Why We Live (the True) Versus How We Live (the Provisional)

Letters from Dharma Friends on theSpecial Convention Hosted by Youth Followers

“Why do we live?” People reply to this question with their pastimes and temporal goals. However, the fact that we are moving towards death remains the same no matter how much we achieve these aims. In a special convention hosted by young followers on June 9th, the teachings of Master Shinran were conveyed based on the stark reality that all humanity is approaching death. Let us explore the lecture through letters from Dharma Friends.

The jealous are merely fools Akihiro Futamura

Physician I have come to know the distinction between “Why we live” and “pastimes and temporal goals.” I was always fascinated with the profession of doctors as a temporal goal in my life and actually have already achieved that goal. Certainly, successful people such as Nobel prize-winners in the medical field easily become the target of envy. However, those celebrated people are little better than fools who live for the sake of living from the perspective of Master Shinran’s teaching.

Through this lecture, I came to realize the veracity of Master Rennyo’s words, “Even if he knows eighty thousand teachings of the Buddha, a man who knows nothing of the life to come is a fool.” In Master Shinran’s major book Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, he declared, “Not knowing what is true and what is provisional causes people to miss the great benefit of Amida’s compassion.”

This means, “Those who cannot tell the difference between the true (life’s true purpose) and the provisional (human relationships, pastimes, and temporal goals) do not know the ultimate purpose of life, and so miss out on the joy in living that makes us rejoice, ‘How wonderful that I was born human!’” The single sentence above fully explains the relationship between the true and the provisional. In other words, “why we live” is “the true” and “how we live” is “the provisional.” We can enter the true from the provisional in a split second of Ichinen.

In addition, we can understand that the means to live (the provisional) becomes important because the purpose of life (the true) is such a great matter. That Master Shinran could express the relationship between the truth and the provisional in just one line fascinates me, and I can see why he is praised as “the light of the world.” Since people only know ‘how to live’, we are absolutely amazed at the grave problem of ‘why we live’, and are taken aback by the fact that this is a purpose of myriad lives.

I cannot be thankful enough for the fact that a person like me, who is totally consumed with ‘how to live’, is driven to spread ‘why we live’. I pledge that I will follow Master Shinran’s teachings and put them into practice in my daily practice of medical care. Thank you for your guidance.

Questions from patients in rehabilitation Satomi Ishihara Toyama prefecture

In the medical field, we are constantly asked ‘why we live’ by our patients. I myself hear so many of my patients saying,

“Dying cannot be helped if you are unable to work and support yourself financially.” “I would rather die because I do not want to trouble my family and friends.” “I want to die to end my agony.”

Whenever I hear such remarks from my patients, I tell them, “I understand how you feel, but please reconsider death. The afterlife would be worse; for us to think that we’ll find relief through death is like moths mistaking a flame for a flower. Even though I try to encourage my patients in this way, to be honest, how I really feel is no different from how my patients feel. Just like everyone else, what I have on my mind every day is ‘how to live’ instead of ‘why we live.’ I have come to realize that I am tainted with worldly passions. What I truly feel is this: I live in order to satisfy my endless desires, and I would rather die if I reach a point where my desires are no longer fulfilled. I cannot rejoice enough for the fact that as occupied as I am with worldly passions, I am still listening to the teaching of ‘why we live’. Master Shinran’s words of wisdom conveying the existence of the great ship amid a boundless ocean of suffering is like a ray of light in our lives of pitch-darkness.

Study, Work, And Then What? Wakana Serizawa Toyama prefecture

A year has passed since I started working and I now feel keenly that our life is so difficult to get through. Every day, I go to my workplace at a certain time, do some routine work, and then go home at a fixed time. I am overcome with a sense of emptiness and pain. People around me complain and sigh. Why do people have to work so hard to keep on living? I was confronted by this question. Everyone has some goals in each stage of life in order to make their dreams come true. Until now, I too have lived my life moving forward towards my dreams in life. When I reflect on my life, I somehow feel I just took a typical course in life. I studied at an elementary school, junior high school, high school, and university and then got a job.

When I started working, I realized that I didn’t know which direction to move towards. People tend to return to their monotonous lives once they achieve their goals such as going on a vacation or buying a new car. Even if we study very hard and get a job, we ask ourselves “What’s next?” I would have lost hope in life, had I not had a chance to learn the teachings of Buddhism. “Why do I live such a painful life?” I am really happy that I learned that the purpose of life is to board the great ship of Amida Buddha and attain absolute happiness.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #31 | 2013, Why We Live (the True) Versus How We Live (the Provisional)

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