When I was a child, my mother was working at a bank. There was a customer who was hard of hearing and so would communicate with my mother through writing. So my mother developed an interest in learning sign language to at least be able to sign a greeting to her.
I was in elementary school at the time and started learning sign language by my mother’s side as if it was some kind of a hand game. Thanks to such an opportunity, I developed an interest in helping people with physical disabilities and so started to do volunteer activities.
Though I was a little kid, I was very happy to be of assistance to others, so I happily engaged in volunteer work. But when I became a senior in elementary school, there was a turning point in my life. That was my first encounter with a boy my age who had Down Syndrome. He was unable to move his arms or legs or speak. All he could utter was “aa—” “uu‒‒”.
I would think, “If his mother didn’t give him food, he would easily die. What is he living for?” Then suddenly I realized this: indeed, this boy cannot run or play with his friends or study like I do, and when he becomes an adult, he won’t be able to work either. He would probably end his life just the way he is now. People talk about the right of all humans to pursue happiness, but this person with down syndrome cannot live a life according to the general expectations of a happy life, whereas I can live any life I want to. Why then can it be said all lives are equally precious?
I started wondering why it is said that human life is heavier than the heaviness of all things. This vague question I’d always had in my mind since childhood turned into a big source distress for me as I started having troubles in relations with other people during my adolescent years.
Just about that time, all over the country, there was a rise in suicides amongst elementary and junior high school students who were victims of bullying. TV dramas and newspapers kept saying, “You must never commit suicide. Life is precious.” But why is life precious? No one was giving a clear answer to this question. No matter what a happy life one may lead, everyone must die at the end.
If I don’t know the answer to the question of why we live and run up against misfortune, I too may commit suicide. When I thought of this reality, uneasiness filled up my whole existence. Why is life so important? Why must we not commit suicide? I want to know the answer.
“Alright, once I go to university, I can interact with different kinds of people and so can establish my own answer about why we live,” I thought, and I applied to some universities. What was awaiting me there was an encounter with the teachings of Master Shinran!
“Ah, how hard it is, even in many lifetimes, to encounter the strong power of Amida’s Vow! How hard it is, even in myriad aeons, to obtain faith that is true and real!”
Master Shinran teaches that life exists for us to attain a joy that continues to live within us, a joy that is hard to experience even in many lifetimes! Ah, that is what life is for! That is what life is for! That’s the very reason why we must never commit suicide! How precious and important life is! I could see what the purpose of life is, and the doubts I always had in the back of my mind about life started to disappear.
I’d like to share the joy of having encountered the real purpose of life. That’s what I always wished for.
Rieko Yamada, Toyama
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #41, Is Life Really Equal?
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