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My Youthful Vow

What 50 years of Buddhist practice has taught me.

Soka family—Bob Parsons (second from right) with members of Northwest Foothills District, Tucson, Ariz. Photo by George Nakamura.

by Bob Parsons
Tucson, Ariz.

When I received the Gohonzon in 1969 at 21, all I could think about was my survival. As an active duty Marine, I knew that my time to go to the Vietnam War was imminent. I was also a newly minted lieutenant, but lacked confidence in my leadership. After my first SGI activity, I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo every day to challenge my inherent weaknesses and become a competent officer.

Soon after completing infantry training, I received my orders for Viet-
nam. I vowed that if I survived, I would never forsake the Gohonzon or my practice with the SGI. Each day I lived in constant fear, and every night I quietly chanted for two hours in the middle of the jungle. I prayed to protect and save the 60 Marines in my infantry platoon, and this was exactly what happened; our platoon safely accomplished all missions.

In November 1999, 30 years to the month since I had joined the SGI, I was surprised and humbled to learn that SGI President Ikeda had written about my story in volume 11 of The New Human Revolution, stating that I had chanted fervently to create “living heroes who could return safely to their homes.” It’s one of my greatest honors (see sidebar).

When I returned to the U.S., after having completed my active duty, I joined the Marine Reserves, re-entered college and dove into SGI activities. After six of my friends joined the SGI, I became a district young men’s leader and received tremendous care from my seniors in faith. This nourishment was indispensable, as my days as a youth were always stressful, due to financial challenges, job changes and relationship issues.

But in each organizational campaign, I wholeheartedly exerted myself and took the lead. We set goals, chanted and took courageous action. I applied these lessons to every part of my life.

Since my first meeting with President Ikeda in 1972, I’ve had the fortune to encounter Sensei some 30 times. Uniting with his heart helped me break through my darkest times.

For the majority of my adult life, I struggled to control my anger and cynicism. My first marriage ended in divorce after I had become verbally abusive. Forty years after leaving Vietnam, I learned that the anger plaguing me stemmed from the trauma I had experienced in war, and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Within five years of therapeutic treatment, I learned to transform my anger, a true benefit of Buddhist practice and one of my greatest achievements. 

Another turning point came in 2001 when I lost my second wife, to whom I’d been married for a decade, to cancer. It was devastating to say the least and for a year, I struggled to find myself. But through reading Sensei’s encouragement and with the support of my SGI family, I was able to find joy again. Through that experience, I gained a deeper understanding of Buddhism and life. 

In 2002, I retired to Phoenix, Arizona, after a varied career as a civil servant, entrepreneur and major in the Marine Reserves. I reconnected with Celia—whose family grew up in my neighborhood—and we’ve been together ever since. The year I moved to Phoenix, I helped Celia receive the Gohonzon! Our life together took an exorbitant hit during the global financial crisis, and in 2009, our home went into foreclosure. We left Phoenix and relocated to Tucson three years later to stabilize our finances.

Although I didn’t take on leadership in my local district in Tucson for several years, I implemented all the training I had received in my youth and began contributing to Northwest Foothills District, where I became the men’s leader in 2015.

Fully united with my co-leaders, we have developed three dynamic groups, each averaging nearly 15 people in attendance per month, 35 subscribers to the SGI-USA publications and 15 sustaining contributors. In 2018, we had 12 new members, and each month we welcome 6–10 guests at our meetings. Every guest who has begun chanting and regularly attending our district meetings over the past three years has joined the SGI! My co-leaders and I, together with our incredible group leaders, are joyfully united around the goal that each group will become a Soka Victory District this year!

Our motto is “Friendship, camaraderie and unity in faith are the heart of Northwest Foothills District!” Under this banner, we had 93 people attend our November district discussion meeting! My district members are the source of my greatest joy. And for each campaign, we use The Human Revolution and The New Human Revolution as our playbooks for victory and timely encouragement.

Due to the causes Celia and I made on the front lines of the SGI, our financial situation completely transformed. We regained everything we lost, tripled our home equity and are debt-free. We live on a four-acre ranchette in Arizona and own six acres of white sand beach in the Philippines. Fundamentally, these changes are a byproduct of my inner transformation—from cynicism into optimism and anger into compassion. Most importantly, I now have abundant hope that every person can overcome their sufferings and become truly happy.

Sensei writes, “Victory starts with earnest prayer, with a vow based on the spirit of the oneness of mentor and disciple” (Embracing Compassion, vol. 1, p. 28). I have absolute conviction that this is true. 

This year marks my 50th anniversary of joining the SGI, and as I look back, I’m grateful that I have overcome every suffering. This journey all began with the promise I had made to never forsake my faith. Until the end of my life, I will hold fast to this youthful vow to accomplish my human revolution!

Bob Parsons in Vietnam

Creating “Living Heroes” 

Members in the United States were also determined to open the way toward peace. The grim reality of the Vietnam War weighed especially heavily on them . . . Albert E. Parton [Bob Parsons] was a second lieutenant in the Marines sent to Da Nang in South Vietnam, where he commanded a platoon. Of the 60 soldiers in his charge, most were young men of 18 or 19. Looking at them, he was struck by how young they were and what bright futures they all had awaiting them. He could not allow a single one of them to be killed in the fighting. His responsibility, he felt, lay not in creating dead heroes but living heroes who could return safely to their homes, and he made a vow to see that happen. He chanted fervently each day for the safety and protection of his men. (The New Human Revolution, vol. 11, pp. 247–51)

Never Being Defeated Is My Greatest Benefit

Establishing the Foundation of My Happiness