Who Is a Buddha? To many, the image conjured up
by the word Buddha is of an otherwordly being, calmly remote from the matters
of this world. Through meditation he has attained state of "nirvana"
which will enable him to escape this world and its constant sufferings--the fruit
of human delusion and desire.
However, this image does not reflect the truth
about the life of Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism who lived in India around
2,500 years ago. He was a deeply compassionate man who rejected the extremes of
both asceticism and attachment, who was constantly interacting with others and
wanted all people to share the truth he had discovered.
The literal meaning
of Buddha is "enlightened one." Enlightenment is a fully awakened state
of vast wisdom through which reality in all its complexity can be fully understood
and enjoyed. Any human being who is awakened to the fundamental truth about life
can be called a Buddha.
However, many schools of Buddhism have taught that
enlightenment is only accessible after an arduous process undertaken over unimaginably
long periods of time--over many lifetimes, in fact. In dramatic contrast, what
is considered Shakyamuni's last and highest teaching, the Lotus Sutra, explains
that Buddhahood is already present in all life. It teaches absolute equality and
emphasizes that even within the life of a person apparently dominated by evil,
there exists the unpolished jewel of the Buddha nature. No one else gives it to
us or judges whether we "deserve" it.
As with gold hidden in a dirty
bag, or lotus flowers emerging from a muddy pond, we have first to believe our
Buddha nature is there, then awaken and develop or "polish" it. In Nichiren
Buddhism this can be done through devotion to the law contained in the Lotus Sutra
and the chanting of the phrase "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."
is not a static condition or a state in which one can rest complacently. Rather,
it is a dynamic experience and a journey of continual development and discovery.
When we continually reinforce the Buddhahood in our lives, we come to be ruled
less and less by selfishness (or greed), anger and foolishness--what Buddhism
terms the three poisons. As we fuse our lives with the enlightened life of the
Buddha, we can tap the potential within us and change ourselves in a fundamental
As this inner state of Buddhahood is strengthened, we also develop a
fortitude which enables us to ride even the wildest storms. If we are enlightened
to the true, unchanging nature of life, we can joyfully surf the waves of difficulty
which wash against us in life, creating something of value out of any situation.
In this way our "true self" blossoms, and we find vast reserves of courage,
compassion, wisdom and energy or life-force inside us. We find ourselves becoming
more active and feeling deep inner freedom. And as we experience a growing sense
of oneness with the universe, the isolation and alienation that cause so much
suffering evaporate. We lessen our attachment to our smaller egotistical self,
to difference, and become aware instead of the interconnectedness of all life.
Gradually we find our lives opening up to those of others, desiring their happiness
as much as our own.
However, while it is easy to believe that we all possess
the lower life-states outlined in Buddhist teachings (hell, hunger, animality,
anger and so on), believing that we possess Buddhahood is much more difficult.
But the struggle to develop and constantly strengthen this state within our lives
is well worthwhile.
For, in the words of Daisaku Ikeda, "[Buddhahood]
is the joy of joys. Birth, old age, illness and death are no longer suffering,
but part of the joy of living. The light of wisdom illuminates the entire universe,
casting back the innate darkness of life. The life-space of the Buddha becomes
united and fused with the universe. The self becomes the cosmos, and in a single
instant the life-flow stretches out to encompass all that is past and all that
is future. In each moment of the present, the eternal life-force of the cosmos
pours forth as a gigantic fountain of energy."