Getting What We Want Is All We Ask

Q: Getting the things we want, achieving what we want to do before we die—isn’t that all anyone could ask?

A: “Live life with style, have more fun.” This advice turned out to be copy from a carmakerʼs ad. “Can you fight 24 hours a day?” An ad for a tonic. “One spoonful brings amazing whiteness!” An ad for laundry soap. “Donʼt get licked! Donʼt let life lick you; lick one of these instead.” An ad for throat lozenges.

A constant barrage of commercial messages about products we should buy stirs up consumer lust, creating the desire for all sorts of things. “Buy this! Buy that!” Under the spell of insistent, enthusiastic sales pitches, we begin to crave more and more money. Small wonder if people think that money alone brings happiness in life. Then they slave at work night and day, all for the sake of money, money, money.

Certainly money is important in maintaining a decent lifestyle, but once people have acquired enough things and achieved financial stability, will they be truly satisfied and happy? If, as you say, we got every material thing we desired, would we indeed die with no regrets?

Military commander Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–98) achieved success and prominence as a unifier of medieval Japan. He showed off his power by building a gold tearoom in Osaka Castle, collecting the finest ceramics and treasures in the land, and installing a bevy of beautiful women. In Jurakudai, his lavish Kyoto palace, the bath and toilet opened on hidden water passageways equipped with boats to assure him a quick getaway in case of attack. As a boy he used to sleep in the buff anywhere he pleased, but after grasping the reins of power and becoming ruler of the realm, despite having achieved the pinnacle of success in life Hideyoshi quaked with fear. His death poem is a poignant testament that the purpose of life lies elsewhere: “My life / came like dew, / disappears like dew. / All of Naniwa (Osaka)/ is a dream within a dream.”

Being rich, owning property, achieving status, enjoying health, having fame, living in an imposing mansion: all such conditions are subject to constant flux. Whether drastic or incremental, change comes alike to all things in this world. Moment by moment, everything is headed for destruction.

Anyone who rests on his laurels, trying to find peace and happiness in such a flimsy fabrication, will know only the doomed happiness of Urashima Taro, hero of the classic Japanese fairy tale. During his brief sojourn in the undersea palace of the Dragon King, Urashima Taro revels in pleasure from morning to night, enjoying the favor of Princess Otohime while feasting on fine foods and being entertained by dancing maidens. In the end, however, he opens a jeweled box only to become lost in a bleak wasteland, alone with nowhere to turn, and so dissolves in tears.

Humanityʼs “jeweled box” is already open.

Close Translation

The pleasures of human life are no more than a lightning flash or the morning dew, dreams and phantoms. Even if we enjoy glory and pomp and all goes as we wish, it can last but fifty or a hundred years.

Should the wind of impermanence come and summon us this very moment, would we not encounter illness or suffering of some sort and cease to be? At the moment of death, nothing one has previously relied on, whether wife and child or money and treasure, will accompany one.

At the end of the mountain road of death, one must cross the river all alone. —Rennyo

Amplified Translation

Life is as brief as a momentʼs lightning or the morning dew, its pleasures mere dreams and phantoms. Even if we achieve the height of pomp and splendor, and all goes our way, it will end in fifty or at most a hundred years.

If the wind of impermanence came for us now, there would be no resisting. When we leave this earth, nothing we have ever turned to for support will be of any avail, neither family nor possessions. Torn from them all, we must leave this world unaided.

People chase dreams of fine food and drink, money and possessions, honor and status, and pleasure of all sorts; they mistake intoxication with such dreams for happiness, knowing nothing of the jeweled box they must one day open. Let us look at life with a penetrating eye and take a larger view.

(Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume Chapter 23)

By Kentetsu Takamori

(This article, too, is from the ongoing translation of Takamori Sensei’s newest book, Petals of Shinran.)

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #16 | 2012, Getting What We Want Is All We Ask

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