Life has been compared to a journey, not only in Buddhism but in others areas too. Artists routinely make the suggestion that life is a journey, and we are the travellers on this journey. “Life is a journey that must be travelled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations” said the novelist Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774). On average each day about 8 million people fly in a plane to some destination.
When we check into a hotel, we stay for a night or two and then leave. This is also the theme of life as well. We stay here for a while, and we move on. Many cities have memorialized the homes of famous people who lived there at one time. One of my favourites was visiting the home of the painter Vincent Van Gogh when he lived in Paris. Another was the Anne Frank home in Amsterdam. The person is no longer there, just a memory of where they were and maybe the things they used. These homes and our homes are temporary staying points. Places to put our bags down, and call home, before we leave again.
We are travellers moving through this life. Nothing we have is ours for keeps. Although it may seem that we own this or that, in the real sense of the word we own nothing. Not even our own body.
Every journey has an end. It is our destination. But do our goals give us the deep satisfaction we have been seeking? Recently in the news is the journey of the Syrian refuges as they make their way to Europe to escape the war in their country. Most are travelling via Turkey, then by boat to Greece, where they continue through the Balkan countries and to their destination in central Europe. But once they get to their final destination can they stop? Is their suffering over? Once their journey ends, another begins. More difficulties await when they arrive at their destination. In fact there are already stories about abuse of the travelling women and children in the shelters at their destination at the hands of their fellow travellers. Even though they have reached their destination, the suffering is not over. Buddhism teaches that suffering comes like waves of an ocean. Everyday we are confronted with obstacles, and we cannot put down our burden. In life we have to keep moving while carrying this weight, until we die so it seems.
What is our destination in life? It’s the afterlife. Therefore we are travellers on a journey towards the afterlife. Shortly before I began listening to Buddhism I became aware of impermanence, or mortality as I liked to say then. And I remember one such experience I had that drove home this concept of life being like a temporary home. It was a book, the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The first pages of the book were a timeline of famous people with the year of their birth and death, starting from the year 1800. So, in 1800 for example Mr. X died. Then in 1805 someone was born. In 1810 someone else famous was born, and someone else died and so on. As I read through this list, eventually the people who were born in the early 1800’s, their names began to reappear later on in the list, with their deaths. 1853, for example, Mrs. Y died. For the first time in my life I became shocked to see that everyone dies. Everyone’s journey would be like this. Our hardship and suffering ends in death. Our suffering seems futile in that case, almost meaningless. That is why there has to be a conclusion in this lifetime, a time of great joy where our suffering and efforts are repaid in full.
When you go on a long hike to a place you have not been before you need someone to guide you. Without them you would get lost. In life we need a teacher to guide us to the real purpose of life. Without a true teacher, Zenjishiki, we will end up lost for sure like a hiker without a guide. The true purpose of life which was revealed by Shakyamuni Buddha is so profound that we have no hope in finding it without the guidance of a Zenjishiki.
On a journey we carry a backpack. This is our burden. Our burden in life is anxiety and uncertainty about who we are, and why we are born. We want to get to our destination as soon as possible and take this pack from our backs. This is the relief in accomplishing our purpose of life. But we have not been able to put down our packs and instead had to keep hiking. On this journey we want to know why we are living. We want to know the meaning of it all. We want to feel that our suffering has a purpose.
For those going towards Buddhism, the journey we go on could be likened to a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage towards the greatest joy of life. Every other religion without exception teaches about salvation after one dies. It means that the journey in this life has not been completed. The only teaching I know that teaches about a conclusion to the journey in this life is Buddhism that is taught by Master Shinran.
Frank Costelloe, Los Angeles
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #58 | 2015, Journey to a Destination
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