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The Principle Of "Eternity"

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Posted by Glenn on June 12, 2003 10:46:01 UTC


Life exists simultaneously with the universe. It did not precede the universe, nor did it come into being after the universe took form, either by chance or as someone's creation. The universe itself is life; it would be a mistake to view life as exclusively limited to the planet earth.

Some may deny my view of eternal life, asserting that man and other creatures evolved from unicellular life forms. But I would counter, why did these one-celled forms come into being, where did they come from, when our red-hot planet had cooled?

Be it on our own earth or on other worlds, when conditions are right for unicellular life forms to appear, then they appear. And when the soil and climate are right for moss or algae to flourish, they proliferate. I am not denying the evolutionary theory of their development, but because the universe is itself life, wherever conditions are right, primeval life forms will appear. Therefore it is in no way strange to think that thousands of billions of years ago the human race may have inhabited other Stars and is now flourishing on earth. Moreover, we imagine that somewhere on other worlds exist animals striving to evolve into human beings. I have heard from astronomers that certain forms of plant life may exist on the planet Venus. Not being an astronomer, I am in no position to prove it, but I am inclined to believe that it may be so. Nor can I accept the view that proteins or other substances somehow combined at a particular time to produce life. The presence of proteins and the like may provide a condition necessary for life to emerge, but life itself is forever inherent in the cosmos.

Life is eternal. People often talk about the continuation of life, but we find a number of views on the subject. Some preach in the abstract that 'life is eternal' and believe it vaguely, but such abstract notions elude our grasp.

We also find those who say that one's life is passed on to his offspring, and that he therefore lives on in his descendants. But this cannot be called eternal life. If one's descendants were to die out, would not he himself cease to exist? Moreover, a life that could perish with the destruction of the earth cannot be considered eternal. Were we to accept these people's view, we would have to say that one's own life is even now active within his son, just as it is within himself, which would be unreasonable in the extreme. How do these people regard their own lives after death? In effect they view their descendants' bodies as their own cemetery, a shallow concept of life indeed. We cannot say that they understand life's eternity.

I remember that the famous Chogyu Takayama [novelist, 1871-1902] once said, 'Men perform great works that remain even after they themselves have passed away. Thus men live on in the great works they leave behind.' Precisely because Takayama was so respected a man of letters, I worried greatly over his explanation. If what he said is true, then the lives of us ordinary people cannot be considered eternal, let alone the lives of dogs or cats. In this case, eternal life would not be universal, For a long time I pondered whether or not this was true. In consequence, I reached the conclusion that while Takayarna was a great literary man, his views on life after death were exceptionally shallow.

Then - although this may become a bit theoretical - among those theories of life that depart from demonstrable fact, we find the idea that within living beings there exists such a thing as a spirit or soul, which lives on eternally after death. Because this view at first sounds quite plausible, a considerable number of scholars and many other people hold it. From the standpoint of Buddhist philosophy, however, it is quite worthless. Shakyamuni categorically denies the existence of the soul in his Nirvana Sutra, defining this belief as non-Buddhist and incorrect. Then in what way does the life of living beings continue? The problem of what happens after death occupies a prominent place in Buddhist thought, as it does in that of other religions. However, as it might easily create misunderstanding on the part of those not well versed in the Buddhist teachings, I will omit a detailed, doctrinal explanation at this time and rather deal with this subject in the most simple, common sense terms. I ask for the reader's understanding on this point.

The verse section of the,Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra states, 'I use the means of death' (hoben gen nehan), thus expounding that death is a sort of expedient. For example, when seen in terms of life's fundamental objective - to wake and be active - sleep is merely a means. If we say that human beings are supposed to be active, then they should not need to sleep. But without sleep, one cannot dispel his fatigue or work energetically. In a similar way, when people grow old, fall ill or find their bodies seriously damaged, they have no alternative but to rejuvenate their life force by the means of death.

The supreme principle of Buddhism is ichinen sanzen, the three thousand realms in a single life-moment. Needless to say, Buddhism also resolves the problem of life after death in Connection with the principle of ichinen sanzen. Anyway, The Opening of the Eyes reads, 'The concept of ichinen sanzen begins with an understanding of the mutual possession of the Ten Worlds or states of existence.' Concerning these Ten Worlds, The True Object of Worship states.

When we look from time to time at a person's face, we find him sometimes joyful, sometimes enraged, and sometimes calm. At times greed appears in the person's face, at times foolishness, and at times perversity. Rage is the world of Hell , greed is that of Hunger, foolishness is that of Animality, perversity is that of Anger, joy is that of Rapture, and calmness is that of Humanity . . . The fact that all things in this world are transient is perfectly clear to us. Is this not because the worlds of the two vehicles are present in the world of Humanity? Even a heartless villain loves his wife and children. He too has a portion of the Bodhisattva world within him. Buddhahood is the most difficult to demonstrate. but since you possess the other nine worlds, you should believe that you have Buddhahood as well.

If we contemplate our state of mind over the course of a day's activities, we find that, moment by moment, different states arise and vanish within us, such as greed, joy, or rage. Here, parenthetically. I would like to explain a bit: the Gosho passage cited above says, 'Buddhahood is the most difficult to demonstrate.' But what exactly is the relationship, or external stimulus, that will allow us to manifest our inherent world of Buddhahood? The ultimate truth of Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism is the reality of ichinen sanzen, or, in terms of our practice, the Three Great Secret Laws. Thus, only by taking faith in the Dai-Gohonzon of the high sanctuary of true Buddhism can we establish the relationship that enables us to attain Buddhahood in our present form. However, I would like to discuss this point in detail on another occasion.

When we observe the workings of our mind, we discover that even when we feel joy, that joy disappears with the passing of time. It has not gone away somewhere, like a departing spirit or soul, but has melted back into the recesses of the mind where we cannot find it. Yet after several hours or days, that same joy surfaces again. Or, suppose that some happening has caused one to grieve. Even after several hours or days have passed, if he happens to recall his misfortune the same sorrow may suddenly overwhelm him again. In such cases we often say that one 'grieves anew', but between prior and present grief there exists a mysterious continuity; there is no gap between them whatsoever.

A similar phenomenon transpires when we sleep each night. While we are asleep, our mind is nowhere to be found, but nevertheless it functions, whether we are sleeping or not. When we sleep, our conscious mind seems to vanish; when we wake, it instantly returns. Does our conscious mind exist, or not? We can say it exists, but there are times when it disappears. We can say that it does not exist, but there are times when it re-emerges. The view that defines things neither as existence nor non-existence is called the perception of non-substantiality (ku). This dimension of life transcending the distinctions of existence and nonexistence is also called that which is mystic (myo). When we consider the mind and its workings in the microcosm of our own being, and also study the profound teachings of Buddhist Philosophy, we can reach a valid conclusion about the existence or nonexistence of life's continuation after death.

As I mentioned before, the universe is itself life; therefore, when we die, our life melts back into the greater life of the universe and is nowhere to be found. This is analogous to the interval between two instances of grief when there seems to be no grieving, or the interval between two moments of rejoicing when joy appears to have vanished, or the interval of sleep when our conscious mind is nowhere at all. Our life in death does not flit about somewhere like a spirit. However, even though it has melted back into the cosmos, it is not therefore necessarily at peace, just as sleep is not always restful. Some people sleep soundly, but others suffer from frightful dreams, and still others, plagued by worries, sleep only fitfully.

One can readily grasp this matter of life melting back into the cosmos if he studies the sutra and cherishes the essence of Buddhism in his heart. When life in the state of death is aroused by some external stimulus, it re-appears in the world in visible form and resumes its life-activities. And, just as one resumes his mental activities from the day before upon opening his eyes in the morning, so too are we born carrying with us undiminished our karma created in prior existences, receiving its effects as we live out our lives in this world.

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