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Ikeda Sensei’s Lectures

Those Battling Illness Will Attain Buddhahood—Defeating the Devil of Illness With the Lion’s Roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Toward a Century of Health: The Wisdom for Leading a Long Life of Good Fortune and Benefit—Part 1 [53]

What would the 21st century be like? When I met with the renowned chemist and Nobel Peace laureate Linus Pauling (1901–94), I shared with him my vision that it would be a century of life. In response, he said: “I assume that by a ‘century of life’ you mean a century in which greater attention will be paid to human beings and their happiness and health. … In this sense, I too think it is a good idea to regard the 21st century as a century of life.”[1]

Health Is an Essential Element of Fundamental Human Rights

Everyone deserves to live in a peaceful society and to enjoy health and happiness. Everyone, including the sick and disabled, deserves to live with dignity and to be relieved of the anxiety and pain of illness. Everyone deserves to live free from the threats of harmful environments, hunger and infectious diseases. In today’s world, along with peace, health is an essential element of fundamental human rights, and has become an issue impacting human dignity all the more.

One of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is “good health and well-being” for all people.

I am deeply committed to ensuring that the 21st century is a century of life and also a century of health, in which each person can shine and stand tall as a noble treasure tower of life.

Helping Those Who Are Suffering the Most

Since the pioneering days of our movement, the Soka Gakkai has earnestly turned its attention to the fundamental human problem of illness. Of course, medical science continues to make remarkable strides in research into the symptoms and treatment of illness. It is only natural that we respect medical expertise and make use of it. Medical science and faith in Nichiren Buddhism are in no way contradictory.

When the Soka Gakkai was bringing the light of hope and renewal to people in postwar Japan, it was scorned and criticized as “a gathering of the poor and sick.” But my mentor, second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda, declared proudly: “What’s wrong with being a gathering of the poor and sick? Doesn’t a truly effective religion help those who are suffering the most?”

Common decency tells us that looking down on people because they are poor or sick is shameful behavior and an affront to their human rights. But sadly, many ignored this.

A Genuine Religion Imparts Courage and Strength

The problem with illness is not only physical symptoms, but the fact that it can even rob people of the hope to live, destroy their livelihood and sense of well-being, and put their future on hold.

A genuine “religion for the people” fights head-on against this negativity that Buddhism calls “the devil of illness,” giving people the courage and strength to go on living while restoring their human dignity.

With happiness for all as our highest aim, we of the Soka Gakkai have striven alongside those who are suffering at the margins of society—always encouraging one another as we overcome life’s hardships and celebrate our victories together. This history is the pride of the members of Soka, who have forged ahead with a vow to stand forever on the side of the people.

Overcoming the Sufferings of Aging, Sickness and Death

Buddhism directly confronts the inescapable human realities of aging, sickness and death, and seeks to solve the suffering they cause.

Everyone wants to enjoy health, live long and find happiness. For that reason, Buddhism’s perceptive insights on life are certain to offer ever brighter hope to humanity.

Over the next few installments, I would like to share important passages from Nichiren Daishonin’s writings based on the theme “Toward a Century of Health: The Wisdom for Leading a Long Life of Good Fortune and Benefit,” beginning with a well-known passage from “The Good Medicine for All Ills.”

“Good Medicine” for the Ills of All Humankind

Could not this illness … be the Buddha’s design, because the Vimalakirti and Nirvana sutras both teach that sick people will surely attain Buddhahood? Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way. (“The Good Medicine for All Ills,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 937)

Nichiren Daishonin wrote these heartfelt words of encouragement to the lay nun Myoshin, who was caring for her sick husband, the lay priest Takahashi. [2]

Founding Soka Gakkai President Tsunesaburo Makiguchi regarded this passage as very important and often referred to it when encouraging the members.

The lay priest Takahashi’s condition was quite grave, and his wife was no doubt extremely worried.

The Daishonin warmly embraces the couple through this letter, telling them that the “five characters of Myoho-renge-kyo”[3] are “good medicine for the ills of the people of Jambudvipa [the entire world],” adding, “Could not this illness … be the Buddha’s design” (WND-1, 937). I am sure Nichiren’s great compassion relieved their anxiety and brought them profound comfort and peace of mind.

He is telling us that when we are unexpectedly confronted by the suffering of sickness, we should not regard it with abhorrence. Rather, we should view it as an integral part of the precious experience of being alive, and as an indispensable step in our journey to attain Buddhahood in this lifetime and to enjoy eternal happiness. By doing so, we will recognize becoming ill as a “crucial moment” for rousing stronger faith than ever. With this spirit, we can definitely overcome the trials of illness and gain a deeper appreciation of life while achieving enormous personal growth.

“Birth and Death Are Originally Inherent in Life Itself”

The Vimalakirti Sutra describes an exchange between Vimalakirti, a lay believer practicing the bodhisattva way who is sick in bed, and Bodhisattva Manjushri, a leading disciple of the Buddha. Manjushri visits Vimalakirti and asks why he has fallen ill, to which the latter replies: “Because all living beings are sick, therefore I am sick.”[4] Vimalakirti further goes on to state, “The illness of the bodhisattva arises from his great compassion.”[5] He is saying, in other words, that the bodhisattva spirit is to take on illness in order to share the sufferings of all living beings, and that doing so is part of bodhisattva practice.

In the Nirvana Sutra as well, the Buddha assumes the appearance of a sick person. The Daishonin says that this is to demonstrate “that sick people will surely attain Buddhahood” (WND-1, 937).

The Lotus Sutra also describes the Buddha as having some ills and worries (see The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 254). Buddhas and bodhisattvas, just like all people, embody the principle of the “mutual possession of the Ten Worlds”[6] and as such cannot avoid the four universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death. As Nichiren teaches, “birth and death are originally inherent in life itself” (see The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, p. 127). Illness is a natural part of life.

Falling ill is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sign that we have failed in some way. Yet, some may start to have doubts, wondering why they became sick despite practicing Nichiren Buddhism, or berate themselves for falling ill at a particular time. That is why it’s important to view things from the perspective of faith that illness is “the Buddha’s design” (WND-1, 937). Because we embrace the great teaching of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, there is no karmic suffering we cannot overcome. We have no need for worry or fear. What counts is how we face illness, our attitude in dealing with it.

The Noble Spirit to Seek the Buddha Way

Nichiren Daishonin writes, “Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way” (WND-1, 937). “The resolve to attain the way” is the spirit to seek the Buddha way, to enter the path to attaining Buddhahood.

By chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and confronting illness with the determination not to be defeated by it, we can expand our inner life state of Buddhahood and lead deeper, stronger, nobler lives. We can then experience the benefit of seeing sickness, aging and death for what they are and face them without fear.

Discussing the fact that the Buddha also had some ills and worries, Mr. Toda said that if the Buddha didn’t experience illness himself, he wouldn’t be relatable to those who were suffering from illness and therefore could not lead them to enlightenment.[7] In this way, he asserted that illness, too, has profound meaning in our lives.

Gaining a Deeper Appreciation for Our Life and Mission

Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), who underwent numerous bouts of ill health, sagely observed: “Illness should be viewed as a natural condition of life.”[8] In addition, he said: “No illness can prevent a person from what he has to do”;[9] and “A person can fulfill his purpose in life equally as well in illness as in health.”[10]

In other words, when we view illness as one of life’s inherent sufferings, we can appreciate the true richness of the experience of being alive.

Buddhism views illness as “an innate part of life” (OTT, 174). When we are confronted with illness, we come to understand the importance of health and the preciousness of life. We can gain a deeper appreciation of our own life and mission.

In addition, our determination, strong faith and prayers to battle our illness impart courage and hope to those around us. They demonstrate the nobility of the human spirit. Health and illness are one and inseparable. In Nichiren Buddhism, we can transform illness into mission.

“Nam-myoho-renge-kyo Is Like the Roar of a Lion”

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle? (“Reply to Kyo’o,” WND-1, 412)[11]

Countless Soka Gakkai members have battled against and triumphed over the devil of illness by drawing inspiration from this passage from “Reply to Kyo’o.”

Earlier in this writing, Nichiren Daishonin says that he himself has been praying “every moment of the day” (WND-1, 412) for the recovery of Kyo’o, the infant daughter of two lay disciples. Here, he is encouraging Kyo’o’s parents by affirming that no illness can harm those who chant the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; illness will be subdued, just as the lion’s roar strikes terror in all other beasts.

Members throughout Japan and around the world, sharing the mission of Bodhisattvas of the Earth, have always roused the courage and determination not to be defeated by the devil of illness, as the Daishonin teaches. There is no storm of obstacles or devilish functions that can block our direct path to attaining Buddhahood, the great path to happiness and victory in kosen-rufu and in life. We will not allow anything to obstruct our way.

As long as we continue to chant the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, then in accord with Nichiren’s words “Misfortune will change into fortune” (WND-1, 412), we will surely change poison into medicine[12] and transform our karma.[13] Of this there is no doubt. Nothing is a match for the power of the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo chanted by Soka mentors and disciples.

The Difference Between Illness and the Devil of Illness

I would now like to confirm that there is a difference between illness and the devil of illness.

Illness is a universal suffering; none of us is a stranger to it. But it can cause us to sink into despair, to give up on life and to lose the strength to go on living. This aspect of illness that drains people of their vitality, acting as a “robber of life,” is why Buddhism views illness as a “devil,” or a devilish function.

We need to see this devilish aspect of illness for what it is and courageously combat it through the power of our Buddhist faith and practice. We must resolve not to be defeated by it. Through battling and triumphing over the devil of illness, we can reveal our Buddhahood.

The United Prayers of Mentor and Disciple

When I was young, I suffered from tuberculosis and a weak constitution. The doctors even said they didn’t expect me to reach the age of 30.

While fighting on the front lines of our movement for kosen-rufu as Josei Toda’s disciple, and working tirelessly to make fresh breakthroughs for victory, I was constantly afflicted by a low-grade fever and chronic pain. I was bitterly frustrated, wishing I could be healthy and strong.

I remember being scolded by Mr. Toda one day as I was making frantic efforts to help him resolve his business difficulties amid the economic chaos of postwar Japan. Perhaps noticing how pale and exhausted I was, he said: “Daisaku! You haven’t got an ounce of life force! If your life force is weak, you’ll be defeated.”

He led me over to the Gohonzon, sat down with me and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo with a force that literally seemed to batter the devil of illness into submission. His chanting truly was a lion’s roar.

Inspired by my mentor’s tough love, I roused fresh courage and summoned forth the boundless life force of a charging lion. In this way, my mentor made it possible for me to defeat the devil of illness, and forge a life of health and longevity so that I could fulfill my mission for kosen-rufu. For this, I am eternally grateful to him.

In The Record of the Orally Transmitted Teachings, Nichiren explains the term “lion’s roar,” saying, “The ‘roar’ is the sound of the teacher and the disciples chanting in unison”  (p. 111). The Soka Gakkai has overcome every form of adversity through the united prayers of mentors and disciples chanting the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Attaining a State of Complete Happiness and Freedom

Josei Toda always took the lead in offering personal guidance to members, and he squarely addressed the problems they were facing. He regularly held Q&A sessions to listen to individual members’ concerns, which were often about illness.

He keenly perceived whether the person asking the question was determined to fight the devil of illness through faith. He gave strict guidance to anyone he felt was not taking responsibility for their situation or showed signs of resignation or doubt.

Many people feel very vulnerable when they fall ill. Chanting the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the only way to vanquish the devilish functions that undermine our confidence. When our lives reverberate with that all-powerful lion’s roar, we have nothing to fear.

In “Reply to Kyo’o,” the Daishonin also says, “Wherever your daughter may frolic or play, no harm will come to her; she will move about without fear like the lion king” (WND-1, 412).

As long as we continue to chant the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, then no matter what illness, hardship or misfortune we face, we can “move about without fear like the lion king.” We will experience a state of complete happiness and freedom in accord with the Lotus Sutra passage that says “living beings enjoy themselves at ease” (LSOC, 272).[14]

Chanting this way may be difficult for a child as young as Kyo’o. Even adults can find it hard to do gongyo and chant when in the hospital or struggling with a serious illness. Sometimes they have no choice but to chant silently in their hearts. But the lion’s roar of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo chanted by their family and fellow members will reach and permeate their lives without fail. “What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (WND-1, 412), writes Nichiren. Let us have deep conviction in these words.

“Rely on the Power of the Lotus Sutra”

Throughout his writings, Nichiren Daishonin encourages many disciples—men, women, young and old—in their battles with illness.

To the lay nun Toki, who had grown disheartened by her protracted illness, he writes: “Because you are a votary of the Lotus Sutra, you will not meet an untimely death. … You could rely on the power of the Lotus Sutra to cure it” (“The Bow and Arrow,” WND-1, 656).

He continues: “Be deeply convinced … that your illness cannot possibly persist, and that your life cannot fail to be extended! Take care of yourself, and do not burden your mind with grief” (WND-1, 656). He encourages her to advance with great conviction that she will defeat the devil of illness.

Rebuking the Devil of Illness

When Nanjo Tokimitsu was gravely ill, Nichiren Daishonin, in spite of being ill himself, sternly rebuked the devilish functions plaguing his disciple, saying, “You demons, by making this man [Tokimitsu] suffer, are you trying to swallow a sword point first, or embrace a raging fire, or become the archenemy of the Buddhas of the ten directions in the three existences?” (“The Proof of the Lotus Sutra,” WND-1, 1109).

Given courage by the Daishonin’s fierce lion’s roar, Tokimitsu went on to vanquish the devil of illness and lead a long life dedicated to fulfilling his mission for kosen-rufu.

Regardless of the difficulties and challenges illness may present, we need to have faith in our potential and live our lives to the fullest to the very end. Living with such strength and resilience is itself actual proof of victory in terms of health.

The Natural Behavior of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law

One spring in the last years of his life, when he was suffering from ill health, Nichiren Daishonin received an offering of wakame seaweed and other gifts from a disciple who came to visit him. In a letter expressing his appreciation, he says that the visit, and the wakame especially, made him feel fit enough to go tiger hunting or even ride a lion (see “On Three Seating Mats,” WND-2, 991).[15]

“I feel so much better thanks to you”—how this sincere message from Nichiren must have moved and inspired this disciple.

Through his example of living dauntlessly to the very end, the Daishonin gave countless others the courage to go on living. This is the natural behavior of the Buddha of the Latter Day of the Law.

The Buddhist Philosophy of Life Is a Beacon of Hope for Our Times

When we look at the history of humanity, it is, in one sense, an unending battle between human beings and illness. We have achieved a great deal in our efforts to promote health and longevity, and many previously incurable illnesses can now be treated. The World Health Organization’s 1980 declaration of the eradication of smallpox shines with special brilliance as one of the great successes of human knowledge and ingenuity.

But since the sufferings of birth, aging, sickness and death are inevitable, our battles against illness will persist. Many Soka Gakkai members have continued to struggle undefeated against the devil of illness and win, demonstrating the dignity and power of their lives while gaining countless precious experiences of victory.

This way of life based on Nichiren Buddhism is certain to become a beacon of hope for our times. Now more than ever, people are seeking, on the deepest level, a light source of wisdom for health—a philosophy for leading a healthy life in the truest sense.

Become Champions of Health and Good Fortune!

Let us summon from our lives the strength, wisdom and tenacity to live on, while also bringing forth compassion, courage and creativity. Let us press steadily ahead from today onward, one step after another, dedicating our lives to realizing happiness for ourselves and for others.

My wife, Kaneko, and I are continuing to pray fervently each day that all our fellow Bodhisattvas of the Earth, without exception, will be wise champions of health, good fortune and happiness, and that they will enjoy life to the fullest.

Translated from the September 2019 issue of the Daibyakurenge, the Soka Gakkai’s monthly study journal.


  1. Linus Pauling and Daisaku Ikeda, A Lifelong Quest for Peace: A Dialogue (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), p. 44. ↩︎
  2. The couple, both disciples of Nichiren Daishonin, resided in Fuji District, Suruga Province (present-day central Shizuoka Prefecture). ↩︎
  3. Myoho-renge-kyo is written with five Chinese characters, while Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is written with seven (nam, or namu, being composed of two characters). The Daishonin often uses Myoho-renge-kyo synonymously with Nam-myoho-renge-kyo in his writings. ↩︎
  4. The Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Burton Watson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), p. 65. ↩︎
  5. Ibid., p. 66. ↩︎
  6. Mutual possession of the Ten Worlds: The principle that each of the Ten Worlds possesses the potential for all ten within itself. “Mutual possession” means that life is not fixed in one or another of the Ten Worlds, but can manifest any of the ten—from the world of Hell to the world of Buddhahood—at any given moment. The important point of this principle is that all beings in any of the nine worlds possess the Buddha nature. This means that every person has the potential to manifest Buddhahood, while a Buddha also possesses the nine worlds and, in this sense, is not separate or different from ordinary people. ↩︎
  7. Translated from Japanese. See Josei Toda, Toda Josei zenshu (Collected Writings of Josei Toda), vol. 2 (Tokyo: Seikyo Shimbunsha, 1982), p. 335. ↩︎
  8. Leo Tolstoy, A Calendar of Wisdom, translated by Peter Sekirin (New York: Scribner, 1997), p. 292. ↩︎
  9. Ibid. ↩︎
  10. Ibid., p. 132. ↩︎
  11. This brief letter was written in 1273, when Nichiren was residing at Ichinosawa on Sado Island. It was sent to two of his disciples who had written to him about their infant daughter, Kyo’o, who had fallen seriously ill. ↩︎
  12. Changing poison into medicine: The principle that a life dominated by the three paths of earthly desires, karma and suffering can be transformed into a life manifesting the three virtues of the Dharma body, wisdom and emancipation through practicing the Mystic Law. This phrase is found in a passage from the Treatise on the Great Perfection of Wisdom, which mentions “a great physician who can change poison into medicine.” ↩︎
  13. Transforming karma: The principle that even seemingly fixed karma can be transformed for the better through correct Buddhist practice. Nichiren Buddhism teaches that the life state of Buddhahood is inherent in all living beings and by opening it we can attain enlightenment and transform our karma. ↩︎
  14. In “Life Span,” the 16th chapter of the Lotus Sutra, the world in which we dwell is described as a place “where living beings enjoy themselves at ease” (The Lotus Sutra and Its Opening and Closing Sutras, p. 272). This indicates that the saha world, normally regarded as a realm of suffering, is actually the Land of Eternally Tranquil Light, or a Buddha realm, where all living beings can experience the greatest enjoyment. ↩︎
  15. In the letter “On Three Seating Mats,” the Daishonin writes: “Your visit from the first to the fourth day of the third month was a great comfort to me. The illness that had made me so thin seemed to go away and I felt fit enough to go tiger hunting. And thanks to your gift of wakame, I think I could even ride a lion” (WND-2, 991). ↩︎

Dedicate This Supremely Noble Life to Buddhism