Once I heard the following from an acquaintance: “I once asked my mother how many more years she expected to live as a joke. She answered, ‘Five years.’ I then said, ‘Didn’t you say the same thing five years ago?’”
We all know that we are mortal, but no one thinks that death will come today. At heart we expect to live forever. I wonder how many more years I’m going to live on. The other day I had a full-body body medical checkup, and the doctor showed me things like a picture from inside my stomach or an X-ray of my lung. It made me feel keenly that those internal organs which are fine now will gradually deteriorate and stop working. Now let’s read a story from the book, Unshakable Spirit.
Having heard of the great virtue of the hermit monk Ryokan, an eighty-year-old man came to him with a request. “There are things I still want to do, so I’d like you to pray that I live a little longer.”
“About how long do you want to live?” inquired the monk. “Unless I know the age you have in mind, I can’t say the prayer.”
“Well, ninety would give me only ten more years, so I’ll say an even hundred.”
“Another twenty years. Very well, but when you turn a hundred and one, you’ll have to die. All right?”
“Can I ask for a little more time?”
“How much more? Tell me.”
“ How about till I’m a hundred and fifty?”
“A hundred and fifty? Is that enough?”
“I don’t want to ask too much . . .”
“Don’t hold back.”
Little by little the old man’s request spiraled up. He wanted to live to be two hundred—no, three hundred—no, five hundred years old! Amused, Ryokan couldn’t contain himself. “As long as you’re asking, you might as well go all the way. Go on, tell me what it is you want,” he urged. The man finally said what was really on his mind.
“All right then. I’d like you to pray that I will never die.”
A man threw a party for his friends and served blowfish, a prestigious culinary treat but one that can be deadly. Everyone was too afraid of the possibility of being poisoned to try it. Then along came a traveler. They offered him a plateful, and when he came to no harm, they all helped themselves in relief. Afterwards someone asked the traveler if he had enjoyed the dish.
“You all ate yours already?” he answered. “In that case I’ll eat mine.”
Sengai, a revered Zen priest, lay on his deathbed. His followers handed him a paper and brush and asked him for some final words of wisdom. He wrote simply, “I don’t want to die.” The followers had been eagerly looking forward to some profound last words. Seeing what he had written, they felt consternation, afraid that his reputation would suffer irreparable damage. After conferring, they came up with a plan. “What you wrote is fine, but if you could add a little something to it . . .”
Sengai consented, but when he handed the paper back and they read it they were flabbergasted. He had added two words: “I really, really don’t want to die.” Everyone’s ultimate wish, it seems, is the same.
(Unshakable Spirit, Pray That I Will Never Die”)
Satoshi’s Book Club
Satoshi Hasegawa, Missionary
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #34 | 2013, “About How Long Do You Want to Live” Inquired the Monk.
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