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Rissho Kosei-kai
International of North America
Buddhism for Today
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President's Message

Finding a Purpose in Life

 

RKINA Pres. Nichiko Niwano

“You Too Will Die”

This month, we observe the anniversary of Shakyamuni Buddha entering nirvana (February 15) and we, as Buddhists, give praise to his virtues and further deepen our study of the Buddha’s teachings. What is it, then, that Shakyamuni tells us
through his own “death”?

To me, he is teaching us the truth that all living things, without exception, will die. In Buddhism, there is the phrase “life and death are one and inseparable”—that is, living and dying are two sides of the same coin. In other words, what we call “life” actually consists of both living and dying. But we have difficulty accepting one half of that pair: death. For many people, it is something frightening that they want to avoid. However, this is exactly why Shakyamuni explained to us, through his own physical body, the truth of this world: that “you too will die.”

Shakyamuni is not, of course, only teaching us this one truth through his death. He is also teaching us the meaning of being born and living as human beings in the middle of the great stream of life into which all things are born and die.

Chapter 10 of the Lotus Sutra, “Teachers of the Dharma,” contains this line: “Out of compassion for living beings, they will be born in this human realm.” We can understand this passage as meaning that since Shakyamuni could hardly bear seeing the incessant worrying and suffering of human beings, he appeared in our world. However, this is not only true of Shakyamuni. Keeping this in mind, let’s consider what it means for us to be alive.

The Meaning of Being Alive

“Teachers of the Dharma” also says, “Filled with heartfelt sympathy for living beings, they have vowed to be born among them.” In other words, we wished to be born into a world that has many sufferings. From a different perspective, suffering as well as joy exist in this saha world, and we human beings have the capability of grasping the truth (the way things really are), which is precisely why we are living here and now.

It is truly painful and tragic when our family members and the people close to us get sick or die. We ourselves cannot escape illness and death. However, when we’ve thoroughly experienced that pain, sadness, and fear, our eyes may open to the truth. Suffering, sadness, and pain point us toward liberation.

Here, “liberation” indicates finding the meaning of life—and even a reason to live. For instance, turning adversity into the power to change direction and move forward when life seems to have hit rock bottom.

When it comes to liberation as a reason to live, there’s no need to take this too seriously. That is to say, the impetus for attaining this liberation could be, for example, doing your very best at cooking dinner or being cheerful when greeting people. No matter how insignificant actions like this may seem to be, taking joy in what only you can do brings joy to those around you. This is the true meaning of being alive and having a reason to live, isn’t it?

The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Emil Frankl (1905–97) said, “Human beings need not ask the meaning of life; they should only seek answers to the questions life poses to them.” When it comes to regarding our fate, about which we can do nothing, what’s important is to accept events as they happen and find something positive in them.

We could say that this awareness or awakening, when repeated, is life. The Buddhist monk Ryokan (1758–1831) wrote, “If one asks what is suffering in this world, the answer is that there are people who do not yet know the Dharma.” Those of us who have accepted the Buddha’s teachings are always receiving the Dharma of living with a purpose.

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From Kosei, February 2020

 


Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.


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