of my debt.

Beautifully presented plate of food
A dish prepared by Julien [Photo courtesy of Julien Darty]

My sister and I told the mayor of our village that we were closing our takeout business and that we would come back in five years to open a restaurant. This exchange turned out to be very important, as he recommended us to the mayor of the neighboring town who offered us the unimaginable: a restaurant for which we would decide everything. Construction, plans, tiling, painting, etc., were to be entirely paid by the town hall with the first six months’ rent paid and after that a low rent. It was incredible! My dream was suddenly taking shape before my eyes. I had changed poison into medicine.

Standing Tall, Standing Strong

I opened the restaurant in February 2020, and I am fully learning to enjoy my good fortune. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the business has been a big success. During the lockdowns, we were able to sell takeout food, and following that, the restaurant was completely booked out for every meal.

The ‘young tree’ that I was is finally developing a stronger trunk and deeper roots, ready to face the next storm.

In September 2020, the local city hall organized our grand opening. On that day, I had the honor of welcoming the French overseas minister, the former defense minister and the president of the Normandy Region to my establishment. In January 2021, I received the prestigious Toques Françaises award. My restaurant was mentioned in a dozen articles, and I even appeared on the news.

Above all, this experience has made me the person I am today. The young tree that I was is finally developing a stronger trunk and deeper roots, ready to face the next storm.

Adapted from the September 2021 issue of Valeurs Humaines, mouvement bouddhiste Soka.