Living Buddhism: Thank you, Bradley, for sharing your experience with us. We understand that your story actually begins a generation before you.
Bradley Yeates: Yes, my story begins with my father, John Yeates, an energy pioneer. In the summer of 1955, his groundbreaking work enabled Arco, Idaho, to become the first city in the world to be powered by nuclear energy.
The problem was that he never received credit for his contributions to the field. My story is about how, through my human revolution, through learning to believe in myself, I transformed this family karma.
How empowering! Let’s go back to the start. How were you introduced to Buddhism?
Bradley: When I was 17 years old, I joined the U.S. Army and, at 19 years old, was enlisted to be a part of a special unit trained to take on clandestine missions. What I was being trained to do, however, went against my nature, and I was suffering deeply as a result.
One evening, my friend and I found a Nam-myoho-renge-kyo card on the beach. Curious to learn more, we drove to the address listed on the card. A gentleman opened the door and invited us to come over the following night. At my first meeting, I was deeply moved by the warmth of the people there. I felt I needed to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to purify my life so that I could live with the same sense of composure as them.
When did you join the SGI?
Bradley: I joined shortly after that meeting, in November 1973. I felt attracted to the life condition of the people I met in the SGI, but because of my strict religious upbringing, I was skeptical about certain aspects of the practice. I started reading whatever I could find from SGI President Ikeda to resolve my doubts.
To my surprise, in March 1974, the members who lived in the South received 48 hours’ notice that President Ikeda had changed his travel plans and would be visiting New Orleans. Although I was a new member at the time, because I had been reading his guidance, I instinctively knew that I had to meet him.
At that time, I was temporarily stationed at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Requesting time off from my commanding officer was not easy. My first request was denied. That evening, I chanted many hours together with my sponsor. When I went back to base, my schedule had been changed. I was free to go. To this day, I’m not sure what happened, but I saw the immense power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
John Yeates, Bradley Yeates’ father, an energy pioneer. “We my father’s pioneering contributions. . . giving him the recognition he was denied almost 60 years ago.”
What do you remember from the meeting?
Bradley: It became a major turning point in my life. President Ikeda walked down the aisle and greeted the members. I was in the very back of the room, but somehow, he stopped right in front of me and put his hand out to shake my hand. Although no words were exchanged, looking into his eyes, I felt a profound kindness and understanding radiating from his life, and I was deeply impacted by his humanity. I left with a determination to become a person of genuine humanity. Without knowing it then, I had made a vow to stand up as a Bodhisattva of the Earth.
I decided that the challenges and disappointments I continued to face were functioning to strengthen my faith and develop my capabilities.
How did your determination change your Buddhist practice?
Bradley: I became very active in the young men’s division with the desire to transform my life. I joined the young men’s Brass Band and behind-the-scenes training groups. As a young men’s leader, I drove across the South to support other young men in faith.
Early on, my seniors in faith also encouraged me that contributions were an essential part of my Buddhist practice, and that they enabled us to further spread Nichiren Daishonin’s teachings.
I started making monthly contributions after my second month of practice and have been doing so ever since. Many circumstances throughout my years of practice made it difficult to contribute, but I always chose to do it with a deep sense of appreciation for the support I received from the members of the organization and for my mentor, President Ikeda. I felt that this was a cause not only to repay my debt of gratitude for encountering the practice, but also to build a solid foundation for my life.
How did your practice progress?
Bradley: In 1981, I had another significant encounter with President Ikeda. Although my life had drastically transformed by then, I still held on to feelings of worthlessness. At a meeting, I was called up to receive a gift from President Ikeda. When I got on stage, I could barely make eye contact with him.
When I returned to my seat, I felt even worse, berating myself for missing the opportunity to engage with my mentor. Upon leaving, however, President Ikeda stopped 15 feet away from me and looked directly at me with his arms in a V-shape for victory. He did this a few times. In that moment, I felt that President Ikeda was saying to me: “You must be victorious! Believe in yourself!” His encouragement reached the very heart of my deepest suffering.
How did this encounter shape your life?
Bradley: My inability to believe in myself was reflected in my lack of career advancement. I decided to challenge this tendency by earning my master’s degree, which I did at night while working full time at an electric company. Some of my colleagues were also classmates, and many of them advanced quickly in their careers. I was perplexed. Why were they advancing while I continued to be overlooked?
From 2009, I had been looking for a good promotion opportunity, applying for different positions within my company, but I just couldn’t break through. I started becoming cynical and blamed the individuals making the hiring decisions. It was at this time that I remembered my encounter with President Ikeda, where he urged me to believe in myself, and I recalled the following guidance:
Prayer is the courage to persevere. It is a struggle to overcome our own weaknesses and lack of confidence in ourselves. It is the act of impressing in the very depths of our being the conviction that we can change the situation without fail. Prayer is the way to destroy all fear. It is the way to banish sorrow, the way to light a torch of hope. It is the revolution that rewrites the scenario of our destiny. Believe in yourself! Don’t sell yourself short! Devaluing yourself is contrary to Buddhism, because it denigrates the Buddha state of being within you.”(December 3, 2004, World Tribune, p. 8)
I decided that the challenges and disappointments I continued to face were functioning to strengthen my faith and develop my capabilities. In the depths of my life, I felt I was beginning to change. As I continued to pray and support others in their Buddhist practice, I stopped resenting and blaming my co-workers for my circumstances. I redoubled my efforts at work and simply decided that I would begin preparing for the job that I didn’t have yet and blaze my own path forward. I used the time to collaborate and innovate, so that when the right job arrived, I would be ready and have the necessary professional skills.
Furthermore, during this time, I also made a goal to increase my financial contribution to a level that I could have only dreamed of before.
How did your determination and efforts open a path forward?
Bradley: In 2017, my employer was contracting with another company to build two new nuclear power plants for energy. The partner company suddenly filed for bankruptcy, leaving my employer with two options: lose a significant amount of money, threatening our survival, or save the project by putting in new management.
With this sudden turn of events, I was recruited as part of the recovery team sent in to help save the project, focusing on cyber security. I had applied for promotions previously, but it wasn’t until this project was in major trouble that they realized they needed someone with my exact skills and background. It was as if all of the preparations I had made opened up the perfect job for me.
I was offered a significant promotion and multiple pay raises, along with full relocation benefits and bonuses to work on a critical aspect of the project. With this promotion and out of deep appreciation for my Buddhist practice, I made a financial contribution to the SGI that I would have considered a mere fantasy just years before.
In hindsight, I realize that because I had never lost confidence in President Ikeda’s guidance, I never lost confidence in my future. It wasn’t that my prayers weren’t being answered, but by challenging my obstacles with faith, they were functioning to help polish my life and to become more capable so that I could fulfill my mission. Overcoming each challenge has been the source of my present fortune, and it has functioned to tear away the negative delusions that I had formed about the value of my life.
What a profound realization. We heard you also recently won an award for your work.
Bradley: Yes, in February, several colleagues and I were recognized for developing and implementing a methodology to analyze complex problems in cyber security.
It allowed an efficient and effective implementation in three years, for what would normally have taken a decade. I had anticipated the need for different approaches six years prior while fighting to get a promotion and working behind the scenes to develop a new methodology and implementation tools for technical assessment. The award we received was for turning theory into practice.
Congratulations! You mentioned in the beginning that it was through learning to believe in yourself that you transformed your family karma. How so?
Bradley: A couple years ago, my company published an article about the truth of my father’s role as an energy pioneer in providing nuclear power to an entire town all those years ago. My employer recognized the parallel between my father’s role in beginning the peaceful use of nuclear energy and my role in the new renaissance of this journey. We are working to recognize my father’s pioneering contributions, linking his past efforts to this new renaissance, and giving him the recognition he was denied almost 60 years ago. To me, this is clear evidence of the power of the Mystic Law at work in my life.
What is your determination moving forward?
Bradley: As I think about my future, I am inspired by the fact that President Ikeda began writing The New Human Revolution at the age of 65 and finished the 30-volume series at 90. I just turned 65, and while it may be common to think of this age as a time to retire and take it easy, I am looking forward to a completely new challenge, together with my wife, Noriko. I think entering this golden stage of my life holds more promise than I ever considered.
I can look back at my life now with a profound sense of appreciation for the encouragement and support I’ve received from President Ikeda and countless members over the years. I can see that the real value of living lies not in achieving professional success, status or fame, but in being able to repay my debts of gratitude.
As a vice men’s leader for South Carolina Region, I am determined to celebrate 60 years of worldwide kosen-rufu by helping many youth awaken to their potential in the same way that I have awakened to mine.