Everything He Had Done Was Worthless

This is a continuation from last month about the book The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion that is mentioned in chapter 6 of You Were Born For A Reason.

At one point in the book, Didion unexpectedly reveals that her husband, who had a worsening heart condition, believed he was near death. “He believed he was dying. He told me so repeatedly.” On the night he died she noticed certain things he said to her that caused her to be concerned. Her husband was coming near the end of his life and he knew it. “Everything he had done, he said, was worthless….He said that the novel [he had written] was useless….He said that his current piece in The New York Review…was worthless.”

Sakyamuni Buddha said that “at the end of life, fear and regret occur in turns.” In Buddhism we are taught that work, hobbies, etc are means of living. They help us to live, but are not the purpose of life. If we live solely for the ?means' of life then we surely will feel empty when we are dying. Unless we attain the purpose of life, as it's taught in Buddhism, everything that we attain in life will seem meaningless. All the while we think our job is satisfying, while we think this is what I am born to do, it is just a way of getting through life just like everything else. It is not the purpose of why we are born, and for this reason at the end of our life we do not feel fulfilled about what we have done. Instead we will ask ourselves what have we been doing working so hard for? What was the point of all the struggle and effort, the stress and worry? When we die we take none of it with us.

Our job has helped us to live, but hasn't given us any real meaning. Sadly, for the author's husband, and for most human beings, this is what we will experience when our life comes to a close. And it is something that we don't see coming. The author's husband could only see it hours before he died. Being only hours from death is surely not the time to begin pondering the purpose of life. Such as situation as his makes me reflect on my situation and my listening to the truth. Yes, I have met the true Buddhism, and I have been fortunate to have been able to continuously listen to lectures from a zenjishiki for several years. But unless my darkness of mind is cleared, I am still “dancing on a volcano,” walking on thin ice, or running at full speed in the dark. Whichever way you look at it, I cannot experience peace of mind. Unless my darkness of mind is eliminated there is no difference between me and the author 's husband.

I have heard in Buddhism of the impermanence of life, and how death can come to young and old, or the healthy, the rich or poor or famous at any time. Death is without discrimination. Yet knowing what I do, do I listen as if this will be my last time to hear the words of the masters; do I listen with a sense of urgency? I do not. Instead I have the mind that thinks there will be many more chances in the future to listen, or when I am sick and near death then I will listen very seriously.

Why did the author's husband say his lifelong work was meaningless only hours before dying? How could he think his work, that he was devoted to, was suddenly worthless? He was surely questioning the purpose of his life's work, but more importantly he was questioning the purpose of his life. He sounds like a man who feels regret for how he has spent his life. But he might not have said such a thing had he known the purpose of life as taught by Master Shinran. Without knowing the purpose of life then we are liable to feel empty at the end of our lives regardless of what we have achieved. Once we know the purpose of life, then all our actions take on new meaning. Nothing, even a scrap of paper, becomes wasteful. And certainly our work would be precious, since it alone gives us income to live and allows us to continue seeking Buddhism. Those who know the purpose of life could never say that their work was worthless. Everything in life fades at the time of death, but the Truth of the teachings will always stay with us.

Frank Costelloe, U.S.A

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #13 | 2013, Everything He Had Done Was Worthless

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