Nothing is more devastating than the loss of people who have been an integral part of our lives – the parent who raised us, the partner who shared our joys and sorrows, the treasured child or grandchild, the close friend or neighbour.
When I think of the intense pain of those who have lost loved ones, I am reminded of the following words of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. They are from his journal written after he had lost his five-year-old son to illness, a poignant recording of his grief:
‘The sun went up in the morning sky with all his light, but the landscape was dishonoured by this loss. For this boy in whose remembrance I have both slept and awaked so oft, decorated for me the morning star, and the evening cloud …’
In the face of an unprecedented global pandemic, so many people in India are experiencing a similar sense of loss today.
The starting point of Buddhism was the effort to reach out to suffering people, help them revive a sense of hope, and open up a way to move forward. As numerous episodes from the life of the Buddha show, his unflagging focus was to remove the underlying causes of the suffering of each individual.
Nichiren, who expounded and spread the teachings of Buddhism in 13th-century Japan based on the ‘Lotus Sutra’, continued to offer encouragement in the same spirit to people tormented by a series of natural disasters, famines and widespread epidemics.
On one occasion, he wrote warm words of condolence to a female disciple who had lost her husband, asserting that “winter always turns to spring.” Nichiren sought to convey the following message of encouragement: At present, you may be overwhelmed by despair as if the icy winds of winter were pressing upon you. But this will not continue forever. Winter never fails to turn to spring. I urge you to live out your life with courage and strength.
Though our present circumstances differ from those of Nichiren’s time, the widespread chaos brought about by this pandemic has forced many people to shoulder the burden of their suffering alone. Without the support of a social safety net or close personal connections, their world will remain bleak.
This is why it is crucial that we build the strong social foundations for eliminating misery so that we never leave behind those struggling in the depths of adversity.
This determination underlies and drives the Soka Gakkai International’s efforts to pursue solutions to global challenges, in cooperation with like-minded organisations, and to extend a human network of warm encouragement throughout society.
The pandemic has gravely impacted our world, and finding our way out of this labyrinth will be far from easy. Nevertheless, I believe the ‘Ariadne’s thread’ that will enable each of us to emerge from the crisis will come into clear view when we focus on treasuring each person and earnestly consider what is most urgently needed in order to protect and support that individual.
(Daisaku Ikeda is honorary president of the Soka Gakkai and founder of the Soka schools system. He lives in Japan.)