Becoming a Sponsor of American Kosen-Rufu

Julie Yeo develops a powerful resolve to be a sponsor of American kosen-rufu.

Julie Yeo with her (l-r) daughter, Sharon, husband, Mike, and son, William, Los Angeles Friendship Center. Photo: Leticia Rey.

Julie Yeo

Living Buddhism: Julie, thank you for sharing your experience. What was your childhood like?

Julie Yeo: I grew up in South Korea in a family ruled by an abusive father. I was yelled at if I talked back to my father and scolded if I remained quiet. I was in physical and spiritual pain each day, and often wondered why I was even alive. I felt completely worthless, and my greatest desire was to disappear.

When I was 6 years old, my mother divorced my father—an act unthinkable in Korean society at the time. By law, I had to live with my father, and my mother couldn’t visit me until I was 19.

My father married his second wife, and the cycle of abuse continued. When I was 12, he divorced his second wife and soon married a third time. With each passing year, my anger toward my parents penetrated deeper and deeper into my life.

How were you introduced to Buddhism?

Julie: During my final year of high school, my father’s business went bankrupt. I was forced to work full time and give up my dream of attending college. My father tried to evade financial responsibility by threatening to divorce my stepmother, who, around this time, had been introduced to the SGI and began chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

After she joined the SGI, my stepmother began chanting hours upon hours every day. Until then, she had been verbally and emotionally abusive toward me, but after six months of Buddhist practice, she became a completely differently person. Even then, I assumed she was just pretending to respect me to get something out of me. This was how deeply I mistrusted even those closest to me.

What convinced you to begin practicing Buddhism?

Julie: After a while, I could no longer ignore the changes I saw in my stepmother. One day, she told me, “You can definitely become happy if you chant!” Until then, I had never even considered the possibility of becoming happy. I started to attend local SGI meetings and chant. Right away, I felt joy and hope emerging from my life, feelings I had never before experienced.

Although my father was deeply opposed to our Buddhist practice, my stepmother stood her ground. My father’s resentment caused my stepmother and me to unite for a common goal—to have a harmonious kosen-rufu family. In the process, we became more than friends; we became “myoho sisters.”

As I worked by teaching English in Korea to pay off my father’s debt, I read SGI President Ikeda’s encouragement every spare moment I had. His guidance became a source of great confidence and hope. I was also moved by my stepmother’s example in faith. Although we were struggling financially, she saved the little she had and made steady contributions to the SGI, based on her unwavering determination to advance kosen-rufu in South Korea. I also began chanting to fulfill my own mission to contribute to kosen-rufu and world peace.

Although our circumstances didn’t change overnight, we saw clear proof of our Buddhist practice. For instance, I was able to attend college on a full scholarship!

What a profound transformation. What is your prime point in faith?

Julie: At first, my motivation to practice was simply to become happy and change my karma. However, as I sought to understand the oneness of mentor and disciple—and our shared pledge to accomplish kosen-rufu—I would continuously determine: “I will fight together with Sensei! I will win so I can report my victory to my mentor!” As I challenged my circumstances with this attitude, I began to view my karma as my mission for kosen-rufu—as problems that I willingly chose to take on in this lifetime to prove the power of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and lead others to happiness.

I continue to contribute financially to the organization, which is helping many people, especially youth, learn about the practice and live empowered lives.

In 1995, I attended a meeting with President Ikeda in Hawaii as a Korean youth representative. During this trip, I made a vow to move to the United States within 10 years and strive for kosen-rufu in America. Seven years later, in 2002, I moved to Los Angeles with my husband, 5-year-old son and a daughter on the way.

We knew that this journey would not be easy, but we were not prepared for how many difficulties each day would bring. My husband and I spoke very little English, we were living in the U.S. on a six-month tourist visa and neither of us had a job.

We started to chant abundantly and shared Buddhism with people every day. Despite our scarce finances, we also started contributing financially to the SGI-USA for the advancement of kosen-rufu in America. Just before our tourist visa expired, my husband secured a job with a company that sponsored our visa.

What was your turning point?

Julie: While many aspects of my life were improving, and I seemed so happy and energetic in front of other people, a deep sadness would overtake me whenever I was alone. I began feeling distant from my husband and children, and would get angry very quickly. I wanted to be a warm, loving mother and wife, but I just couldn’t express those feelings, which made me suffer even more. Around this time, I read this guidance from President Ikeda:

There is a Russian proverb that says, “It is no use to blame the looking glass if your face is awry.” Likewise, your happiness or unhappiness is entirely the reflection of the balance of good and bad causes accumulated in your life. You cannot blame others for your misfortunes. In the world of faith, it is necessary to realize this all the more clearly. (My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 100)

While chanting to the Gohonzon, I determined to take full responsibility for my happiness and soon realized that I was still holding on to hatred and resentment toward my father. This was shocking since I had been chanting for his happiness for many years; I realized that I needed to deepen my prayer.

Based on President Ikeda’s guidance, I determined to change this poison in my life and bring genuine happiness to my entire family. One day, I realized that my father’s abusive behavior is what had compelled me to seek Buddhism. In fact, he had led me to Buddhism. I also realized his role in my life was to teach me how to deepen my conviction in my own Buddhahood. I understood the words, “Great joy [is what] one experiences when one understands for the first time that one’s mind from the very beginning has been a Buddha. Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the greatest of all joys.” (The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, pp. 211-12). With this realization, I felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for my father.

Shortly after, in 2003, I called my father just to say hello. For the first time, we had an enjoyable conversation. In August of that year, he joined the SGI!

How did you learn the spirit of contribution?

Julie: From my stepmother’s actions, and also from my father. He was a taxi driver and didn’t make a lot of money. But he told me once that it didn’t matter whether he made a little each day or nothing at all. Every day he contributed something to the SGI and the dream of kosen-rufu. He was so proud to be an SGI member.

In 2008, the South Korean government created a system for citizens to locate family property they had lost track of during the chaos of World War II. A distant relative volunteered to complete the registration paperwork on behalf of my father. As a result, we learned he owned a mountain near Pusan, South Korea. It remains in our family.

My father practiced very sincerely until he passed away last July. When I traveled to Korea for his funeral, a neighbor told me that, on the morning of his death, my father had encouraged him to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and said that Daisaku Ikeda is the most impressive human being in the world.

How have your circumstances changed since moving to the United States?

Julie: For our first 10 years in Los Angeles, we lived in a small apartment with very little privacy, which caused tension in our family. Over time, our home grew more and more tight, and we lacked the financial stability to live in a larger home.

In 2011, I determined to move into a beautiful, spacious home that would serve as the sun of kosen-rufu in Los Angeles. I thought, I am going to show so much actual proof in my life that no one can have any doubts about this practice! Although we had little money, I continued to chant with an unshakable determination and made as many causes as I could to advance kosen-rufu.

I learned about a city government program that provided the down payment for first-time homebuyers. After looking at over 150 homes, my husband and I found the perfect place located just minutes away from the SGI-USA Los Angeles Friendship Center. Although many people wanted to buy this home—some even offering cash on the spot—I chanted deeply with the determination: Gohonzon, I want this homeowner to choose my family so that he can make a cause for American kosen-rufu!

Eventually, despite the fact that the owner needed to wait 90 days for the city to process our down payment, we were selected. And the owner even gave us all the staging furniture! Also, the government program closed shortly after we received the down payment. When we moved into our house, my daughter, who was 9 years old at the time, said, “Mom, Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is absolute!” She confirmed for us that all the causes we had been making all these years had brought us to this point.

What does it mean to you to be a sponsor of American kosen-rufu?

Julie: I have willingly taken on any responsibility in the SGI-USA to support the precious members, and I continue to contribute financially to the organization, which is helping many people, especially youth, learn about the practice and live empowered lives. Each year, my husband and I set a monetary goal based on our vow to advance kosen-rufu in America and strive based on faith to achieve it.

Through these efforts, we have established the conviction that we can turn any situation around based on faith.

I also have the great opportunity to use my home as an offering for kosen-rufu. We hold activities here quite often, encouraging many members and friends to learn about Buddhism. Most important, I’ve learned that nothing can defeat me because my life is Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

I feel so honored to be a sponsor of American kosen-rufu through my financial contributions. I envision every district in America overflowing with vibrant young people who have the hope and determination to move the world in the direction of peace and President Ikeda becoming known far and wide as a great humanitarian for peace. Based on the SGI-USA’s efforts, I have full confidence that the United States will become the driving force for world peace!