Buddhism squarely faces the reality of the "four sufferings" of birth, aging, sickness and death, but as SGI President Daisaku Ikeda comments, "It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same thing... There are certainly many people who, as they age, become increasingly vigorous and energetic, more broad-minded and tolerant, living with a greater sense of freedom and assurance."
Such people remain youthful by developing and holding onto hope, enthusiasm, optimism and forward motion, and they seem to have suffered no erosion of the spirit with the passing of time. Sadly, there are also younger people who have already lost hope and seem prematurely old.
Perhaps, Ikeda suggests, in order to acquire true youthfulness, we must repeatedly make fresh determinations right up until the last moment of our lives. He draws on the message of the Lotus Sutra to show that it is in our commitment to the happiness and well-being of others that we experience this kind of "extension" or expansion of our lives.
The Lotus Sutra is unique among Buddhist scriptures in that it promises that those who hear it can find perpetual youth and eternal life. Happiness is not found in a heaven-like afterworld, but amidst the trials and challenges of real life. By developing and deepening our compassion for others, it is possible to attain an inner state of life which touches the eternal and seems to transcend death.
Shakyamuni describes the quality of his own enlightenment as an eternal and enduring life-state characterized by constant vitality and rejuvenation. He then stresses that it is his unchanging wish to enable all people to experience this elevated condition of life. The question, then, is just how we can attain that same eternally fresh and youthful state of life.
The Lotus Sutra provides the model of Bodhisattva Never Disparaging who, through his deeply respectful attitude toward everyone he met, sought to awaken others to the inherent Buddhahood within their lives, even as he was mocked and vilified for this. The result of his actions and his attitude was the attainment of the enlightened life condition of a Buddha. Similarly, the way to elevate our own state of life is through a personal commitment to taking action for the happiness of both ourselves and others.
Nichiren, the 13th-century Japanese founder of the Lotus Sutra-based school of Buddhism practiced by the members of the SGI, believed that a fundamental desire to contribute to the happiness of self and others is something already shared at the deepest level by all people, but that often our own preoccupations and problems prevent us from perceiving it.
When we wholeheartedly commit ourselves to "remembering" or retrieving that wish or vow from our subconscious mind and living an engaged and contributive life, we can tap previously unknown resources of wisdom, courage and compassion--in other words, the Buddha state. This does not literally mean that our physical lives will necessarily become longer, but when we awaken to and attune our lives to this deeper compassionate purpose, the whole quality and experience of living will be enhanced so that a single moment can become a profound and joyful experience in which we discover limitless energy and vitality.
Through such an awakening, people who have been overwhelmed by their own suffering can begin to live a purposeful life in which their own compassion, creativity and will determine their direction. This, rather than any counting of years or days, is what Buddhism means by a state in which we can enjoy perpetual youthfulness.