Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 5:
Transforming Suffering into Joy [5.1]
5.1 We Are the Protagonists of Our Own Lives
Faith in the Mystic Law ensures that by overcoming great pain and suffering we can build a life state of happiness and vibrant joy. President Ikeda has consistently stressed this life of unfettered, limitless hope.
In this chapter, we will explore the key to overcoming all life’s difficulties and to leading lives of victory.
We are each the scriptwriter of our own triumphant drama. We are also its protagonist. Shakespeare wrote: “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.”1
Buddhism teaches us that we each write and perform the script of our own life. No one else writes that script for us. We write it, and we are the star who performs it. This extremely active life philosophy is inherent in the teaching of “three thousand realms in a single moment of life.”2
We are each the author and the main character of our own story. In order for it to be a wonderful production, it’s essential that we become so familiar with the scenario that we can picture it vividly. We may need to rehearse it mentally. Sometimes it helps to write down our goals (for example, to pass an examination or to improve at work), and read them over and over again until they are deeply impressed in our minds.
There once was a young boy who had an accident that left one of his legs shorter than the other. His parents, however, never told him that anything was too hard or impossible for him to do. They treated him like any other child and encouraged him to play sports. They taught him that he could do whatever he believed he could, and that if he was unable to do something, it was because he had decided he couldn’t before even trying. Their conviction wasn’t based on mere idealism or optimism. It was a belief in the latent potential of the human being.
The boy later became a star football player at school, and after graduation he succeeded in society as well. His life perfectly illustrates the following assertion, made by the Russian writer Maksim Gorky in one of his novels: “Talent is nothing but faith in yourself, in your own powers.”3
Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish author, wrote: “To the timid and hesitating everything is impossible, because it seems so.”4
Thinking “It’s impossible” or “It can’t be done” has the effect of actually making anything and everything impossible. Similarly, if parents constantly tell their children they are hopeless or inept, the children will come to believe it and may wind up fulfilling that expectation.
Nichiren Daishonin cites a passage from the Flower Garland Sutra:
“The mind is like a skilled painter, who creates various forms made up of the five components.5 Thus of all the phenomena throughout the entire world, there is not a single one that is not created by the mind. . . . Outside of this mind there is no other phenomenon that exists.” (WND-2, 844)
When we read the Daishonin’s letters, we find that he constantly cites sutras and Buddhist scriptures to offer examples and documentary proof relevant to the situations or questions of the recipients, seeking to change their hearts, strengthen their determination, and give them conviction and self-confidence. His words always radiate hope and encouragement, like the sun. This is because he fully understood that when a person’s heart changes, everything changes.
Many people ascribe others’ success to favorable circumstances. They are likely to think, “If only I had such good luck” or “If only I didn’t have this problem to deal with.” But that ultimately is just complaining. There is no one who doesn’t have problems.
A businessman once said to a friend: “You’re always complaining about having so many problems. I know a place where there are at least ten thousand people, and not one of them has even a single problem or worry. Would you like me to take you there?”
His friend said: “Yes, please do!”
And guess where the businessman took him? To a cemetery. He was teaching his friend that as long as we are alive, we will have to deal with problems and sufferings. Challenging ourselves to find ways to overcome these problems gives richness and meaning to our lives.
Buddhism teaches that “earthly desires lead to enlightenment.” This means the greater our worries and sufferings, the greater the happiness we can transform them into through the power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
In Shakyamuni’s day, there was a woman who had lost her beloved child to illness. Half insane with grief, she wandered the town clutching her dead child to her bosom and begged all those she encountered: “Please give me medicine for my child.”
Feeling pity for her, someone took her to see Shakyamuni. When he heard her story, he said: “Do not fret. I will give you good medicine. Go into the town and bring me back some mustard seeds. However, they must be mustard seeds from a family where no one has lost a loved one.”
In her quest, the woman walked all over the town, going from door to door. But there was not one family that had not lost a loved one. Finally, it dawned on her: All human beings die. She was not alone in her suffering. To gain insight into the eternity of life, she became a follower of Shakyamuni, and she later came to be respected as a sage.6
By employing the expedient means of sending her out in search of mustard seeds, Shakyamuni freed and restored peace to the heart of this woman who had been wrapped up in her own grief. He helped her awaken to a deeper wisdom based on the eternity of life.
The most important thing is to expand our state of life. When we think only of ourselves, we become increasingly caught up in our small egos, or lesser selves. In contrast, when we work toward a great and all-encompassing objective—for the sake of the Law, the happiness of others, and the welfare of society—we can develop big hearts and bring forth our greater selves through the “wonderful workings of one mind” (OTT, 30). With big hearts, we can savor truly immense happiness. Sufferings that may have once been a heavy burden in a lesser state of life will appear minor, and we are able to calmly rise above them. I hope all of you will lead lives in which you can demonstrate such brilliant, positive proof of the “wonderful workings of one mind.”
From a speech at an SGI-USA representatives conference, U.S.A., March 9, 1993.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1William Shakespeare, As You Like It, in The Complete Works, Illustrated (New York: Gramercy Books, 1975), p. 239. (Act II, Scene 7.)
- *2Three thousand realms in a single moment of life: A philosophical system established by the Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai of China based on the Lotus Sutra. The “three thousand realms” indicates the varying aspects that life assumes at each moment. At each moment, life manifests one of the Ten Worlds. Each of these worlds possesses the potential for all ten within itself, thus making one hundred possible worlds. Each of these hundred worlds possesses the ten factors and operates within each of the three realms of existence, thus making three thousand realms. In other words, all phenomena are contained within a single moment of life, and a single moment of life permeates the three thousand realms of existence, or the entire phenomenal world.
- *3Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths: Unabridged, translated by Jennie Covan and edited by Julie Nord (Toronto: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000), p. 5.
- *4Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy, edited by Ian Duncan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 211.
- *5Five components: Also, five components of life. They consist of form, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness. Buddhism holds that these constituent elements unite temporarily to form an individual living being. Together they also constitute one of the three realms of existence, the other two being the realm of living beings and the realm of the environment.
- *6This famous parable about a woman named Kisa Gotami appears in the Therigatha Atthakatha (Commentary to the Therigatha).