The Joy of Encountering Shinran

Shinran and the Purpose of Life

Q: My life is so full of suffering that sometimes I wonder why I am living, and what the point of working is. What is Shinran’s teaching on the purpose of life?

A: What is the meaning of my life? Why must I go on living and working despite all the pain I endure? Anyone who takes life seriously is bound to ask the very questions you have raised.

Ask most people why they work, and they’ll tell you it’s to put food on the table. Ask them why they eat, and they’ll say they have to eat to live. “And as long as you keep on eating, you’ll keep on living?” That question leaves them at a loss.

All human beings do eat in order to live, and in order to eat we busy ourselves with work, but it’s also true that every day of life brings us one day closer to death. That is a solemn and incontrovertible fact. Yet most people totally disregard their inevitable fate and worry only about how they will live.

“Work like a dog to be promoted, and there’s still no guarantee of making it to the top. Suppose I do get the promotions I want; gotta retire at 65 anyway. The retirement allowance is peanuts, so that means taking some kind of new job just to make ends meet. I’ll be forced to start all over again just when I’m getting old. It’s enough to make a grown man cry.”

And so we become vulnerable to despair. To break out of despair, people think “In a few dozen years I’ll be dead, so while I’m here I might as well do the things I enjoy.” In an attempt to glean what pleasure they can from life, they may give themselves over to drinking or gambling. But such hedonistic pleasures are temporary and illusory. They bring no lasting peace or satisfaction, and offer no ultimate solution to the problem of life. People who follow that route must go on suffering to the end.

Those who are strongly drawn to Buddhism take a different tack. “I’d better keep my wits about me,” they think. “If I go on like this, I’ll be living in order to die. I can’t rest easy until I have found out the true purpose of life.” And so they begin to listen intently to Buddhism, for only Buddhism teaches the ultimate purpose of life.

Śākyamuni Buddha, the first to spread the teachings of Buddhism, sought the truth for one reason only: he wanted to know the purpose of life. For six years he endured harsh spiritual training before discovering Amida Buddha, the greatest Buddha in the cosmos, who made this supreme and precious Vow: “I will save all people into absolute happiness without fail.” After ascertaining that absolute, indestructible happiness is available to anyone at all who believes in and follows1 Amida’s Vow, Śākyamuni devoted his life to spreading Amida’s salvation, teaching that the Vow is the ultimate and universal purpose of life. Shinran did the same.

I sincerely hope that you will listen hungrily to true Buddhism through the words of Shinran, and savor your wonderful life.


1. Believe in and follow (shinjun): to have the truth of the Vow of Amida revealed and all doubts about it dispelled

By Kentetsu Takamori

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #33 | 2013, The Joy of Encountering Shinran

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