Commemorating what is nearly the 40th anniversary of World Teacher Ryuho Okawa’s own enlightenment, attained on March 23, 1981, The Laws of Great Enlightenment outlines a detailed and sobering account of precisely what enlightenment is. As a word that is tossed around frequently in current times, it is refreshing to have a practical assessment of a concept such as this which can be so easily obscured.
Unlike the weekend workshop gurus who promise enlightenment for a fee and leave their clients confused and wanting more, Okawa clarifies that enlightenment is neither a sudden and spontaneous state of being nor the automatic state of all human beings. Instead, Okawa explains that enlightenment must be worked toward and maintained throughout one’s lifetime. A notable portion of The Laws of Great Enlightenment is devoted toward criticizing the “sudden enlightenment” of Zen Buddhism, which he perceives as a corruption and a degeneration from the original Buddhist teachings, and one that may tend toward both nihilism and a materialist attitude.
Neither is the pursuit of enlightenment an excuse to neglect one’s worldly pursuits and responsibilities. By contrast, Okawa posits the notion that much of the value in attaining enlightenment exists in the ability to altruistically contribute the fruits of one’s spiritual development unto the world.
The human condition is explored in this work as concerns the human desires for property, sexual love, eating and drinking, fame, and sleep. Instead of denying these qualities that are inevitably inherent to all humans, Okawa proposes that humans learn to be the master of them and to live a life of moderation. It is not that the desires disappear or are suppressed, but rather that they, and the mind itself, are not allowed to act as the master. Such is a very grounded approach to Buddhism and to spirituality in general, and is one that people struggling with guilt concerning their human nature can benefit from studying.
Okawa does away with the misinterpreted notions of “emptiness” and “egolessness” that are rampant amongst modern students of Buddhism. Instead, he explains that, while all humans are individuals, each with an individual soul, they are inextricably interconnected with all things. This is the core meaning of the popular Buddhist teaching of compassion; it is the realization of oneness with all, and such is a key to what comprises genuine enlightenment.
The topic of forgiveness is explored at depth in this work. It is not always easy to forgive, but, as Okawa suggests, there is no purpose in holding a lifelong grudge. A period of anger is natural and acceptable, but eventually it is time to move on, lest one’s begrudging feelings lead, potentially, to physical ailment. It is as Shakyamuni Buddha said: “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”
Speaking of Shakyamuni Buddha, Okawa explains that a notable reason for his historical success was that, having been born as a prince, he had been trained in a managerial and economic capacity to be a successful leader. Such is an oft ignored, albeit crucial, matter of importance pertaining to the early and enduring success of Buddhism for over 2,500 years. It may be observed that, similarly to Shakyamuni Buddha, Ryuho Okawa began his career with extensive business training, and this has undoubtedly engendered the international success of the Happy Science Group that he founded.
The Laws of Great Enlightenment is a book that any person in the modern world with an interest in Buddhism can benefit from reading. It is grounded, practical, and outlines a balanced path to enlightenment that is attainable for any person, regardless of lifestyle, who is willing to put continuous effort into their spiritual development.