7 ways to make the most of your problems – Buddha style

John Delnevo cropped

22 years ago when I first went to a senior Buddhist to ask for advice, I said to him: “I have a very big problem,” and he, the late John Delnevo of SGI UK (pictured), replied with a broad smile and a twinkle in his eye: “Congratulations.” I thought he must have misheard me so I repeated that I really was struggling with something (can’t remember what but it would’ve felt massive at the time – money / job / girlfriend / studies… or possibly all four…)

Again he smiled broadly and said, “that’s great news, well done!” Seeing my perplexed face, he made seven points over the next hour’s conversation that have stayed with me ever since:

  1. Happiness is not the absence of problems
  2. Problems are a fact of life “suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy” – this is what Nichiren Daishonin taught
  3. The problem is never the problem, it’s the life state from which you approach the problem that’s the problem
  4. The lotus flower of enlightenment only grows in the muddy pond of daily life – your challenge is a sign that your life is asking to grow. So, are you going to say Yes or No?
  5. You’ve made the cause / karma for this situation (otherwise it couldn’t happen), so therefore you (and only you) have the power to change it. (This is the principle of personal responsibility behind the name ‘Thanking the Spoon’)
  6. Any problem is a gift in disguise – it might be very heavily disguised sometimes, but it’s a gift all the same
  7. When you change for the better, the world around you does too, as surely as a shadow follows a body, that’s how, one by one, we create world peace.

‘John D’, as we called him, was an incredibly wise, strict and compassionate man and it is hard in a list of 7 points to convey the warm encouragement that always shone from his life, earning the trust of people all around him. In fact it has taken me 21 years to really understand with my whole life what he said to me on that day in 1991. And some days I still forget.

The advice he gave was born of his own heartfelt personal struggles or ‘human revolution’ as we say in Buddhism, he lived what he taught, it was never about theory with John D.  And looking back I realise he treated me with the deepest appreciation, seeing past my whingeing self-centredness and talking to the person I might one day become.  I believe this is the mark of a great mentor.

So, as this wise man repeated at the end of our little chat: “You have a problem? Congratulations…”


PS.  When I began writing this post, I didn’t intend it to become a tribute to John Delnevo, it was just going to be a list of 7 hopefully helpful points. Now I realise that it is the profound human connection that counted even more than what he actually said.   ‘John D’, you rocked. Still in my daimoku. Thank you.

25 Replies to “7 ways to make the most of your problems – Buddha style”

  1. shavawnb says:

    Lovely and spot on advice.

  2. Pete Higgs says:

    Thanks for remembering John, I really miss his incredible Gongyo and Daimoku, it was an interstellar flight into ones Karma

  3. Mary says:

    Ditto on Pete’s comment! wonderful to have gotten 2 years of training from John while I was living in the UK!!

  4. ashley backhouse says:

    Thank you so much for this. Jon was indeed a strict and compassionate leader. I’d forgotten that twinkle in the eye that let one know so much. I also remember his snappy dress sense, and his utter devotion to Mr Causton.

  5. Saumya says:

    Wonderful guidance … thanks for sharing…

  6. Robin Hayter says:

    I too knew John and admired him enormously and he inspired me. I would like to say that even these points are based on buddhist principles and its useful guidance. It´s only useful guidance if you have a means to transform your own inner world and that to my mind necessitates practising the very buddhism we´re speaking of.

    1. Thank you Robin for your comments. You are spot on about people trotting out Buddhist guidance, everything depends on our heart and life state and John D’s heart was sincere and his life-state high. And of course you are right about chanting being the only way to truly implement the most profound guidance. JD helped me connect with my B’hood when I could not see it and for that I am eternally grateful. All best, David

  7. Barbara Buchanan says:

    Great to see his happy face again ….

  8. harvey webb says:

    i really did love him.

  9. Linda Valentine says:

    I remember John well and met him many times. The first time was in France at Trets. And his lovely wife Mitzi also.
    I remember his sense of humour and the belly laughs we had. And his wise words.
    I was so sad to hear he died. Always rembered .

  10. Thanks so much, brilliant…

    1. Pleasure Treasure! Dx

  11. Aarti says:

    Thanks a ton David for the beautiful guidance 🙂

    1. Hey Brad
      I am very touched that you are using my post on John D. It is the first time someone I do not know has reblogged my stuff.
      Warmest all sorts,

      PS. great to see the marvellous Dr. Lickerman also on your site!! 🙂

  12. John Demetri says:

    I went to college with a John Delnevo. It was an Interior design course. He left before completing the course. He was a friend and I never found out what happened to him. He seem to just disappear. He would be about 65 or 66 now.
    Does anyone know if he is the same John that I knew?

    1. Hi John [another ‘John D’ … :-)], I have a feeling John may have had a design and artistic background – he was certainly very stylish – but cannot be sure. I will try and find out for you. I only knew him though Buddhism. The age sounds about right, he was in his mid-50s when he passed away and that was around 12 years ago. Does the John Delnevo you knew look like the man in the photo on my post? All best, David.

  13. Thanks for you comment and kind words on my post The Lotus, its beauty awakens to our world http://wp.me/p2GQrl-vB and for sending me the link to this wonderful post on 7 ways to make the most of your problems, also for the tribute to John, his words were truly wise indeed 🙂 I will reblog this post if its ok with you?
    Namaste with Love

    1. Hi Mark,
      you are welcome, I love your blog. Of course, happy for you to reblog the John D post and very grateful that you want to. Warmest wishes, NMRK,

      1. Thanks David 🙂

  14. Bernie Holland says:

    John Delnevo who was not only a good friend of mine, but was also a good friend of many, many others who had the great good fortune to encounter him. Both John and Dick shared many creditable human qualities in that they were able to offer assurance and encouragement to so many people who believed their lives were beyond hope. Through their conduct as human beings they dedicated their lives to moving the world one step further to that great, imaginative vision of 2nd Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, whose abiding desire was ‘to rid this world of misery and sorrow’. What more honourable mission can any human being pursue ?
    Bernie Holland

  15. Suba says:

    Very insightful words!Thanks a lot
    for sharing.

  16. spoon says:

    Wise words indeed!

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