Part 2: Human Revolution
Chapter 16: Buddhism Is about Winning [16.3]
16.3 Buddhism Originates from Shakyamuni’s Triumph Over Inner Devilish Functions
In his novel The New Human Revolution, President Ikeda presents an interpretative imagining of Shakyamuni’s life, based on biographical accounts described in various Buddhist writings and handed down in Buddhist tradition. This excerpt depicts Shakyamuni’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree as a drama of winning over fundamental ignorance—the working of inner devilish functions—the ultimate struggle in Buddhism.
Shakyamuni continued his meditation under the bodhi tree.
According to Buddhist writings, at this time demons began to tempt him. The devious means they resorted to differ depending on the source, but it is interesting to note that some involved tempting him with words of apparent kindness and concern.
In one account, for example, a demon tried to sway Shakyamuni by whispering to him gently: “Look how gaunt you are, how pale your face is. You’re surely on the verge of death. If you keep sitting here like this, it will be a miracle if you survive.”
After pointing out the peril he was in and strongly urging him to live, the demon tried to persuade Shakyamuni that if he instead followed the teachings of Brahmanism, he could accumulate great benefit without having to undergo such hardship. Shakyamuni’s efforts to attain enlightenment, the demon declared, were meaningless.
The demon’s appeals here can be seen as giving voice to the fierce struggle unfolding within Shakyamuni’s mind at that moment.
Doubt assailed him, shattering his inner peace and throwing his mind into turmoil. With his body extremely weak and his physical reserves all but depleted, the terror of death must have risen in his heart. Shakyamuni’s mental torment was all the greater because, knowing that he had gained nothing from the intense austerities he had previously undertaken, he began to have doubts, thinking that perhaps this present effort to attain enlightenment, too, would prove to be in vain.
He was assaulted simultaneously by attachment to worldly desires, by physical hunger, by craving for sleep, also by fear and doubt.
Demons or devils represent the workings of earthly desires and illusions attempting to unsettle the mind of those who seek the way to true enlightenment. Sometimes devils arise in the form of our attachments to worldly desires, or appear as such physical cravings as hunger or sleepiness. At other times, they torture the mind in the form of anxiety, fear, and doubt.
Whenever people are led astray by such devilish functions, they invariably justify their failing in some way. Furthermore, they convince themselves that their justification is perfectly reasonable and natural.
For example, since in Shakyamuni’s day no one had yet attained enlightenment, it may have seemed quite reasonable for him to question whether his meditation under the bodhi tree would achieve his goal.
More often than not, devilish functions cause people to clutch at some seemingly reasonable conclusion that vindicates their weaknesses and emotional needs. Nichiren Daishonin warns of this, citing the words: “The devil will watch over him like a parent”1 (WND-1, 770).
However, Shakyamuni saw these devilish functions for what they were and summoned a powerful life force, sweeping away all the disruptive thoughts that plagued him. In his heart, he cried out: “Demons! You may defeat a coward, but the brave will triumph. I will fight. I would rather die fighting than live in defeat!”
With this, his mind was restored to a state of tranquility.
The quiet blanket of night enfolded him, as countless stars above glittered with a pure, crystalline brilliance.
After triumphing over the onslaught of devilish forces, Shakyamuni’s mind was left fresh and invigorated, his spirit as clear as a cloudless blue sky.
Shakyamuni awakened to the eternal nature of life, to the Law underlying all existence throughout past, present, and future.
At that moment, all fears and doubts that had resided in the depths of his life like a heavy sediment since birth evaporated. He had arrived at last at the deep, immovable roots of his own existence.
He felt the darkness of illusion that shrouded him fall away as the brilliant light of wisdom illuminated his life. He had unlocked within himself a state of being akin to commanding a clear, unhindered view in all directions from atop a lofty mountain peak.
For a time, Shakyamuni simply savored the joy of awakening to the Law—the law of cause and effect governing all life and the universe—but soon he began to grow deeply troubled. He faced a painful new dilemma: Should he preach this Law to others or should he remain silent? Sitting in the shade of the bodhi tree, he agonized for many days over this question.
No one had ever before heard, let alone expounded, this magnificent, unsurpassed Law. A vast gap lay between the brilliant realm within his own being and the real world outside.
People lived in torment, fearing sickness, aging, and death. Consumed by desire, they fought constantly among themselves. All this was due to their ignorance of the Law of life. Yet even if he taught them the Law for their own sake, it was possible that no one would comprehend it.
Shakyamuni felt completely alone. His was the loneliness of the truly enlightened; something known only to those who have gained an understanding of a profound principle or truth that no one else is aware of.
One account depicts demons reappearing at this point to torment Shakyamuni. This episode can again be interpreted as a struggle with the devilish functions in his own life, which were now attempting to dissuade him from teaching the Law to others.
Shakyamuni couldn’t stem this upsurge of doubt and hesitation at the thought of forging ahead and spreading the Law. He agonized over what to do. Devilish functions thus continued to plague Shakyamuni even after he had become a Buddha. They vied to attack him through even the smallest breach in his heart.
A Buddha is not a superhuman being. One who has attained this state continues to experience problems, suffering, and pain, and is still subject to illness and to temptation by devilish forces. For that reason, a Buddha is a person of courage, tenacity, and continuous action who struggles ceaselessly against devilish functions.
No matter how lofty a state we may achieve, without persistent efforts to advance and improve, our faith can be destroyed in a moment.
According to a Buddhist text, the deity Brahma appeared before the still indecisive Shakyamuni and entreated him to preach the Law to all people. This episode symbolizes the powerful determination that welled up in Shakyamuni’s life to go forward and fulfill his mission.
“I will go forth!” he resolved with finality. “Those who seek to learn will surely listen. Those of little impurity will understand. I shall go out among the people, who are shrouded in delusion and ignorance!”
Once he had made this determination, he felt a surge of new energy flow through him. At this moment, a great lion stood up for the happiness of humanity.
From The New Human Revolution, vol. 3, “The Buddha” chapter.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.
- *1Miao-lo, The Annotations on “Great Concentration and Insight.”