What is Ruten-Rinne, the Endless Wheel of Suffering

Dialogue Between the Owner of a Sushi Restaurant and a Customer

C: Hi chef. How are things going these days?

O: Well slow, but OK.

C: I see. It’s good.

O: Not so good… Young folks these days know only the sushi-go-round restaurant. Traditional restaurants like ours have no more business.

C: I see… it’s hard, isn’t it? But in those sushi-go-round restaurant, unpopular dishes keep moving endlessly. It is sad to see them. It looks like Ruten-Rinne.

O: What did you say now?

C: Ruten-Rinne. It is a Buddhist term.

O: What? A Buddhist term? What does it mean?

C: Both Ruten and Rinnne mean to keep moving around the same place endlessly.

O: Is that true? Was there a sushi-goround restaurant in Sakyamuni Buddha’s time too?

C: Don’t be foolish. Of course not. That word represents the image of deluded human beings.

O: Deluded humans?

C: That’s correct, chef. Why do humans live? What do you think?

O: That’s very sudden because …. It is necessary to have some type of goals in life… like to be the president of a company, some kind of a professional, a politician, anything is OK, isn’t it?

C: Yes, to have any goal is OK. Yet, once you reach the goal, it is over. You need to find the next goal. Chef, don’t you think so?

O: That’s true… When I started this job, I worked like hell. After I learned how to make sushi, I had to strive to raise my family. When I was able to support my family, I worked hard to have my own restaurant. After reaching the goal, I felt that I had lost my drive….

C: That’s the point. You keep searching one goal after another, which is your drive, but where are you going anyway?

O: Where? That’s a hard question. To tell you the truth, I really don’t know.

C: You see? Goals are just stepping stones; they are not the finishing line. Going a little further, the world has changed like crazy from 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now. Looking from the ruins of the war, most of the national goals have been accomplished.

O: You’re right.

C: But what about people’s satisfaction through those eras? Do you think that they became enormously happy?

O: Well… it doesn’t look like it….

C: The world has changed, but people’s hearts continue the same. Don’t they feel uneasy today as they felt before? So all people keep moving busily around the same place yesterday, today, and they will go on tomorrow, too. Don’t you think so?

O: That’s true. I feel hollowed out. C: That’s what is called Ruten Rinne (the endless wheel of suffering).

O: So what should I do?

C: Buddhism teaches to cut off the wheel of suffering and achieve the purpose of life, the finishing line of gaining the great joy of life that makes us rejoice: “how wonderful that I was born human!”

O: Is that true? Not a goal but the purpose of life. Then I want to listen to it.

C: That’s good. Once you know clearly the purpose of living, you will be much more energetic toward your business, too.

O: You think so? Maybe I can make a bid and start a sushi-go-round restaurant myself. But the renovation cost is so high…

C: Don’t be stingy. Without planting seeds, can you have any harvest?

O: Or I can rotate myself and make sushi. What do you think?

C: What? How can you rotate, Chief?

O: You think it won’t work?

C: I guess it will not.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #29 | 2013, What is Ruten-Rinne, the Endless Wheel of Suffering

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