Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 9: Creating a Brilliant Final Chapter in Life [9.1]
9.1 Enjoying a Rewarding and Fulfilling “Third Stage of Life”
None of us can avoid physical aging with the passage of time, but the members of the Soka family, practicing the Mystic Law, becoming more youthful and vibrant and accumulating more good fortune with each passing year, encourage one another and adorn their lives together with victory in human revolution.
Nichiren Daishonin encouraged a disciple with the words: “You will grow younger, and your good fortune will accumulate” (WND-1, 464).
Life is often divided into three periods—the first stage of study, the second stage of independence and work, and the third stage of the fulfillment and completion of our lives. Here President Ikeda offers guidance on enriching that third period of life.
Buddhism in general is focused on solving the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death. However, the essence of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism lies not in simply overcoming these four sufferings. In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, the Daishonin states: “The words ‘four sides’ [of the treasure tower] stand for birth, aging, sickness, and death. We use the aspects of birth, aging, sickness, and death to adorn the towers that are our bodies” (OTT, 90). Nichiren Buddhism thus teaches a deeper understanding of those four sufferings, observing that they can be transformed into treasures that add dignity and splendor to “the towers that are our bodies,” to the treasure tower of our lives themselves.
There is a saying: “The foolish regard old age as winter; the wise regard it as a golden time.” Everything depends upon our attitude, how we approach life. Do we look at old age as a period of decline ending in death, or a period in which we have the opportunity to attain our goals and bring our life to a rewarding and satisfying completion? Is old age a descending path leading to oblivion, or an ascending path taking us to new heights? The same period of old age, especially in terms of the richness and fulfillment one can experience during those years, will be dramatically different depending upon one’s outlook.
Let’s try to make the third stage of life a third stage of youth. Youth is not something that fades with age. Our attitude toward life is what makes us young. As long as we maintain a positive attitude and a spirit of challenge, we will continue to gain depth and richness and our lives will shine with the brilliance of gold or burnished silver.
I think we can say that one of the most important challenges of the third stage of life is how to live in a way that is true to ourselves until the very last and show this to those around us.
People’s memories and recollections about a person who has passed away, the example of that individual’s life, can be a great source of encouragement and strength to them.
What can we contribute, what can we leave as a legacy for others in our third stage of life? After all is stripped away—wealth, renown, social status—the only thing that remains after one’s death is the example of how one has lived one’s life as a human being.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “If one lights a fire [lantern] for others, one will brighten one’s own way” (WND-2, 1060). In an aging society, this spirit of contributing to the welfare of others is very important. It ultimately means brightening our own way as well.
Nichiren Buddhism teaches that since we owe a debt of gratitude to all living beings, we should pray for all of them to attain Buddhahood (cf. WND-2, 637).
Valuing people; treasuring human relationships—these are vital requirements for creating a society where people can truly enjoy long and fulfilling lives.
What matters is how much we can improve the quality of our lives during our time here on Earth—however long it may be. There is a difference between simply living a long life and living a rich and rewarding life. For example, a life can be fulfilled and productive even if it is short by time’s measure.
What matters is that we live each day without regret, moving forward in our work for kosen-rufu; that we continue to cherish in our hearts a shining purpose and reason for living, whatever our age. Living this way each day is the key to a life of profound satisfaction and fulfillment.
The memory of striving arduously in our Buddhist practice for both the happiness of ourselves and others and earnestly chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is eternal, enduring throughout the three existences of past, present, and future. It remains indelible in our lives, even if we should succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. It is clearly recorded in the “diary of the heart.”
Soka Gakkai activities are the greatest source of pride in life. When we chant and take action for the happiness of others, we, too, become happy. No way of life is more worthwhile.
Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Single-mindedly chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and urge others to do the same; that will remain as the only memory of your present life in this human world” (WND-1, 64).
We have nothing to worry about. The good fortune and benefit we accumulate through our Buddhist practice will never age. Even should we suffer from Alzheimer’s, they will remain latent in the depths of our beings.
Fundamentally, society must learn to value and respect the elderly, even those who suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive decline, as venerable seniors, as predecessors who have made important contributions to society. With the rapid graying of society, all of us will be called upon to care for the elderly in one form or another.
A graying society will have to revise its values, placing cooperation above competition, quality over efficiency, and spiritual richness over material richness. It will be a time when we ask not what others can do for us, but what we can do for others—a time for seeking ways to make a contribution, while striving to stay fit and healthy. That is the life of creating value.
The Greek philosopher Plato is said to have advised: “We should recall in the vigor of the young people around us our former youthful vigor and allow their energy to revive us.”
At Soka Gakkai discussion meetings, which are attended by people of all ages, the elderly have a chance to absorb the energy of the young, while the young have the opportunity to learn from the experience and wisdom of the elderly.
Nothing is wasted in Buddhism. In that sense, it is a model for an aging society.
The key is to keep hope alive in our lives, to hold on to our ideals. It is to press ahead with our mission as long as we are alive.
The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”1
Let us join together in making the final years of our lives as brilliant as a night sky filled with sparkling stars.
A life lived to the fullest to the very end is beautiful.
That’s why it is crucial to maintain the spirit and lively activity of our youth throughout our lives. We mustn’t use our age as an excuse to become inactive or withdraw from life.
Many of Shakyamuni’s senior disciples grew self-satisfied and complacent as they aged. They felt they had attained a certain status and degree of enlightenment, and that this was enough. They had practiced a long time; Shakyamuni’s enlightenment was marvelous, they thought, but they would never match it, so they contented themselves with the state they had attained.
Shakyamuni, however, said this was mistaken. When he made his prophecy in the Lotus Sutra that Shariputra [who represents the persons of the two vehicles— voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones] would become a Buddha in future ages, he declared that his disciples must apply themselves vigorously to their Buddhist practice all their lives. He sternly urged them to keep striving, for this was the only way to attain Buddhahood. The senior disciples awakened to their own complacence, renewed their efforts, and were filled with joy. With this, persons of the two vehicles, who were said to be unable to attain Buddhahood, were able to become Buddhas as well (cf. LSOC3, 86–89).2
“Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month” (WND-1, 997)—these words of the Daishonin epitomize the spirit of the Lotus Sutra and the Soka Gakkai.
The American poet Samuel Ullman wrote in his well-known poem “Youth”:
“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. . . .
“Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease. This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty. . . .”3
Youth is not a matter of chronological age. As long as one has a burning passion for kosen-rufu, one can still be a youth at 90.
Faced with the inescapable realities of aging and death, how can people make their final chapter in life and in society a brilliant and active one, lived true to themselves? This will be the most important question for our rapidly graying society in the 21st century.
Nichiren Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai alone offer a genuine solution to this challenge. With that conviction, let us continue the grand journey of hope that is kosen-rufu, creating a triumphant history of lives lived to the fullest.
From Daisan no jinsei o kataru (A Discussion on the Third Stage of Life—Aging in Contemporary Society), published in Japanese in October 1998.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Morituri Salutamus,” in The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, vol. 3 (New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1966), p. 196.
- *2Attainment of Buddhahood by persons of the two vehicles: In the first half of the Lotus Sutra, persons of the two vehicles—voice-hearers and cause-awakened ones—receive a prophecy from Shakyamuni Buddha that they will attain Buddhahood in future ages. This prophecy refutes the view of the provisional Mahayana teachings, which deny persons of the two vehicles the attainment of Buddhahood, for they seek only personal salvation and do not strive to save others. The Lotus Sutra says that they will practice the bodhisattva way and attain Buddhahood.
- *3Margaret England Armbrester, Samuel Ullman and “Youth”: The Life, the Legacy (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1993), p. 113.