Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 10:
Joy in Both Life and Death [10.1]
10.1 Consolidating the State of Buddhahood in This Lifetime
In his 1993 lecture at Harvard University, “Mahayana Buddhism and Twenty-First-Century Civilization,” President Ikeda, based on the teachings of Nichiren Buddhism, presents the profound Buddhist view of finding joy in both life and death.
What is the purpose of life? What is a life of true value? What is death? What happens after death? Nichiren states, “Therefore I should first of all learn about death, and then about other things” (WND-2, 759). By confronting the issue of death head-on, we can build a truly happy life.
This chapter features President Ikeda’s guidance on how to face and overcome the sufferings of birth and death.
Why do we practice Nichiren Buddhism? So that we may live the most wonderful lives. So that we may serenely overcome the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death that are an inescapable part of the human condition.
The first of the four sufferings is birth. Having been born, we must live out our lives. It is important that we strive to live on tenaciously to the very end, no matter what happens.
Our Buddhist practice based on the Mystic Law gives us the powerful life force to live each day with strength and confidence, surmounting all kinds of problems and hardships. Why are we born? A life lived without meaning, without knowing the answer to that question, is shallow and empty. To just live, eat, and die without any real sense of purpose surely constitutes a base, animal-like existence.
On the other hand, to do, create, or contribute something that benefits others, society, and also ourselves, and to dedicate ourselves as long as we live to that challenge—that is a life of true satisfaction, a life of value, a life of the loftiest humanity. Our Buddhist practice based on the Mystic Law, moreover, is the driving force that enables us to create the greatest possible value for ourselves and for others.
Aging is the second of the four sufferings. Life passes by in a flash. In the blink of an eye, we are old. Our physical strength wanes, and things start to go wrong with our bodies. Our practice of Nichiren Buddhism enables us to make our old age a time of great richness, like a golden autumn harvest, instead of a time of sad and lonely decline. The setting sun bathes the earth and sky in a magnificent glow. We practice Nichiren Buddhism so we can enjoy just such a vibrant, glowing old age, without regrets.
The third of the four sufferings is sickness. We are mortal beings. All of us experience illness in one form or another. The power of the Mystic Law enables us to bring forth the strength to overcome the suffering of sickness. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (WND-1, 412).
Though we may fall ill or experience some other trying situation, if we are devoting ourselves to the realization of kosen-rufu, Nichiren Daishonin will protect us, as will all Buddhas and bodhisattvas and the heavenly deities—the protective functions of the universe.
The Daishonin promises:
“A woman who takes this efficacious medicine [of Myoho-renge-kyo] will be surrounded and protected by these four great bodhisattvas [the leaders of the Bodhisattvas of the Earth1] at all times. When she rises to her feet, so too will the bodhisattvas, and when she walks along the road, they will also do the same. She and they will be as inseparable as a body and its shadow, as fish and water, as a voice and its echo, or as the moon and its light.” (WND-1, 415)
As this passage indicates, those who embrace faith in the Mystic Law will definitely be protected—not only in this lifetime but throughout eternity.
Death is the last of the four sufferings. Death is uncompromising; we must all face it one day. When that moment comes, those who travel on the path of the Mystic Law will make their way serenely to the pure land of Eagle Peak aboard the “great white ox cart”2 described in the Lotus Sutra. Their lives will merge with the world of Buddhahood of the universe. The Lotus Sutra describes the “great white ox cart” as being immense in every dimension and adorned with gold, silver, and countless precious gems.3
If we attain the state of Buddhahood in this existence, that state will forever pervade our lives. In lifetime after lifetime, we will enjoy lives blessed with health, wealth, intellect, favorable circumstances, and good fortune. We will possess our own unique mission, and be born in a form suitable to fulfilling that mission. This state of life is everlasting; it can never be destroyed.
It is precisely so that you may enjoy such eternal happiness that I continually urge you to apply yourself to your Buddhist practice and firmly consolidate the state of Buddhahood in your life in this existence. This is not just a matter of personal sentiment. It is the teaching of Nichiren Daishonin.
It’s crucial, therefore, that we do not move off the path leading to Buddhahood, but that we keep pressing ever forward with patience and persistence along the path of kosen-rufu and Buddhist practice.
There may well be times when we feel disinclined to do something, or when we would like to take a break. This is only natural, since we are ordinary beings. But what matters is that we stay on course, that we continue forging ahead patiently on the path to Buddhahood while encouraging one another along the way.
If a plane flies off course or a car veers carelessly off the road, it can easily have an accident or fail to reach its destination. Similarly, if our lives go off course, we, too, can crash, plunging into misfortune and misery. Though it may not be visible to the eye, there is a path or course in life. A path leading to absolute happiness exists without a doubt—and that is the path of the Mystic Law.
If we continue on this path without abandoning our Buddhist practice, we will definitely come to savor a life of complete fulfillment, both materially and spiritually.
From a speech at a gongyo meeting at New York Culture Center, U.S.A., June 15, 1996.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Bodhisattvas of the Earth: An innumerable host of bodhisattvas who emerge from beneath the earth and to whom Shakyamuni Buddha entrusts the propagation of the Mystic Law, or the essence of the Lotus Sutra, in the Latter Day of the Law.
- *2Great white ox cart: A carriage adorned with jewels and drawn by a great white ox. It appears in the parable of the three carts and the burning house in the “Simile and Parable” (3rd) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, where it represents the one Buddha vehicle, or the supreme vehicle of Buddhahood.
- *3In a portion of the speech not included in this excerpt, President Ikeda cited the passage from Nichiren Daishonin’s writing “On the Large Carriages Drawn by White Oxen”: “These large carriages drawn by white oxen [i.e., the great white ox carts] are able to fly at will through the sky of the essential nature of phenomena [Dharma nature, or enlightenment]. Those persons who come after me will ride in these carriages and journey to [the pure land of] Eagle Peak. And I, Nichiren, riding in the same kind of carriage, will come out to greet them” (WND-2, 976).