Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 8:
Facing Illness [8.5]
8.5 Falling Ill Is Not a Sign of Defeat
Illness is not a sign of defeat or misfortune. For those dedicated to the Mystic Law, the drama of birth, aging, sickness, and death is also the joyous stage for a life of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity.
Mr. Toda said: “It is natural for us to fall ill. At the same time, we possess within us the power to cure our own illness.” This was a message he often shared.
Nichiren Daishonin states that birth, aging, sickness, and death are “the aspect or characteristics of the threefold world”1 (OTT, 127). Illness itself is just one aspect of human life. Falling ill is by no means a sign of defeat in life. Moreover, it would be utterly lacking in compassion to presume that someone’s faith is weak simply because they have gotten sick. Offering heartfelt encouragement to those who are battling illness is an expression of genuine caring. Whenever one of his followers fell ill, the Daishonin would encourage that person with all his heart and being.
The “lion’s roar” of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the ultimate weapon for battling illness. We must absolutely never forget the Daishonin’s statement “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (WND-1, 412).
To use the struggle against illness to develop an even greater sense of fulfillment and inner richness is to lead a life of value creation. That is why it is so important to have the “heart of a lion king” with which to fight through to the end against all obstacles. We must possess an indomitable and unyielding spirit. It is for this very reason that we need to exert ourselves in faith and practice every day, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for both ourselves and others, and forge a strong determination grounded in faith that will remain steadfast and unwavering in the face of any attack by the devil of illness.
When the lay nun Toki, the wife of Toki Jonin, became seriously ill, the Daishonin repeatedly sent her letters of encouragement, seeking to impart hope and strength.2 “Do not burden your mind with grief” (WND-1, 656), he tells her. The important thing is to have a fighting spirit, to possess the spirit of a votary of the Lotus Sutra. He also says: “Take care of yourself” (WND-1, 656). It is vital that we take practical steps toward restoring our health when we are ill.
No one intends from the outset to be defeated by illness. But should a particular illness interfere with our daily activities or our work, or cause us to lose courage and self-confidence, we may gradually be overtaken by despair. In the case of the lay nun Toki, she may have begun to feel a sense of resignation because of her slow recovery. The Daishonin urges her to summon the resolve to live out her life to the fullest.
Of course, there are people who have strong faith but who die young. However, there is definitely some profound meaning behind this. The value of one’s life is not determined by the number of years one has lived. The Daishonin asserts: “It is better to live a single day with honor than to live to 120 and die in disgrace” (WND-1, 851).
The Daishonin speaks of “the treasure of faith” (WND-1, 955), emphasizing to the lay nun Toki the importance of rousing the will to go on living, or, we might say, enthusiasm for life.3
For us, each day of life is a day that we can directly contribute to kosen-rufu; our efforts each day lead directly to the fulfillment of the great vow for kosen-rufu. Therefore, we absolutely must not be defeated by illness or any other obstacle.
The Daishonin says that illness is “the Buddha’s design,” because it can spur us to arouse the “resolve to attain the way” (WND-1, 937).4
The ultimate purpose for living long and healthy lives is so that we can take compassionate action to benefit others who are struggling amid the realities of society. It is only natural, of course, that we chant for good health and longevity for our own sakes as well. Needless to say, to ruin one’s health on account of immoderate habits or plain neglect runs entirely counter to a way of life of value creation.
We have to exercise wisdom in our daily lives—for example, taking time to refresh ourselves and resting if we become fatigued. Good health is something we have to secure for ourselves by acting with prudence and good sense. Health is the badge of honor of the wise.
What is the purpose of striving for good health and longevity? It is so that we can use our lives to the fullest to work for the sake of the Law, for the happiness and welfare of our families, our fellow members, and our fellow human beings, and to accomplish our individual missions and realize the great vow for kosen-rufu.
It is vital therefore that we actively take on the challenges of the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death amid our efforts for kosen-rufu. Doing so is actual proof that the four noble virtues of Buddhahood—eternity, happiness, true self, and purity—exist eternally within us.
The sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death are not causes for lamenting. Rather, they together form the brilliant stage of life upon which we enact a drama that resounds with the triumphant strains of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity. Through this drama of birth, aging, sickness, and death, we perform a joyous play of human victory.
From The World of Nichiren Daishonin’s Writings, vol. 3, published in Japanese in March 2005.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Threefold 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.
- *2The Daishonin writes: “You also are a practitioner of the Lotus Sutra, and your faith is like the waxing moon or the rising tide. Be deeply convinced, then, that your illness cannot possibly persist, and that your life cannot fail to be extended! Take care of yourself, and do not burden your mind with grief” (WND-1, 656).
- *3The Daishonin writes: “Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryo of gold. . . . So you must hasten to accumulate the treasure of faith and quickly conquer your illness” (WND-1, 955). A ryo was a unit of weight in ancient Japan. One ryo was equivalent to about 37.5 grams, though the exact weight differed according to the historical period.
- *4 The Daishonin writes: “And could not this illness of your husband’s be the Buddha’s design, because the Vimalakirti and Nirvana sutras both teach that sick people will surely attain Buddhahood? Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way” (WND-1, 937).