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Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death

Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death
Pub. Year

2003 (2nd edition)
1982 (paperback)


Middleway Press


4-7700-1026-5 (paperback)

Since the first English edition of Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, in 1988 (Macdonald & Co.), breakthroughs in such fields as stem-cell research have propelled the medical questions of what constitutes life and what constitutes death into public debate. While these are taken up in the author’s three-way dialogue On Being Human with cancer researcher Rene Simard and bioethicist Guy Bourgeault, this second edition of Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death takes up the philosophical and spiritual aspects of these questions from the Nichiren Buddhist view.

Buddhism identifies birth and death, along with aging and sickness, as universal or worldly sufferings. (Birth is a suffering because life gives rise to aging, sickness and death.) The Lotus Sutra, which Nichiren Buddhism holds as the core of the Mahayana movement, teaches that without the basic human impulses and the problems of life and death there can, in fact, be no enlightenment. This is the premise for Ikeda’s discussion of life and death.

“By taking a close look at each of the four sufferings,” Ikeda writes, “this book seeks to illuminate the truth and wisdom necessary to sail calmly over the troubled sea of worldly suffering.”

Integral to his discussion are references to luminaries such as Goethe and Montaigne on the philosophical qualities of living and dying. The spectrum of these qualities is enlarged by events such as the September 11, 2001 tragedies which claimed thousands of lives and affected millions; anecdotal stories of people such as Helen Keller and Leonardo da Vinci; and clinical studies by researchers such as Raymond Moody and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Beyond the theoretical, the philosophical and the scientific, Ikeda draws out from Buddhism practical wisdom in fully facing aging and death: “If we do not understand the nature of our lives—the fleeting aspect as well as the eternal—we can neither live meaningfully nor die in peace.”

This second English edition includes a new Preface by the author. There are also Japanese, Italian, Spanish, German and Romanian editions.


Chapter One: Birth
Chapter Two: Aging
Chapter Three: Illness and the Medicine of Buddhism
Chapter Four: Death
Chapter Five: Life’s Unlimited Potential
Chapter Six: The Nine Consciousnesses
Chapter Seven: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

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