Why Do We Extend Our Lives?

It’s been a month since I moved to Los Angeles. Previously, I was in Hokkaido, which is the coldest part of Japan, so I feel more comfortable now living in Southern California with the bright sunlight and brisk breeze.

The other day I happened to read a survey on the Internet concerning suicide, which surprised me a lot. What kind of profession do you think has the highest rate of suicide? According to this survey, the 5th highest is police officers. The cause might be, it was explained, that they are always being exposed to stressful situations physically and mentally. The 4th highest is lawyers. Maybe it’s because they have too much pressure doing their job.

Ranked 3rd were people working in finance. It seems they have been having a hard time since the economic downturn precipitated by the Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy in 2008. The 2nd highest were dentists, and the 1st, doctors. It was to my great surprise that health professionals ranked first and second. The saying goes that “Human life is heavier than the heaviness of all.” We feel doctors must know the preciousness of life and that’s why they endeavor so much to extend the lives of their patients. But this survey indicates that even doctors are in the dark regarding the reason why we have to keep on living amid all the hardships and anguish; they don't know why we must extend our lives even if it means undergoing organ transplants. Of course there is no doubt about the importance of saving people’s lives, but what is it that people are supposed to do with their new lease on life? Even doctors don't seem to know the answer to this question. Isn’t this a big contradiction? Where can we find the answer?

2,600 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Human form is difficult to obtain, I have already obtained it.” He taught the real joy of life that exults, “How glad I was born a human!” “I was born a human to achieve this mission alone!” When we achieve the purpose of life, he taught, this great joy arises in us. He therefore exhorted us to achieve it quickly. Then what is the real purpose of life? Fortunately we have come to realize this because Master Shinran clarified the answer. Now let us read You Were Born For A Reason.

The introduction to Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, Shinran’s most important work, begins with these lines:

Amida’s inconceivable Vow is a great ship that carries us across the sea

that is difficult to cross, and his unimpeded light is the sun of wisdom

that destroys the mind of darkness.

This is a great manifesto for all humanity. It means that Amida’s Vow to save all beings is the sun that eradicates the darkness which is the root of human suffering, and a great ship on which all are borne cheerfully and happily across life’s sea of endless waves of tribulation. To board this ship is indeed the purpose of life.

What does it actually mean to board the great ship that carries us across the sea of suffering? Answering that question is the theme of this book. In a nutshell, it is this: to have one’s darkness of mind (the root of suffering) eliminated, and know the joy of life that exults, “How glad I am to have been born human!”

Shinran left many writings, but it is fair to say that everything he wrote can be summed up in these words.


As we have seen already, Shinran compares life to a sea in which human beings suffer wave after wave of distress. He calls this the “sea that is difficult to cross” or the “sea of tribulation.”

Before he died, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542‒1616), the powerful warrior chieftain who was awarded the ancient title of seii taishogun (“barbarian- subduing generalissimo”), is said to have compared his life to “traveling a long road, laden with a heavy burden.” Never once, in other words, was he able to set down the burden of suffering. Even an unparalleled optimist like Goethe lamented in 1824, “The course of my existence … at bottom … has been nothing but pain and burden, and I can affirm that during the whole of my 75 years, I have not had four weeks of genuine well-being.”

Similar sentiments have been expressed by some of Japan’s finest writers. Fumiko Hayashi (1903‒51), known for her free-spirited life, wrote: “The life of the flower is short, and full of suffering.” One does not need to listen to these laments to concur with the words of the Buddha, uttered some twenty-six hundred years ago: “Life is suffering.”

Yet we were not born to suffer; that is not why we live. The ultimate wish of every person is the same: to do away with suffering and cross life’s sea of tribulation with all cheer and happiness. This is the greatest challenge of mankind, and the solution lies in Shinran’s magnum opus, Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment.

(You Were Born For A Reason, Part 2, Chapter 2)

Naoki Hayata, Buddhist Teacher

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #51 | 2015, Why Do We Extend Our Lives?

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