Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 9: Creating a Brilliant Final Chapter in Life [9.8]

9.8 Making an Art of Life

Referring to the last period of the life of Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing, President Ikeda calls on us to live out our lives with passion and commitment.

Florence Nightingale promised her graduates: “I would try to be learning every day to the last hour of my life. . . . When I could no longer learn by nursing others, I would learn by being nursed, by seeing nurses practise upon me.1 And she was true to those words all her life.

At around age 40, when she founded the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, she suffered another serious decline in health. She was constantly afflicted with headaches, nausea, and asthma attacks. Speaking for extended periods exhausted her. Many were worried that she might die too young, and she in fact did face several life-threatening health crises. Still, she never stopped her activities. She dismissed her illnesses, saying: “I am so busy that I have no time to die.”2

Even though she couldn’t move about freely, she could write. For that reason, she always kept a supply of pens and pencils by her bedside. She produced an enormous number of articles and statistical documents, as well as more than 12,000 letters. Though her doctor advised her to stop writing, this only spurred her on: “They say I must not write letters. Whereupon I do it all the more.”3 She also declared: “Had I lost the Report [i.e., not been able to complete it], what would the health I should have ‘saved’ have profited me?”4 These words illustrate the firm conviction that ran through her entire life. Nightingale was fueled by the bright flame of a powerful inner purpose to which she gave herself unstintingly.

Eventually, Nightingale’s sight began to fail, yet she declared: “No, no, a thousand times no. I am not growing apathetic.”5 In her early 80s, she went blind. Nevertheless, she did not despair. She kept going with the spirit that she still had ears to hear and a mouth to speak. She astonished her visitors by how well informed she was of current events.

The Buddhist scriptures teach us that even if we lose our hands, we have our feet; even if we lose our feet, we have our eyes; even if we lose our eyes, we have our voice; even if we lose our voice, we have our life.6 With that resolve, we must spread Buddhism as long as we live. This is the spirit of a true Buddhist.

Even when Shakyamuni Buddha was on his deathbed, he preached the Law to an ascetic who had come to see him; he converted the man and welcomed him as his last disciple in his lifetime.7

My mentor, Josei Toda, used to say that whether one’s life was happy or unhappy is not decided until one’s final years. The last years of Nightingale’s life were the most beautiful and rich of all. She described her final years as the best days of her life. No woman was as loved and esteemed as she was at that time. It was said that just hearing her name cheered people up, and many women proclaimed that they wanted to be like her. People came from all over Britain and the world for her guidance and advice. Royalty and political leaders vied to meet her, but she refused to see anyone who did not have an interest in nursing.

She valued young people, saying: “All the more I am eager to see successors.”8 She received hundreds of letters from young girls who wanted to be nurses, and she answered most of them. To the very end, she sought out and challenged things that needed doing, planting the seeds of the future: “To make an art of Life! . . . That is the finest art of all the Fine Arts.”9 And that is precisely how Nightingale lived hers.

On August 13, 1910, that “artful life” came quietly to a close. She was 90 years old, and it was in the year marking the 50th anniversary of her school’s founding. In accord with her wishes, her funeral was simple.

Nightingale viewed death as the beginning of a fresh round of “immense activity.”10 Nichiren Daishonin states: “Passing through the round of births and deaths, one makes one’s way on the land of the Dharma nature, or enlightenment, that is inherent within oneself” (OTT, 52). Those who have faith in the Mystic Law advance with joy in both life and death on the great earth of their intrinsically enlightened nature—in other words, the earth of Buddhahood.

Life is eternal. That is why it is essential to forge an absolutely indestructible life state of eternity, happiness, true self, and purity in this existence. To do that, we need correct faith, and equally essential are sincere and just actions for the sake of others. Those who devote their lives to kosen-rufu can walk the path of eternal happiness savoring the highest of all joys.

From an essay series On Florence Nightingale—In Tribute to the Century of Women, published in Japanese in March 2002.

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

  • *1Lynn McDonald, Florence Nightingale: The Nightingale School (Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009), pp. 761–62.
  • *2Zachary Cope, Florence Nightingale and The Doctors (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1958), p. 37.
  • *3Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale (London: Constable and Company, Ltd., 1951), p. 387.
  • *4Ibid., p. 300.
  • *5Ibid., p. 589.
  • *6Cf. Sutra of Collected Birth Stories concerning the Practice of the Six Paramitas and Nagarjuna’s Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom.
  • *7Maha Parinibbana Suttanta (the Pali Nirvana Sutra), in Dialogues of the Buddha, translated by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, part 2 (Oxford: The Pali Text Society, 1995), pp. 149–69.
  • *8Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale, pp. 585–86.
  • *9Edward Cook, The Life of Florence Nightingale, vol. 2 (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1913), p. 430.
  • *10Cecil Woodham-Smith, Florence Nightingale, p. 591.