On the 2nd of June I attended the Dedicated Lilac Graduation ceremony.
Becoming a Dedicated Lilac has been a goal of mine since 2009.
But let's start from the beginning :)
In 1998 I started practising Nichiren Buddhism regularly. I was twelve at the time, and this meant my practice had several limitations. One, I had to wait my 18th birthday to receive Gohonzon (or in my case, become a member). Another one was that I could not take up any responsibility, again until my 18th birthday. But the biggest one, for me, was that I could not do lilac.
In Italy (and the rest of the world, really), we call a Lilac a Byakuren, which means "white lotus flower". As I mentioned before, I was a desperately lonely child and I didn't have an easy childhood. I was always the only non-catholic kid in every school I attended, and I could not partake in most of the recreational activities children would go to, because they would be controlled by the Church.
Even though half of the Buddhist members of Europe are in Italy, the SGI is nowhere near as organised as the UK (let alone Japan) in terms of children's activities. We had one children's day every year, for a couple of years, which was amazing, admittedly, but it was one little day.
I was attending Youth Division activities and for my entire time in Sicily I was always the only underage person attending meetings regularly. It had its advantages, to be honest with you. I was treated like everyone's little mascot and spoilt rotten. It was like having dozens of big brothers and sisters, which to the little lonely me felt amazing.
But I couldn't do lilac, and I couldn't wait to be allowed to do it.
I honestly don't know what attracted me so much to it. One big thing that impressed me was the uniform. We don't wear uniforms in Italian schools so the only uniforms I've ever worn are the scout and the Lilac ones. It made a big impression on me as a child, because it symbolised the fact that everyone was equal in the group. The idea that I could be part of a group where I would not be bullied, but I would be cherished and supported, was too good to be true.
And of course the work of a Lilac seemed to be very precious and important (which it is, heh!).
A tiny bit of history (quoted from "Springtime of Life").
The Byakuren group started in Japan in May 1957, when a group of Young Women spontaneously decided to start helping behind the scenes to facilitate the smooth running of activities. In 1966 Sensei announced that the group would be called Byakuren.
A similar spirit of self-motivation and courage was at the start of the Lilac movement in the UK. In 1972, Sensei visited the UK to start his dialogue with the historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee, and a young woman, Akiko Akasaka, asked if she could form a group of young women along the lines of the Byakuren group in Japan.
The name Lilac was chosen by Sensei when he saw the lilac flowers in bloom in Holland Park.
Like most things in Buddhism, the Lilac flower was chosen for its symbolic meaning. As the flower is made up of many little individual flowers, it symbolises the spirit of itai doshin, or "many in body, one in mind". The strong fragrance represents a solid, inspiring presence and their deep roots stand for sincerity.
In May 2001, the Dedicated Lilac team was formed. Its purpose is "to develop capable people who form the core of the Youth Division. Lilac training is faith expressed through action, through which we develop our potential for becoming capable leaders."
When I was sixteen, quite a few things were going on in my country, and as a result, in my life. I allowed my fundamental darkness to have the better of me, and for three years I didn't attend Buddhist meetings. I still considered myself a Buddhist and chanted (although not regularly), but I reached my long awaited 18th birthday without becoming a member.
When I was nineteen, my mother practically dragged me to a Buddhist meeting (bless her) and I finally realised what was missing in my life. I started going to meetings again, and the year after, 2006, I finally became a member of SGI Italy.
That same Summer I did my first Byakuren training in Sicily. I then moved to the North, where I joined the Byakuren team first in Brescia, then in Bergamo (and did another couple of trainings), to support the Milan centre. I remember meeting another Fukushi like me, who had become a member at 18, unlike me, and had already many years of experience as a Byakuren, and being incredibly jealous of her!
When I moved to London in 2008, I immediately looked for a district and volunteered to join the Byakuren team. I first heard about Dedicated Lilac then. Unfortunately at the time I was in England with a one-year contract and was not able to guarantee two years of dedication. During that year I received incredible support by the wonderful Young Women and Women of my district and when I finally finished my dissertation I found myself with loads of time on my hands and an enormous debt of gratitude.
The path was clear: I called my Lilac leader and told her to count me in any time, anywhere, unless I was terminally ill, I would go! Those were the happiest months of my life up to then.
When I left England, this beautiful woman (quite fittingly named after a flower herself), told me I was her best Lilac, which was by far the best compliment I could possibly dream of (and is still, in many ways, unsurpassed).
In the following year, when I was travelling Europe and living many different adventures, the one thing I missed more than Buddhist meetings was doing Lilac. I was desperately missing it. When I moved to Liverpool I could only attend two activities, and I eagerly accepted to Lilac at both.
I had to wait one more year before I could apply for Dedicated Lilac, because I was advised to put my studies (i.e. my teacher training) first and to apply later. So in the end, I finally became a Dedicated Lilac in June 2012.
Which of course, is only the beginning of two years of marvellous Human Revolution.
If you are a young woman in the SGI and are thinking of doing Lilac, please, do your life a big favour and do it. Nothing, absolutely nothing will move your life forward more than this.
One final word: I have to apologise to the boys. Every time I talk about this activity, I keep focussing on Lilacs and Lilacs only, entirely forgetting of the wonderful, courageous male counterparts, the Sokas. Everything I say for the Lilacs will work for the Sokas as well (ok, maybe not the parts about the uniform!).