Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 8:
Facing Illness [8.1]
8.1 Struggling with Illness Can Forge Invincible Spiritual Strength
Birth, aging, sickness, and death are challenges everyone must face. We are all likely to confront the challenge of illness at some time in our lives. Buddhism regards illness not as something to be feared but as an opportunity for the human revolution that leads to attaining the life state of Buddhahood. Through Buddhism, we are able to transform illness into a force for victory in life.
In this chapter, we explore President Ikeda’s guidance on the subject of birth, aging, sickness, and death based on Buddhism.
Buddhism recognizes illness as one of the fundamental sufferings that human beings experience—one of the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death. In seeking a solution to illness, both Buddhism and medical science share a common goal. Both ask what is necessary for people to enjoy vibrant mental and physical well-being and to lead fulfilling lives.
Health is not simply the absence of illness. A truly healthy life is creative—one in which we keep challenging something, creating something, and moving forward to expand our horizons as long as we live.
My mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, said that people today make two basic mistakes: they confuse knowledge with wisdom and wrongly associate sickness with death.
Knowledge and wisdom are not the same. The relationship between the two can be discussed from many perspectives.
Speaking very generally, we can say that medical science combats illness through knowledge. Buddhism, on the other hand, develops human wisdom so that we may balance our lives and strengthen our life force. By doing so, we can use medical knowledge as an aid in the process of healing ourselves.
It is therefore foolish to ignore or reject medical science. To do so on religious grounds would amount to fanaticism. We need to make intelligent use of medical knowledge to conquer illness, and Buddhism can help us bring forth the wisdom to do that effectively.
Wisdom is essential for both health and long life. It is also a vital ingredient for happiness. If we wish to create an age in which people enjoy good health, we must first create an age that is founded on wisdom.
As for the relationship between sickness and death, illness does not necessarily lead to death. Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way” (WND-1, 937). Just as he says, illness can motivate us to take stock of ourselves, to reflect on the essence of life and our way of living. Through struggling with illness, we can gain a much fuller understanding of life and forge invincible spiritual strength.
I was a rather sickly child. Later, I also suffered from tuberculosis, and the doctor said I might not reach the age of 30. But that experience allowed me to understand the feelings of those afflicted with poor health. It also made me treasure every single moment, never waste a minute, and live with all my might, doing everything I could while alive.
There are many people with healthy bodies whose lives are ailing. And there are also those who suffer from physical illness but whose lives are vibrant. As long as we are alive, we are bound to experience illness of some kind. That’s why having the wisdom to know how to deal successfully with illness is so important.
From Kenko no chie (The Art of Health), published in Japanese in February 1997.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.