Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 8:
Facing Illness [8.6]

8.6 The Buddhist View of Illness

In this excerpt from The New Human Revolution, the novel’s protagonist Shin’ichi Yamamoto (whose character represents President Ikeda) encourages men’s division members suffering from poor health during a visit to Kansai.

Shin’ichi said: “The ‘Life Span’ (16th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches the principle of prolonging one’s life through faith.1 In other words, through our Buddhist practice, we can extend how long we live. If we continue to strive with strong faith in the Mystic Law, there is no illness that we cannot surmount. Please chant abundantly and live a long, healthy life! . . .

“In discussing the origins of illness, the Daishonin cites a passage from T’ien-t’ai’s Great Concentration and Insight, which states: ‘There are six causes of illness: (1) disharmony of the four elements; (2) improper eating or drinking; (3) inappropriate practice of seated meditation; (4) attack by demons; (5) the work of devils; and (6) the effects of karma’ (WND-1, 631).”

Let us look at these points in closer detail.

Listed as the first cause of illness is “disharmony of the four elements.” The four elements are earth, water, fire, and wind. According to traditional Eastern thought, nature and all things in the universe, including the human body, are made up of these four elements. “Disharmony of the four elements” refers to unseasonable weather and other conditions of discord in the natural world, which have a powerful influence on the human body and can cause various illnesses.

The second and third causes of illness—“improper eating or drinking” and “inappropriate practice of seated meditation”2—refer to a lack of control in one’s dietary habits and other aspects of day-to-day living. When our daily lives fall out of rhythm, our diet may suffer. Also, insufficient sleep and exercise may cause disorders in our internal organs, muscles, or nervous system.

The “demons” in number four—“attack by demons”—refer to external causes. These include microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as the stress we experience in our daily lives.

Number five, “the work of devils,” indicates the various inner impulses and desires that disrupt the healthy functioning of our minds and bodies. Afflictions that prevent us from practicing Buddhism also arise from the workings of such negative functions.

Number six, “the work of karma,” refers to causes that derive from the inner depths of our lives. This indicates sickness that stems from distortions or deeply rooted tendencies in our lives. Buddhism views such distortions as karma.

The origins of illness are divided into these six different categories, but in actuality, many illnesses have overlapping causes. In the case of influenza, for example, the cause is a virus. This could be looked at as an “attack by demons.” Infection can, however, be triggered by changeable weather—in other words, by “disharmony of the four elements.” In addition, a poor physical condition brought about by an unhealthy lifestyle—“improper eating and drinking”—can be a contributing factor. Negative functions may also be at work in the depths of one’s life to keep one from engaging in Buddhist practice, and there are also cases when karma may be an important consideration.

Shin’ichi went on to give a detailed explanation of the six causes of illness in light of the Daishonin’s writings: “In short, one of the first steps in avoiding illness is taking care to dress appropriately for the weather and environment. Leading a well-balanced life, not overindulging in food or drink, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all vital, too.

“In this way, we can avoid the first three causes of illness. Faith means employing the wisdom to do so. And with the help of medical science, we can also avoid the fourth cause of illness, which includes such things as germs and viruses. But no matter what the sickness, the speed with which we recover depends upon our life force. And faith is the wellspring of that life force.

“At the same time, if the root cause of an illness is the work of negative functions or the effect of karma, then even the best efforts of medical science alone cannot bring about a cure. It is only through strong faith in the Gohonzon that we can defeat such negative functions in our life and transform our karma.”


[The following is in response to a diabetic man taking daily insulin injections. The man said that he had lost all hope in life because his doctor has told him he would never be cured.]

Shin’ichi said: “If you exert yourself wholeheartedly in faith, your life will be filled with hope, supreme happiness, and fulfillment, even if you have a chronic illness. The Daishonin writes: ‘Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?’ (WND-1, 412). Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is a lion’s roar. A lion’s roar will send even the fiercest animals running. In the same way, when faced with chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no ailment can be an obstacle to one’s happiness or to kosen-rufu.

“People today have been described as being only ‘half-healthy,’ meaning that we are all afflicted with some kind of illness and that our physical health will decline as we age. But is sickness necessarily the cause of unhappiness? Absolutely not. It is being defeated by illness and losing hope that makes us unhappy. We become unhappy when we forget our mission to strive for kosen-rufu.

“There are many people with perfectly healthy bodies who are unhappy because they are ailing spiritually. On the other hand, there are many Soka Gakkai members who, while struggling with illness or disability, are not only genuinely happy but also work for the happiness of others.

“At life’s most fundamental level, health and sickness are one. There are times when we manifest a healthy condition and times when we manifest illness. The two conditions are interconnected. Thus, by making earnest efforts in faith and fighting against illness, we can establish a state of genuine health both mentally and physically.

“It may be hard to have to take insulin injections for the rest of your life. But if you think about it, eating and sleeping are also things we must do every day to live. Try to view your injections as just one more thing that’s been added to your daily routine. It won’t do any good to let it get you down.

“I hope you will live in such a way that others struggling with the same condition will marvel and say: ‘Look how energetic he is, despite his diabetes!’ ‘Look at what a long life he is enjoying!’ ‘Look how happy he is!’ If you are able to do that, you will be a brilliant example of the power of Buddhism. That is your mission in life. Don’t allow yourself to be defeated. Keep going! Never give up!”

Shin’ichi then addressed all present, saying: “The Daishonin will not fail to protect those who dedicate their lives to kosen-rufu. When his disciple Nanjo Tokimitsu was ill, the Daishonin sent him a letter in which he wrote: ‘You demons, by making this man suffer, are you trying to swallow a sword point first, or embrace a raging fire, or become the archenemy of the Buddhas of the ten directions in the three existences?’ (WND-1, 1109). In sternly rebuking the devilish functions causing his disciple to suffer, the Daishonin protected him. We are all embraced by this great conviction and compassion of the Daishonin.

“I hope all of you will also be filled with certainty and indomitable resolve not to be defeated by those negative forces. Muster your courage. I also used to suffer from poor health and a doctor said I probably wouldn’t make it to age 30. But I’m strong and healthy now and able to handle the most demanding of schedules. You can all become healthy, too!”

From The New Human Revolution, vol. 10, “Crown Champions” chapter.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.

  • *1Prolonging one’s life through faith: This is based on the passage in the “Life Span” chapter of the Lotus Sutra that reads: “We beg you to cure us and let us live out our lives!” (LSOC16, 269). This is in the section that explains the parable of the outstanding physician, who gives “good medicine” to his children who have “drunk poison” (that is, succumbed to delusion), and who implore him to cure their illness. Through taking this good medicine (that is, embracing faith in the wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra), they are cured and able to enjoy many more years of life.
  • *2The seated meditation referred to here is an ancient Indian practice for ordering the mind and body, later adopted by Buddhism. It involves sitting with correct posture, closing one’s eyes, and thinking deeply. The Great Teacher T’ien-t’ai held that this practice, when improperly done or carried to an extreme, could cause illness.