Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 2:
Developing a Life State of Happiness [2.7]
2.7 Establishing Buddhahood as Our Basic Life Tendency
In this selection, President Ikeda explains that in Nichiren Buddhism, Buddhahood is not something we hope to achieve after death, but is instead an open and manifest life state that we can achieve within our lives as we are.
One way to view the principle that each of us is an entity of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds1 is to look at it from the perspective of our basic life tendency. While we all possess the Ten Worlds, our lives often lean toward one particular life state more than others—for instance, some people’s lives are basically inclined toward the life state of hell, while others tend naturally toward the state of bodhisattva. This could be called the “habit pattern” of one’s life, a predisposition formed through karmic causes that a person has accumulated from the past.
Just as a spring returns to its original shape after being stretched, people tend to revert to their own basic tendency. But even if one’s basic life tendency is the life state of hell, it doesn’t mean that one will remain in that state 24 hours a day. That person will still move from one life state to another—for instance, sometimes manifesting that of humanity, sometimes that of anger, and so on. Likewise, those whose basic life tendency is anger—driven by the desire to always be better than others—will also sometimes manifest higher life states such as heaven or bodhisattva. However, even if they momentarily manifest the state of bodhisattva, they will quickly revert to their basic life tendency of anger.
Changing our basic life tendency means carrying out our human revolution and fundamentally transforming our state of life. It means changing our mind-set or resolve on the deepest level. The kind of life we live is decided by our basic life tendency. For example, those whose basic life tendency is hunger are as though on board a ship called Hunger. While sailing ahead in the state of hunger, they will sometimes experience joy and sometimes suffering. Though there are various ups and downs, the ship unerringly proceeds on its set course. Consequently, for those on board this ship, everything they see will be colored by the hues of hunger. And even after they die, their lives will merge with the realm of hunger inherent in the universe.
Establishing the state of Buddhahood as our basic life tendency is what it means to “attain Buddhahood.” Of course, even with Buddhahood as our basic life tendency, we won’t be free of problems or suffering because we will still possess the other nine worlds. But the foundation of our lives will become one of hope, and we will increasingly experience a condition of security and joy.
My mentor, Josei Toda, once explained this as follows:
“Even if you fall ill, simply have the attitude, ‘I’m all right. I know that if I chant to the Gohonzon, I will get well.’ Isn’t the world of Buddhahood a state of life in which we can live with total peace of mind? That said, however, given that the nine worlds are inherent in the world of Buddhahood, we might still occasionally become angry or have to deal with problems. Therefore, enjoying total peace of mind doesn’t mean that we have to renounce anger or some such thing. When something worrying happens, it’s only natural to be worried. But in the innermost depths of our lives, we will have a profound sense of security. This is what it means to be a Buddha. . . .
“If we can regard life itself as an absolute joy, isn’t that being a Buddha? Doesn’t that mean attaining the same life state as the Daishonin? Even when faced with the threat of being beheaded, the Daishonin remained calm and composed. If it had been us in that situation, we’d have been in a state of complete panic! When the Daishonin was exiled to the hostile environment of Sado Island, he continued instructing his disciples on various matters and produced such important writings as ‘The Opening of the Eyes’ and ‘The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind.’ If he didn’t have unshakable peace of mind, he would never have been able to compose such great treatises [under such difficult circumstances].”2
Our daily practice of gongyo—reciting portions of the Lotus Sutra and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo—is a solemn ceremony in which our lives become one with the life of the Buddha. By applying ourselves steadfastly and persistently to this practice for manifesting our inherent Buddhahood, we firmly establish the life state of Buddhahood in our lives so that it is solid and unshakable like the earth. On this foundation, this solid stage, we can freely enact at each moment the drama of the nine worlds.
Moreover, kosen-rufu is the challenge to transform the fundamental life state of society into that of Buddhahood. The key to this lies in increasing the number of those who share our noble aspirations.
When we base ourselves on faith in Nichiren Buddhism, absolutely no effort we make is ever wasted. When we establish Buddhahood as our basic life tendency, we can move toward a future of hope while creating positive value from all our activities in the nine worlds, both past and present. In fact, all of our hardships and struggles in the nine worlds become the nourishment that strengthens the world of Buddhahood in our lives.
In accord with the Buddhist principle that “earthly desires lead to enlightenment,” sufferings (earthly desires, or the deluded impulses of the nine worlds) all become the “firewood” or fuel for gaining happiness (enlightenment, or the world of Buddhahood). This is similar to how our bodies digest food and turn it into energy.
A Buddha who has no connection to the actual sufferings of the nine worlds is not a genuine Buddha—namely, one who embodies the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds. This is the essential message of the “Life Span” (16th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.
The world of Buddhahood can also be described as a state of life where one willingly takes on even hellish suffering. This is the world of hell contained in the world of Buddhahood. It is characterized by empathy and hardships deliberately taken on for the happiness and welfare of others, and arises from a sense of responsibility and compassion. Courageously taking on problems and sufferings for the sake of others strengthens the world of Buddhahood in our lives.
Because of the principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds,” our Buddhist practice enables us to live true to ourselves. Buddhist teachings that lack this principle reject the nine worlds, seeking to reach the state of Buddhahood by breaking free of these lower states. But this approach actually detracts from one’s humanity. It means a life of prohibitions and proscriptions, of constant fault-finding and self-negation, and leads ultimately to “reducing the body to ashes and annihilating consciousness.”3 Of course, self-reflection and self-control are important, but taken to the extreme they can turn one into a rigid, narrow-minded person who barely knows what it means to be alive.
This may be a case of the remedy being worse than the disease. A better approach more often is to overlook people’s minor shortcomings, and instead give them hope and purpose so they can move forward positively. By living in this way with vibrant self-confidence, a person’s faults will naturally recede and transform. For instance, the fault of impatience might turn into the virtue of energetic action.
This is true of our own lives, and applies to fostering others as well. The key is to be true to oneself, without trying to impress others or to be something we’re not. We’re all human; at times we laugh, at times we cry. We get angry, and we become confused.
As ordinary people, just as we are, when we commit ourselves on the deepest level to kosen-rufu, the state of Buddhahood becomes our basic life tendency.
We should allow ourselves to be angry when anger is called for, to worry when there is something we need to worry about, to laugh when something is funny, and to enjoy what is enjoyable. The Daishonin says: “Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy” (WND-1, 681). Living this way each day, with vitality and joy, we move dynamically toward the goal of absolute happiness for ourselves and others.
From The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, vol. 4, published in Japanese in December 1998.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Mutual possession of the Ten Worlds: The principle that each of the Ten Worlds possesses the potential for all ten within itself. “Mutual possession” means that life is not fixed in one or another of the Ten Worlds, but can manifest any of the ten—from hell to Buddhahood—at any given moment. The important point of this principle is that all beings in any of the nine worlds possess the Buddha nature. This means that every person has the potential to manifest Buddhahood, while a Buddha also possesses the nine worlds and in this sense is not separate or different from ordinary people.
- *2Translated from Japanese. Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1982), pp. 446–47.
- *3Reducing the body to ashes and annihilating consciousness: A reference to the doctrine asserted by some Buddhist schools that one can attain nirvana, escaping from the sufferings of the endless cycle of birth and death, only upon extinguishing one’s body and mind, which are deemed to be the sources of earthly desires, illusions, and sufferings.