The Living Buddha
Republished by Middleway Press in the U.S. in 2008, this biographical account of Shakyamuni weaves together what is known and what can be surmised about his life and times. The author draws on the Buddhist canon for its narratives to provide insights into this historic figure who dedicated his life to helping all people free themselves from suffering.
Shakyamuni, known historically as the Buddha, was said to have attained enlightenment about the essential nature of life and then went on to teach others. Ikeda’s rendering shows Shakyamuni as not a mystic but a warm and engaged human being who was very much a product of his turbulent times. His was an exemplary life in transcending much the same kinds of circumstances we face in our own times of rapid change.
The author provides insights that reveal the struggles of Shakyamuni as not only accessible but those commonly felt by all humanity. Describing Shakyamuni’s hesitation to preach the enlightenment he had attained, Ikeda writes: “The enlightened man has sufferings known only to himself, for he alone is aware of the wisdom he has achieved. All the great pioneers and teachers in history have experienced this problem . . . But when once he rises up in determination, then the world of truth that is within himself will be transmitted to the rest of the men of the world in a form that is capable of awakening a universal response within them as well. Only then will his sense of loneliness be dispelled.”
These insights derive as much from Ikeda’s interpretive view as from the extensive sources he cites. A follower of the teachings of 13th-century Buddhist reformer Nichiren, Ikeda places emphasis on the purpose of Shakyamuni’s existence and the aim of Buddhism.
Translated by Burton Watson, The Living Buddha is an important contribution to writings on Shakyamuni and his legacy, and a perceptive introduction to the founder of one of the world’s major religions.