A Rogue Then, A Buddhist Now

David Esparza was born in Los Angeles in 1971. It might be difficult to imagine him as a delinquent, considering his mild disposition now, but he used to be one when he was a teenager. His closest friend, whom he was always going around with, was a notorious scoundrel. Skirmishes with other gang members was an everyday happening. The fights that David and his friend were involved in had one big difference than ordinary fights of other youngsters --- his friend had a gun, which he had acquired by stealing.

On a New Year's Eve, when David and his friend were leaving a party, David's friend had a conflict with some outsiders. One of the outsiders had a gun and this guy took David as David's friend by mistake. He shoved a gun at David's head. When his finger touched the trigger, David thought he was going to be killed. Looking back at this incidence, he realized that, faced with the terror of death, he thought in despair, “Let what has to happen, happen. I don't care anymore.” At that moment he was thinking, “After all I don't know the reason I must go on with my life. If I die now, there will be no real difference.”

When you are young, you feel you possess infinite potential to do anything in your life. But David, on the contrary, had an overwhelming sense of existential emptiness. He was yearning for a moment that would enable him to feel joy in being alive. Delinquency was just a vent for such heavy feelings. “What am I going to live for?”

The answer he was yearning for was not to be found anywhere. While leading a life that brushed with death, he wondered what would happen after death.

His family believed in Catholicism. It is taught if you believe in God, you can go to heaven after you die. He thought he believed in God, but he could hardly be sure that he could go to heaven after he died. He felt a vast hollowness within him.

His dangerous teenage days still haunt him. When he reflects on it, even now his face grimaces, and he says with eyes lowered, “I have to forget about it.” Rebellious behavior didn't bring anything productive. “I will never repeat such a meaningless cycle of bad behavior.”

He turned a new leaf and started learning martial arts. He had a respectable teacher and found positive motivation to live by following his teacher's instruction and improving himself.

But unfortunately the martial art didn't provide the answer to the purpose of life either. When his martial art teacher gave a lecture on how to lead a better life, he murmured in disgust, “Why do I have to live knowing that I am going to die anyway?” The emptiness he felt inside was still besetting him.

While all of this was going on, one of his coworkers said to him, “Why did I have to be born? It is better if I die. I don't see any reason to live anymore.” His friend was suffering from conflicts within his family who lived in Mexico, which almost caused him to sever ties with them. On top of that he recently broke up with his girlfriend and was deeply agonized by a sense of loneliness.

David, then, told him, “You shouldn't talk like that. There is meaning in life. You should improve yourself.” Later he admitted that his remark sounded very hollow even to himself. It was not long before David was informed of his friend's hospitalization due to a disease of unknown cause, which caused his friend to be absent from work.

When David visited him in the hospital, his friend stared at him and said, shaking his head, “I think I am going to die soon.” His face was contorted by fear and regret. “Don't put it in that way. You will be OK.” David tried his best to offer consolation but it was in vain. Three hours later, his lonely friend in the hospital passed away. He was just thirty-two years old. With the sudden death of his coworker, the impermanence of life came home to David. It was around that time when a flyer in a library caught his eyes. “What is the purpose of life? Why do we have to live even if our life is full of suffering and pain?”

The moment he saw this, he knew that this was what he was seeking. He attended the Buddhist lecture announced on the flyer. It was at this lecture that the phrase “the urgent matter of the afterlife” burned into his mind. It was a phrase he had never heard before. When he heard this, the memory of his wild teenage years flashed before him with pain. He remembered not only the sins committed by the body, but also the sins of holding ceaseless hatred towards others.

“The law of cause and effect teaches that a good cause brings a good effect, a bad cause brings a bad effect and an own cause brings an own effect. According to this law, I am sure to fall into the world of suffering after I die. The purpose of my life is to solve this crucial matter.”

He was attracted to Buddhism with a sense of surprise. Since then he finds the greatest happiness in listening to the teaching of Master Shinran. He decided to learn Japanese to deepen his understanding of Buddhism. He changed his major from business to Japanese.

“A lot of young Americans are wasting their own lives and the lives of others by not knowing the purpose of life. I would like to share the true purpose of life with such people as soon as possible,” said David with a friendly smile.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #21 | 2012, A Rogue Then, A Buddhist Now

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