Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 10:
Joy in Both Life and Death [10.4]
10.4 The Oneness of Life and Death
Based on the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, President Ikeda elucidates the eternity of life, that birth and death continue in an endless cycle of latent and active states.
Birth and death are different aspects of life. In other words, life manifests solely through the cycle of birth and death.
In the eyes of ordinary mortals, life begins with birth and ends with death. But the insight of Buddhism sees through this limitation and perceives the essence of life as a whole, manifesting actively as birth or existence and persisting in dormant form as death. From that perspective, how does Buddhism view these two aspects of birth and death?
The “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra speaks of “ebbing” and “flowing” (cf. LSOC16, 267). “Ebbing” refers to death and “flowing” to life. Based on the standpoint of the eternity of life, the “Life Span” chapter states that life itself does not disappear and emerge, does not undergo birth or death. In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin reveals an even more profound view of life as the “originally inherent nature of birth and death” (OTT, 127).1
According to this principle, living is the state in which our life is actively manifested, and death is the state when it returns to a latent or potential state. These phases of birth and death continue eternally. That is the true nature of life itself.
The supreme teaching of Buddhism that views living as an active state and death as a latent state offers a profound and magnificent view of the eternity of life.
In addition, it teaches the oneness of life and death. Life is activated by a wondrous, underlying power. When life in its latent state comes into contact with the right causes and conditions, it becomes manifest and takes shape as a dynamic living being with a rich individuality. Eventually, that life quietly ebbs and moves toward death. But as it shifts into its potential, dormant phase, it stores a new energy, awaiting the next new phase of life.
Life is an explosion and burning of the stored-up energy that had been in a resting state. Eventually that life brings its story to a close and it drifts back into death. It merges with the universe, is recharged by the power of the life of the universe as a whole, and awaits its next emergence into active life.
This is the nature of life and death inherent in all things, and Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the foundation of this intrinsic rhythm of the universe.
From a lecture on Nichiren Daishonin’s writing “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life,” published in Japanese in the Seikyo Shimbun, April 1977.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1 In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren Daishonin says: “We may also say that nonexistence (mu) and existence (u), birth and death, ebbing and flowing, existing in this world and entering extinction, are all, every one of them, actions of the eternally abiding inherent nature” (OTT, 127–28).