Composed February, 2008




Toda described life as the very basis of all things, which we perceive as changing and flowing. However, he said, the true nature of life is actually neither flowing nor still; it is like empty space. It is an entity that is simultaneously the infinite macrocosm as well as each of the microcosms of countless living beings. It is an enormous life-entity always undergoing dynamic change and, at the same time, eternal and everlasting. The Mystic Law is the name we give to this undeniable, sublime entity — universal life — of which we are all embodiments.

Looking Ahead
The very fact that we have been born as human beings indicates our potential to alter the course of our lives. Therefore, when the influence of our karma results in an obstacle or hardship, this is actually a splendid opportunity to improve our state of life. By recognizing that the present obstacle indicates the fulfillment and therefore the termination of a potential that had already been created, we can fill our lives instead with the influence of good karma from this point on. With confidence in this idea, we can, through practicing Buddhist principles, take advantage of every seeming misfortune as a chance to grow.

As we awaken to our power to overcome all obstacles, we will invite a great future for ourselves and in the process develop a much more powerful state of life. We can free our lives in order to discover our true purpose and become happy, and we can contribute to improving our society and even the entire world.

Discovering life’s purpose plays a vital role in facing the second of the four sufferings — aging — which we will examine in the next chapter.

1. J.W. Goethe, Faust A Tragedy, trans. Bayard Taylor (New York: The Modern Library, 1967), pp. 17-18.
2. J. Takakusu, ed., Nanden Daizokyo (Tokyo: Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo Publishing Society, 1935), vol. 13, p. 1ff.
3. Ibid., vol. 23, p. 42.
4. J. Takakusu, ed., Taisho Issaikyo (Tokyo: Taisho Issaikyo Publishing Society, 1925), vol. 1, 645c, p. 15b.
5. Nichiko Hori, ed. Nichiren Daishonin Gosho Zenshu (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1952), p. 1404.
6. Ibid., p. 740.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., p. 797.
9. From: Contemplation on the Mind-Ground Sutra (Jpn Shinjikan-gyo).
10. Gosho Translation Committee, ed., The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin (Tokyo: Soka Gakkai, 1999), p.644.
11. Translated from Japanese: From Goethe’s diary (1812). Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Seimei (Life), trans. Kei Nagano and Mamoru Iijima (Tokyo: Miscuzu shobo, 1974), p. 59.
12. Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin Company, 1978), p. 53.
The great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore writes:
The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.
The Eternity of Life

As a religion and a philosophy, Buddhism has always stressed the importance of squarely confronting the reality of death. Death, along with illness and aging, is defined in Buddhism as one of the fundamental sufferings that all people must face.
Because of this emphasis, Buddhism has sometimes been associated with a pessimistic outlook on life. Quite the opposite is, in fact, the case. Because death is inevitable, any attempt to ignore or avoid this most basic reality of life condemns us to a superficial mode of living. A clear awareness and correct understanding of death can enable us to live without fear and with strength, clarity of purpose and joy.
Buddhism views the universe as a vast living entity, in which cycles of individual life and death are repeated without cease. We experience these cycles every day, as millions of the some 60 trillion cells that comprise our bodies die and are renewed through metabolic replacement. Death is therefore a necessary part of life, making possible renewal and new growth. At the time of death our lives return to the vast ocean of life, just as an individual wave crests and subsides back into the open sea. Through death, the individual, fundamental life-force that supports our existence, returns to the great universe. Ideally, death can be experienced as a period of rest, like a rejuvenating sleep that follows the struggles and exertions of the day.
Buddhism asserts that continuity persists through the cycles of life and death, and that, in this sense, our lives are eternal. As Nichiren wrote: "When we examine the nature of life with perfect enlightenment, we find that there is no beginning marking birth and, therefore, no end signifying death."
In the fifth century C.E., the great Indian philosopher Vasubandhu developed the "Nine-Consciousness Teaching" that delineates the eternal functions of life. In his theory, the first five layers of consciousness correspond to the five senses` and the sixth to waking consciousness. The sixth layer of consciousness includes the capacity for rational judgment and the ability to interpret the information supplied by the senses.
The seventh layer of consciousness is referred to as the mano-consciousness and corresponds to the subconscious described in modern psychology and is where our profound sense of self resides.
Beneath this is the eighth, or alaya-consciousness.The eighth layer of consciousness contains potential energy, both positive and negative, created by our thoughts, words and deeds. This potential energy, also described as profound life-tendency, is referred to as karma.
Again, contrary to certain assumptions, Buddhism does not consider karma to be fixed and unchangeable. Our karmic energy, which Buddhist texts describe as the "raging current" of the alaya-consciousness, interacts with the other layers of consciousness. It is at this deepest level that human beings exert influence upon one another, on their surroundings and on all life.
It is also at this level that the continuity of life through cycles of birth and death is maintained. When we die, the potential energy which represents the "karmic balance sheet" of all our actions—creative and destructive, selfish and altruistic—continues to flow forward in the alaya-consciousness. It is this karma that shapes the circumstances in which the potential energy of our lives becomes manifest again, through birth, as a new individual life.
Finally, there is the ninth level of consciousness. This is the very source of cosmic life, which embraces and supports even the functioning of the alaya-consciousness. The purpose of Buddhist practice is to stimulate and awaken this fundamentally pure amala-consciousness, or wisdom, which has the power to transform the most deeply established flow of negative energy in the more shallow layers of consciousness.
Questions of life and death are fundamental, underly and shape our views of just about everything. Thus, a profound understanding of the nature of death—and of life's eternity—can open new horizons for all humankind, and unleash previously untapped stores of wisdom and compassion.

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