Forging Invincible Spiritual Strength

by Jim Richards, USA
Jim Richards with his children
Jim Richards (center) with his children (from left) Zoë, Orchid, Zenith and Orpheus [© Marc Giannavola]

Jim Richards talks about how his battle with muscular dystrophy awakened him to a strong sense of purpose and strengthened his determination to live life to the fullest.

In the 1980s, I was part of a gymnastics stunt at a large SGI-USA activity. We built a human pyramid on roller skates, and I was at the bottom level. I felt like giving up due to the seemingly unbearable weight on top of me, but I couldn’t let my friends above me down. Somehow, I found a pocket of inner strength. This would become a formula for my success in later years.

In 1993, I began experiencing a sudden loss of strength to perform normal tasks. Incorrect tests and treatments followed for some 15 years, including surgeries, liver biopsies and electric shocks to muscles. Finally, in 2009, I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, which causes progressive muscular weakness and atrophy.

As a dad of four children, the simple act of hugging them would throw me off balance and cause me to fall. If the winds were too strong, I couldn’t walk. I remember going places and not being able to sit down because it would have been too hard to get up. I was gripped with fear everywhere I went.

Before my diagnosis, I had been chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for my condition to just go away. But now I was dealing with a progressive disease that had no cure. How could I chant about my new reality?

Like the human pyramid resting on my shoulders, the weight of my disease was heavy. But I dug deep to find the determination, hope and courage to move forward, not just for my sake, but for my family, fellow Soka Gakkai members and students.

When I took on a leadership position in the organization, entrusted with the responsibility to support others, I began feeling moments of joy from a wonderful meeting or a visit with a fellow member. I was very encouraged when I saw my friends’ practice ignite or when people who once needed encouragement were now encouraging others.

The illness became my strict teacher, awakening my sense of purpose in life.

The illness became my strict teacher, awakening my sense of purpose in life.

Nichiren writes: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” Armed with confidence in the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I determined not to allow any turn of events or deterioration of my condition to affect my happiness. I was going to live a full life no matter what.

I still wake up some days feeling despair, but I have learned from President Daisaku Ikeda’s writings that hope is always a decision. He says: “Illness can motivate us to take stock of ourselves, to reflect on the essence of life and our way of living. Through struggling with illness, we can gain a much fuller understanding of life and forge invincible spiritual strength.” Understanding this, I’m able to shake off the negativity and re-center myself each time.

At work, I have gained the respect of my colleagues at a rigorous international school, where I have taught art courses to youth for about 25 years. Since the onset of my illness, I have missed less than 10 days on the job.

In my family, all four of my children are now thriving young adults pursuing their unique career paths as a photographer, entrepreneur, fashion designer and journalist. To my surprise and delight, they got together recently to chant and share something they were each challenging in their life. As a parent, this makes me the happiest.

I also strive each day as a leader within my local Buddhist organization.

After teaching for over two decades, I felt something new stirring inside of me. As I chanted to embark on my next challenge, my school offered me a large bonus to retire at the end of the school year. I now have the chance to dedicate my time to painting original work, my long-held dream!

In 2019, I celebrated my 70th birthday. I’m happy, healthy, unbowed, surrounded by treasures of friends and family and filled with the spirit of youth. I can’t wait for my next adventure to unfold.

Adapted from an article in the March 8, 2019, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA.