Myokyo Magazine – September 2010 (pp. 8-9, 11-14)
….The Sanctity of Life
Due to the rapid development of medical science, together with the myriad problems that we face in our complex, present day society, clearly defining existence is truly challenging from a biological, philosophical, and medical perspective. However, the Daishonin states in the Gosho, “On Prolonging Life”:
Life is the most precious of all treasures. Even one extra day of life is worth more than ten million ryo of gold.
(Gosho, p. 760; MW-1, p. 230)
He also states:
One day of life is more valuable than all the treasures of the universe.
(ibid., p. 231)
The Daishonin teaches that life is the greatest treasure. It must be respected, and if there is any possibility to extend one’s life by even a day, this is equivalent to 10,000,000 coins of gold. This is not only true for human beings—life is the greatest treasure for all living beings in the sentient world. The Daishonin states the following regarding this point in, “On Recommending this Teaching to your Lord” (“Shukun ninyu shihomon men yadozai ji”):
The foremost treasure of sentient beings is nothing other than life itself. Those who take life are doomed to fall into the three evil paths. Wheel-turning kings observed the precept of “not to kill” as the first of the ten good precepts. The Buddha preached the five precepts at the starting point of the Hinayana sutras and made “not to kill” the first of them. The Buddha also taught “not to kill” as the first of the ten major precepts in the Bommo Sutra of Mahayana. The Juryo chapter of the Lotus Sutra contains the blessings of Shakyamuni Buddha’s precept “not to kill.” Consequently, those who take life will be forsaken by all the Buddhas in the three existences, and the gods of the six heavens of the world of desire will not protect them.
(Gosho, p. 743; MW-6, p. 89)
Those who take life from sentient beings, which is considered the greatest treasure, will fall into the three evil paths of hell, hunger, and animality. Furthermore, the Wheel-turning kings become kings through following the ten major precepts. The number one precept among these ten is not to kill living beings. Even within Hinayana Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism, the precepts always begin with the prohibition against taking the life of living beings. Therefore, abiding by this precept is considered extremely important.
The Life Span (Juryo; sixteenth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra teaches the truth of Shakyamuni’s life, which has existed from time without beginning and always is present. This is a teaching worthy of respect. Looking at it from a different perspective, through thoroughly abiding by the precept of not killing living beings, the life of the Buddha is revealed as being continuously present. Therefore, this chapter can be viewed from the standpoint of revealing the fortune derived by following the precept of not taking life. Following this viewpoint, if one commits the heavy negative cause of taking life, there will be no protection from the guardian deities (shoten zenjin) or the various Buddhas.
The Daishonin teaches the following in “Letter to Myomitsu Shonin” (“Myomitsu shonin goshosoku”):
Every being, from the highest sage on down to the smallest mosquito or deer fly, holds life to be its most precious possession. To deprive a being of life is to commit the gravest kind of sin. When the Buddha appeared in this world, he made compassion for living beings his basis. And as an expression of compassion for living beings, not to take life and to provide sustenance for the living are the most important precepts.
(Gosho, p. 964; MW-5, p. 189)
Sage refers to a Buddha or bodhisattva. Every being, from the Buddha to a mosquito or deer fly, has the ten worlds and holds life to be the greatest treasure. The Buddhist teachings fundamentally instruct us to have compassion for living beings. The Buddha states that in order to practice compassion, one must not take life. Instead, one must provide sustenance through food and almsgiving, which will extend life.
Now, let us consider why life is considered to be so important from the standpoint of the Lotus Sutra. The reason is because all life exists within the ten worlds and therefore possesses the Buddha nature.
(Note: This article can be read in its entirety in the June, 2011 edition of the Nichiren Shoshu Monthly magazine. For more information, please contact your local temple.)