Over 100 years ago in Japan, a 17 year-old male by the name of Misao Fujimura etched a poem into the trunk of a tree at Kegon Falls. A summary of the poem is “With this small body I attempt to comprehend this huge universe.” After writing it, he jumped to his death into the falls. He sought the purpose of life, but found that with human body how could he comprehend this huge, unfathomable universe? The result of this thinking was despair. It is said that this philosophy student was very intelligent. He sought for an answer to the meaning of life, but because he could not find an answer, he felt hopeless. To seek without being able to get what we want is one of the sufferings of life, taught the Buddha.
When I was in my twenties I thought deeply about the meaning of life. This question was the culmination of an intense two-year quest for a deeper meaning to life. My search had begun with the motivation of self improvement that gradually turned into a spiritual path. I explored eastern and western religions and writers. My initial purpose was “to know who I am”. I felt that knowing who I am would bring me the deepest and most fulfilling happiness. Since I now had a direction, I threw myself full-tilt into seeking. I meditated, read, and wrote. My journals were my constant companion, kept by my bedside at night, and in my bag wherever I went during the day. I wrote whatever thoughts came into my head that gave insight into “me”.
One of the results of this search was that I became aware of impermanence in a way like never before. Human beings had been on earth just for a few hundred thousand years. But this is nothing in comparison to the 150 million years that the dinosaurs had ruled the earth, and they had since long vanished. Even though we think we are the most superior of all creatures, what makes us think that we will rule this planet forever? A day will come when we will no longer be here. This is humbling, I thought. Looking at human life from this point of view, how fragile it now seemed. This was a wake-up call.
In time the question the meaning of life began to emerge in my thoughts. I would lie in the grass looking up at the sky thinking about this eternal question, just as Misao Fujimura did. But unlike Misao Fujimura I never felt hopeless about this question. In fact, a steely determination arose within, along with the belief that there HAD to be a grand purpose to life, otherwise everything all people were doing here was meaningless. And I never believed for a moment that we were all here striving to nothingness. I was convinced that there was a purpose to life, and a common one for all people.
At one point I felt the need for a teacher to guide me on this path. A friend told me that if I needed a teacher, a teacher would be given to me. Not long after as I was hurrying to class on the UCLA campus, a flyer with the words “Are you seeking for the purpose of life?” caught my eye. I stopped, read the rest of the information and stored the flyer in my bag. Later that summer I had my first meeting with Pureland Buddhism. “Why havenʼt I heard about this teaching before? Why doesnʼt anyone know about this teaching?” I said, dumbfounded, to the teacher. Really, why hasnʼt this teaching been known around the world in a way that Christianity and the other large religions are known? My first impression was that this is not just a religion, but itʼs a teaching about the reality of my life. Never before had I heard a teaching that spoke so directly about my existence.
I can only wish that Misao Fujimura had encountered Pureland Buddhism and the answer to why we live. This is the question he sought an answer to. I am grateful that I could believe that life had to have a grand purpose. Because of this belief I was able to keep searching, until my search was realized and I met the teacher that I had been seeking.
Frank Costelloe, USA
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #19 | 2012, My Life Must Have A Grand Purpose!
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