Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 9: Creating a Brilliant Final Chapter in Life [9.2]
9.2 Striving to the End with a Spirit of Ceaseless Challenge
Exploring the profound Buddhist teaching of perpetual youth and eternal life, President Ikeda speaks of the golden value of old age.
The struggle against aging is really a struggle against the fear of facing new challenges. The aging process occurs more rapidly in those who start thinking that they’ve done enough, who lose the spirit to foster younger people, and who remain attached to the past. Those who keep challenging themselves to the end are the most admirable and youthful of all. Such people are ever young and true victors of life. Come to think of it, the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was over 80 years old when he completed his masterpiece Faust.
The Soka Gakkai’s founding president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, continued advancing and challenging himself until the final moments of his life. He was 57 when he encountered Nichiren Buddhism and 59 when he founded the Soka Kyoiku Gakkai (Value-Creating Education Society; forerunner of the Soka Gakkai). In his 70s, he was still energetically traveling by train all the way to Kyushu to offer personal guidance and share Buddhism with others. He was fond of using the expression, “We youth.”
About a month before Mr. Makiguchi passed away, he wrote a postcard from his prison cell saying: “I am avidly reading the philosophy of Kant.” Such passionate seeking spirit and thirst for knowledge are no doubt the source of youthfulness.
The Buddhist teaching of perpetual youth and eternal life does not mean, of course, that we never age or die. It refers to our state of life, our life force. The Lotus Sutra states: “If a person who has an illness is able to hear this sutra, then his illness will be wiped out and he will know neither aging nor death” (LSOC23, 330). And the Daishonin writes: “If we consider the power of the Lotus Sutra, we will find perpetual youth and eternal life before our eyes” (WND-1, 413).
In other words, we are promised that, if we believe in and uphold the Mystic Law, we will never be defeated by illness, we can forever advance through life with a youthful spirit regardless of our age, and we can establish an eternal and indestructible state of happiness. This is nothing extraordinary. The precious members of the Many Treasures Group, who are always vibrantly active, are perfect examples of this.
In a certain respect, it’s only natural that we dislike growing old, for it makes us think of the inevitable reality of death. But each period of life has its own distinct and precious value.
What is the true significance of old age? It is not a time to look back with nostalgic longing on our youth. I believe it is the climax, the period of life that should be the most satisfying and fulfilling, the time when we shine with the brilliance and glory of a magnificent sunset. It’s not a period of gloom and sadness. As the French writer Victor Hugo said: “There is an indefinable dawning in radiant old age.”1
I feel that society today, unfortunately, has averted its gaze from the fundamental reality of death and, in the process, has lost sight of the golden value of old age.
The Daishonin encourages us to “first of all learn about death, and then about other things” (WND-2, 759). We must not avert our gaze from death but face it head-on and come to terms with it. If we can do that, we will come to appreciate old age in its own right and its true value will surely start to shine.
From the Buddhist perspective of the eternity of life, death is just a departure into the next phase of life.
The Daishonin describes the Mystic Law as “the great lantern that illuminates the long night of the sufferings of birth and death” (WND-1, 1038). Those who embrace the eternal Mystic Law are not afraid of death. They are not worried or troubled by it. They are able to freely savor the journey of life, experiencing a state of mind in which both life and death are a joy.
Nichiren Buddhism teaches the fundamental means for transforming a life bound by the four sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death into a joyous life characterized by the four virtues of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity.
From Sho-ro-byo-shi to jinsei o kataru (Discussions on Life and Death), published in Japanese in November 2006.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.
- *1Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, translated by Julie Rose (London: Random House, Inc., 2008), p. 1094.