Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 8:
Facing Illness [8.7]
8.7 “Faith” Means to Continue to Believe until the Very End
This story of a young child who overcame the suffering of illness and the fear of death to create an inspiring drama shows us that no matter how ill we may be, through strong faith we can triumph in life in the end.
The law of life and death is universal, permeating the entire universe. But it manifests itself in distinct, unique ways that are different from person to person. It is very complex, involving innumerable factors.
Buddhism teaches that our lives are governed to a large extent by our karma, which is formed by our actions in past lifetimes. We are subject to the effects of immutable karma (fixed karma), which determines how long we live and the basic course of our lives. We are also subject to the effects of mutable karma (unfixed karma), which we may or may not experience in this lifetime. If we compare these two types of karma to sickness, immutable karma is like a serious or even fatal disease, while mutable karma is like a relatively minor illness, such as a cold.
The word karma is Sanskrit for “action.” Our every action—what we think, say, and do—is engraved in our lives. Good actions produce good, fortunate results, and bad actions produce bad, unfortunate results. They are bound to manifest themselves eventually.
The energy, both positive and negative, that is engraved in our lives through our actions does not disappear at death. It continues into our next existence, carried over in a way we might think of as resembling the law of the conservation of energy in physics.
But Nichiren Buddhism teaches that we can change all such karma. We can transform even fixed karma—or rather, we must do so. No matter what sufferings or hardships we may encounter, we must live out our lives fully, fighting our hardest until we triumph. Those who win in the end are true victors in life.
Victory is not decided halfway through. If we win in the end, we can look back on everything in our life up to that moment and realize that it all had meaning. But if we are defeated in the end, everything will have been meaningless, no matter how smoothly things may have been going until then.
If members persevere with strong faith to the very end, they will be victorious, even if they should die from illness. There are many who, while suffering from illness, have chanted for kosen-rufu and the happiness of others and continued to reach out to encourage those around them right up to the very moment of death. Their lives and their bravery in the face of death have given courage and inspiration to countless others. Such people will quickly be reborn with healthy bodies.
I knew a young girl who was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 11 and died at 14. But throughout her illness, she was always happy and bright. She even cheered up the adults in the hospital with her sunny, positive presence. No doubt her illness caused her terrible pain, but she continued to chant daimoku and to encourage others.
When she was near death, she said to one of her last visitors: “I don’t care about my illness anymore. I’ve stopped chanting for myself. There are so many others worse off than me. I’m chanting with all my heart that they will take faith as soon as possible and find out for themselves just how wonderful the Gohonzon is.”
To her parents, she said brightly: “What if this had happened to you, Dad? We’d be in terrible trouble! And it would be just as bad if it had happened to you, Mom. And if it had happened to my little brother, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I’m glad that it happened to me instead of any of you. . . . I’m sure this is the result of a promise I made before I was born. If my life can somehow touch and inspire those who know me, I will be happy.”
Hearing of this girl’s struggle with illness, I sent her a bouquet of roses. I also sent her a Japanese fan on which I had written the words, “Light of Happiness,” and a photograph I had taken of a field of irises in bloom. I heard that she was thrilled when she received them.
To those around her, she left the words: “Faith means to continue to believe until the very end.” And she demonstrated those words with her own life.
At her funeral, a long line of people came to pay their respects. In her brief 14 years, she had told over a thousand people of the greatness of the Mystic Law.
She won. That’s what I believe. Everything that happened to her had meaning. Or rather, through her struggle, she gave meaning to her suffering.
She said that her illness was the result of a promise she had made in her past lifetime. Buddhism teaches the concept of “voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma.”1 This is where practitioners of the Mystic Law voluntarily choose to be born into painful situations, so they might demonstrate the power of Buddhism to others through their struggles and subsequent triumph. This is the bodhisattva way of life.
If those who embrace the Mystic Law were blessed with every form of happiness from the start, no one would ever come to know how powerful and effective Nichiren Buddhism is. That’s why we voluntarily choose to be born with problems and suffering so that we can show others what human revolution looks like. It is as if we are performing a part in a play, a great drama.
From Discussions on Youth II, published in Japanese in September 2000.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Voluntarily assuming the appropriate karma: This refers to bodhisattvas who, though qualified to receive the pure rewards of Buddhist practice, relinquish them and make a vow to be reborn in an impure world in order to save living beings. They spread the Mystic Law while undergoing the same sufferings as those born in the evil world due to karma. This term derives from Miao-lo’s interpretation of relevant passages in “The Teacher of the Law” (10th) chapter of the Lotus Sutra.