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Excerpt: The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography

by Daisaku Ikeda

After attaining en­lightenment, Shakyamuni devoted the remaining years of his life to the preaching of the Dharma, or Law, thus introducing a new religion to the world. But he hesitated for a time before deciding to propagate the Law. According to some ac­counts, though Shakyamuni strove hard during his years of study and ascetic practice and in the end attained enlightenment, the salvation of humankind was not his initial aim, and he was of two minds as to whether he should preach the Law to others. This view seems to contradict the generally accepted theory that he renounced his royal home in order to seek salvation for all humankind.

The Agama sutras, in their description of the enlightenment, re­cord that Shakyamuni sat for some time simply savoring the bliss of understanding. Then he became deeply perturbed as to whether he should reveal his newly won wisdom to others. It was at this point that Mara and Brahma made their appearance. That is, the tendencies within his own being that told Shakyamuni it was not necessary to preach the Law appeared to him in the shape of Mara, but he overcame and dispelled this apparition. The altruistic deter­mination to share his enlightenment with all people welled up within him, and this is what the scriptures represent as the pleading of Brahma.

My own feeling is that Shakyamuni gave up his home and family not so much for the conscious purpose of saving mankind but with the hope of finding some solid and fundamental principle of truth. This hap­pens with many people, does it not? They embark on what at first is meant to be a pure and disinterested search for truth, but in the course of searching they suddenly find themselves in possession of some major law or principle of life. As a result, they become aware

of their own mission, spend the remainder of their lives proclaiming this new principle with all their energy, and leave behind them a name as a great religious leader or thinker. This is the pattern that Shakyamuni’s life followed.

It would be going too far, however, to say that in the beginning he had no thought whatsoever of the salvation of humanity. After all, the very act of leaving his family and entering upon the religious life shows that he felt anguish over the sufferings of humanity, and his impassioned attempts to find a solution to these problems already point toward a desire for universal salvation.

Some scholars, viewing this stage in Shakyamuni's life and at­tempting to analyze it in terms of the Ten Worlds, or ten states of human existence, would say that when Shakyamuni was still seated in the initial bliss of his enlightenment, he was in the realm of the pratyeka­buddha, the being who achieves enlightenment through his own efforts, and that when he resolved to propagate the Law he then entered the realm of the bodhisattva.

It is more common, how­ever, to classify him as a bodhisattva during the period when he had left his family and was engaged in the practice of severe asceti­cism, and as a Buddha after he gained perfect wisdom. The former view probably represents a reflection of Mahayana thought, which places great emphasis upon the figure of the bodhisattva and the importance of religious practice. It is not enough simply to gain an understanding of the Law; the important thing is to put it into practice by attempting to save others. That is why, in this view, when Shakyamuni determined to propagate the Law he advanced from the state of pratyekabuddha to that of bodhisattva.

The Buddhist scholar Fumio Masutani who de­scribed Shakyamuni’s hesitation as to whether to preach the Law as stemming from “the solitude of the truly enlightened.” The Law was known only to himself; no one else was aware of it. And if he were to try to expound it, ordinary people would have a difficult time understanding and accepting his words. Shakyamuni - sensing the tremendous gap between the radiant world of wisdom within himself and the deluded state of humanity - was assailed by a feeling of solitude and isolation. This was why he hesitated.

The enlightened man has sufferings known only to him- or herself, alone aware of the wisdom achieved. All the great pioneers and teachers in history have experienced this problem. The lion among men is always lonely, because he or she alone understands the truth and his or her mission to expound it. Only when that person rises up in determination to tell the world of that truth that is within will this sense of loneliness be dispelled.

Daisaku Ikeda is the author and co-author of more than 60 books on a wide range of topics including the history of Buddhism, Buddhist philosophy, dialogues with world leaders, poetry, novels and books for children. He is the founding president and leader of the Soka Gakkai International (www.sgi.org), one of the largest lay Buddhist organizations in the world today with members in over 192 countries and territories. He is the recipient of the United Nations Peace Award, the Rosa Parks Humanitarian Award and the International Tolerance Award of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

From THE LIVING BUDDHA: A Interpretive Biography, published by Middleway Press, copyright ©2008 Soka Gakkai. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.


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