It is tragic news indeed that the number of suicides occurring in Japan has exceeded 30,000 annually over the past twelve years. Shakyamuni said, "All things in this world are characterized by suffering (events do not occur according to our wishes)," and as one person who believes in and accepts the teachings of Buddhism, I am deeply saddened to learn that so many people keep taking their own lives.
What bothers me most is that this continuing phenomenon seems to cast a suffocating sense of helplessness over people's view of the world, as if they are living in a hopeless society that hypnotizes them into losing a reason for living. Everything is taken as a negative indication that things are getting worse and worse, which makes the world seem a dark and depressing place.
According to the teaching of the Buddha, this world is certainly a place of suffering, but what matters is whether we try to find the meaning of life by recognizing the severity of the world as it is, without being swayed by undue feelings of pessimism or optimism.
Viewing current social conditions from that viewpoint, we can see that we are being given a great opportunity to change our sense of values. The Buddha teaches: "Everyone should change their perspective and way of thinking in order to build a world in which all can live together happily." It seems to me that this teaching is directed to the many people today who are tired of chasing after economic wealth, constantly comparing themselves to others and competing with them.
For example, in a competitive society those who dislike pushing others aside are apt to fall behind and lose confidence in themselves. However, a gentle heart is one of the basic values that constitute the precious virtue which human beings can possess. The people who choose to avoid competing with others can be good at understanding the inner pain others feel, at lending a sympathetic ear to the woes of people in trouble and in need, and good at easing the minds of those feeling melancholy and oppressed by suffering.
Once we start thinking this way, a world in which kindness and consideration are as highly valued as competition looks much more appealing than a world in which always winning is considered ideal. This teaches us that even people who have lost sight of their purpose in life can find a reason for living by turning their minds toward the true value of existence instead of superficially always comparing themselves to others.
The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters contains the verses: "To go on seeking the Way is to suffer. However, to never have the desire to seek the Way is to suffer all the more. We are born in this world, grow old, fall ill, and die, and there is no limit to such suffering." As I have already noted, in this life "all things are characterized by suffering," and that is precisely why people do not quit seeking the Way.
The Way is knowledge of the universal truth - the law that pertains to everyone, everywhere, at all times - and putting it into practice, in other words, living according to the teaching of the Buddha. This means that when we practice and study the teaching, we distance ourselves from worries and are able to lead more cheerful lives.
This is directly connected to the reason for living. If we now learn just how we are existing in this world, we come to understand that all of us are existing as part of the whole, and we sustain each other's lives and lead our own lives with the support of others.
Everything in this world being in harmony while sustaining the lives of others, a world in which our own work is for the sake of others, and by helping others live fully our own lives will also become fulfilled - that is our ultimate reality, the way things really are.
Although we may not be aware of this every day, when we please other people we are happy, too. For human beings, this is the meaning of life.
When cheerful, kind interactions help to spread smiles, we are building a world of full of benefits for ourselves and for others that simultaneously achieves both our own joy and the happiness of others. This is the true meaning of a life worth living, something that cannot be achieved as long as we are ruthlessly obsessed with winning or losing.
Let us always be grateful for the wisdom and compassion of Shakyamuni, who declared, "Everyone in the world, each of them, is worthy of respect." Let us together deeply grasp the value and meaning of having received the lives we have now in this world.
This article was originally published in the January - March 2011 issue of Dharma World.
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