Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 10:
Joy in Both Life and Death [10.6]
10.6 Advancing on the Path of Buddhahood in Both Life and Death
The aim of Buddhism is to establish a state of indestructible happiness enduring throughout past, present, and future, making it crucial that we strengthen our inner life state of Buddhahood in this lifetime.
Buddhism began from the quest to find a solution to the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Life and death are the most important questions of existence, yet many people turn away from looking at them.
Nichiren Daishonin writes:
“The Nirvana Sutra states, ‘Human life runs its course more swiftly than a mountain stream; the person here today will not likely be here tomorrow.’ The Maya Sutra reads, ‘Imagine, for instance, a flock of sheep being driven by a chandala1 to the slaughterhouse. Human life is exactly the same; step by step one approaches the place of death.’ The Lotus Sutra states, ‘There is no safety in the threefold world2; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared.’ [LSOC3, 105]
“In these passages from the sutras, our compassionate father, the World-Honored One of Great Enlightenment [Shakyamuni Buddha], admonishes us, the ordinary people of the latter age; it is his warning to us, his ignorant children. Nevertheless, the people do not awaken for even one instant; nor do they conceive a desire to attain the way for even a single moment. In order to decorate their bodies, which, if abandoned in the fields, would be stripped naked overnight, they spend their time striving to pile up articles of clothing.
“When their lives come to an end, within three days their bodies will turn into water that washes away, into dust that mixes with the earth, and into smoke that rises up into the sky, leaving no trace behind. Nevertheless, they seek to nurture these bodies and to amass great wealth.” (WND-1, 891)
The Daishonin’s description of human foolishness in forgetting the inevitability of death and seeking for meaningless things is just as true today as it was then—perhaps even more so. No matter how we may appear to flourish, as long as we sidestep the fundamental issue of life and death, we remain as rootless as floating weeds or like a castle built on sand.
Life is indeed impermanent—but simply being aware of its impermanence is no solution. Despairing over this reality also serves no purpose. The question is how we can create eternal value in this fleeting existence. The Lotus Sutra holds the answer.
Nichiren Daishonin describes the lives of practitioners of the Lotus Sutra very simply as follows: “Passing through the round of births and deaths, one makes one’s way on the land of the Dharma nature, or enlightenment, that is inherent within oneself” (OTT, 52).
In other words, those who practice the Lotus Sutra advance serenely and steadily in both life and death on the boundless land of the Dharma nature, the firm ground of Buddhahood. They press onward in the supreme and magnificent “great white ox cart.”3
The ground of Buddhahood is a state of indestructible happiness. It is the life state of one’s own attainment of Buddhahood, as firm and solid as the earth itself. When that life state is established, it continues throughout the three existences of past, present, and future. That’s why we must make our best effort in this present existence.
We advance with joy in both life and death on the earth of the Dharma nature. This means that we make our way through repeated cycles of birth and death. We advance upon the earth of our own lives, not the earth of others. That means that happiness is something we build ourselves. It is not something given to us by others. For, ultimately, things given to us by others do not last.
You may depend on your parents, but the day will come when they are no longer there. You may depend on your spouse or partner, but they may die before you. In addition, we never know what changing times will bring. For example, World War II, and the times preceding and following it, were filled with countless tragedies.
The foundation for true happiness is built through one’s own efforts, one’s own wisdom, one’s own good fortune. The purpose of our Buddhist practice is to solidify that foundation, while our Soka Gakkai activities serve to strengthen and empower us. This is the meaning of the Daishonin’s words, “one makes one’s way on the land of the Dharma nature” (OTT, 52).
The Daishonin also says that wherever we may frolic or play, no harm will come to us; we will move about without fear like the lion king (cf. WND-1, 412).
We will enjoy such a state eternally—that is the aim of our Buddhist faith and practice.
We advance eternally on our own “land.” When we die, we do not go either to heaven or to the depths of hell. We remain on the same land or foundation and continue to enact our drama of mission through the cycle of birth and death. We press forward along the golden path of kosen-rufu for all time.
The Daishonin urges us to keep forging ahead on the firm ground of our Buddhahood, experiencing joy in both life and death, and to continue solidifying that all-important foundation. Such is the profound view of life and death taught in Nichiren Buddhism.
From a speech at a nationwide representatives conference, Tokyo, March 29, 1996.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1 Chandala: A class of untouchables, below the lowest of the four castes in the ancient Indian caste system. People in this class handled corpses, butchered animals, and carried out other tasks associated with death or the killing of living things. Nichiren declared himself to be a member of the chandala class because he was born to a fisherman’s family.
- *2 Threefold world: The world of unenlightened beings who transmigrate within the six paths (from hell through the realm of heavenly beings). The threefold world consists of, in ascending order, the world of desire, the world of form, and the world of formlessness. In a general sense, it refers to the saha world in which we dwell.
- *3Great 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.