We continue this month with material drawn from President Ikeda’s lecture series on “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law” in the March/April issue (Volume 12, no. 2.) We want to strongly encourage all Men’s Division members to subscribe to Living Buddhism and read the complete material there, as well as to attend and participate actively in the 4-divisional study meetings in your local organization.
Lecture on “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life and Death,” Part XII
by SGI President Ikeda
“Earthly Desires are Enlightenment” and “The Sufferings of Birth and Death are Nirvana”
“Be resolved to summon forth the great power of faith, and chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that your faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of death. Never seek any other way to inherent the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life. Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment, and the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana. Even embracing the Lotus Sutra would be useless without the heritage of faith.” (WND-I, p. 218)
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EXCERPTS FROM THE LECTURE
Inner Transformation Lies at the Heart of Inheriting the Law
(LB 12/2, p. 67-68)
People are the foundation. Each person is important. Unless the spirit of valuing each individual is put into practice, any theorizing on the heritage of the Law, no matter how exalted, will be empty.
This also means that those who practice Nichiren Buddhism must have the awareness and confidence that they can definitely change their lives on a profound level. The reason Nichiren says, “Never seek any other way [than this] to inherit the ultimate Law of life and death, and manifest it in your life,” is that the heritage of the Law does not exist apart from faith in the Buddhism of true cause, which enables each person to transform themselves inside and attain Buddhahood in this lifetime based on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
In what way, then, are our lives actually transformed? What kind of life-state can we attain through faith? Nichiren writes, “Only then will you realize that earthly desires are enlightenment, and that the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” Summoning the great power of faith and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with the prayer that our faith will be steadfast and correct at the moment of death in itself constitutes the realization that “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana.” Attaining this state of life is the true benefit of Nichiren Buddhism.
What this means is that, through the power of strong and unshakable faith and chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can turn illusions and sufferings into the means for developing value-creating wisdom and establish an inner state of complete assurance and joy.
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The Causality of the “Seeds of Opposites” and the Mystic Law of “Changing Poison Into Medicine”
(LB 12/2, p 69)
This view [that earthly desires or deluded impulses create human suffering] led to the Hinayana Buddhist practice of striving to eradicate earthly desires in order to free oneself from these fundamental sufferings. This way of practicing Buddhism, however, caused people to despise and seek to escape the sufferings of birth and death. That was because it was focused solely on eliminating earthly desires (evil), based on a partial concept of causality that held that evil is the only possible outcome of evil. With such a view, efforts to completely eradicate evil were destined to be frustrating and ultimately futile.
Although the provisional Mahayana teachings subsequently taught the principles of “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana,” the actual practice of these teachings comprised aspiring for the attainment of Buddhahood by either endlessly accumulating good causes, as seen for example in the idea of carrying out austere practices throughout many lifetimes, or depending for salvation on an absolute Buddha that transcends this world.
(LB 12/2, p 72)
The principle of the “seeds of opposites,”… means unifying things that are in opposition and revealing their broader significance by understanding them in a larger context. In the case of “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana,” “earthly desires” and “the sufferings of birth and death,” which are in opposition to “enlightenment” and “nirvana,” certainly take on a new meaning.
It is precisely because we have sufferings that we can earnestly chant to the Gohonzon. The determination to seriously confront sufferings causes the fundamental power inherent in our lives to emerge that much more strongly.
At the moment we chant, our sufferings—our earthly desires—have already become causes for enlightenment.
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We are Buddhas Just as We Are
(LB 12/2, p. 72)
Attaining Buddhahood does not mean becoming some kind of superhuman being who transcends all else. This is a point that second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda consistently emphasized. He once remarked: “’Earthly desires are enlightenment’ and ‘the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana’ describe a life in which we savor a state of happiness and complete peace of mind, while living with our earthly desires just as they are…. Enlightenment is nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Because we have earthly desires, we can experience fulfillment, and because we have fulfillment, we experience happiness.
(LB 12/2, p. 74)
Mr. Toda was always utterly himself, natural and unpretentious. Outwardly, he was in every way an ordinary person, but his mind was always keenly focused on the advance of the Soka Gakkai…. Cherishing a fervent “earthly desire” to achieve kosen-rufu, Mr. Toda demonstrated a commitment to this cause that transcended life and death. He based himself on a vast state of life I would describe as “enlightenment manifesting as responsibility.”
To be truly oneself means to continually polish and develop our lives just as we are, without trying to become someone we are not. In other words, it means that the essence of achieving human revolution is none other than showing actual proof of attaining Buddhahood in one’s present form. That is, the principles of “earthly desires are enlightenment” and “the sufferings of birth and death are nirvana” are actualized in our lives in the midst our Buddhist practice to keep challenging ourselves through faith.
Suggested Discussion Questions:
- Why is “valuing each individual” so important in our own human revolution? How have you used this practice to change your life profoundly within the last year?
- Based on the “seeds of opposites,” can you give an example of how you used your Buddhist practice to “turn poison into medicine,” or transform a negative situation or difficulty into something positive?
- In the culture in which we live, individualism often takes the form of isolation from others, especially those we find different from ourselves. President Toda is an example of an individual who was “utterly himself” yet cherished a fervent “earthly desire” to achieve kosen-rufu. From this example, how can one “be oneself” without lapsing into self-centeredness or isolation?