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Awaken to the Preciousness of Life

A couple of days ago while watching the news, I was really surprised to learn that there are over 40,000 people in the U.S. who commit suicide every year. I was also surprised to hear that among the many causes of death like cancer, brain disease, car accident, and so on, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. To make sense of that number—40,000—it means over 110 people die every day by their own hand. Now you can see what a large number of people committeed suicide in this country. How sad it is.

People end their lives for any number of reasons, but mainly because they are in despair over their job, their family or society. Of course, this societal problem is not restricted to the U.S. In Japan, for instance, over 20,000 people commit suicide every year. The most regrettable among these deaths are the many children who commit suicide because they have been bullied. Why do so many children so full of promise resort to killing themselves? My heart nearly breaks when I think about young children who couldn’t share their problems and worry, who suffered alone in distress and loneliness, then made the decision to end their own lives. As Buddhists, how should we face this serious social problem?

First, I believe that it is most important that both those who are the victims of bullying and those who are their tormentors comprehend the preciousness of the life that they have received. The gift of life that we receive from our parents has the magnificent history of the universe wrapped in our parents’ own boundless wishes for each one of us. This life is a great favor that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot repay. We must realize how rare it is that we are able to be born into this world as human and that we are alive at this moment.

The historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, addresses the difficulty of receiving human life in this world in a sutra called Zo-Agon or Samyukta gama. In this sutra, there is a famous fable called, “A Blind Turtle and a Floating Board.”

One day, Sakyamuni Buddha posed the following question to his disciple, Anan: “Now suppose there is a blind turtle at the bottom of the boundless ocean. This turtle will be able to show its face at the sea’s surface only once in a hundred years. A board is floating on the ocean’s surface and there is a small hole in the middle of it that turtle can fit its face into. When this turtle—which surfaces only once every hundred years—comes to the surface, can he put his face into the hole in that board even one time?”

Anan answered, “It’s impossible! Even if the turtle had hundreds of millions of years or even millions of millions of years to put its face in that hole, it would be very hard to do.”

Then Buddha said, “I know everyone thinks that it’s impossible! But are you sure? To be born into this world as a human is infinitely more difficult than a blind turtle putting its face into the hole in a board!”

Please contemplate this. One blind turtle drifts about at the mercy of the waves in the vast expanse of the sea for a hundred years, or even one thousand years, in order to look for the floating board. When he finally encounters it, he thinks he will be able to put his face in the hole. But quite unexpectedly a breeze comes up, disturbing the water’s surface and makes the board move and the turtle fails.

Another hundred years pass and again the turtle rises to the surface and happens upon the drifting board. This time, ripples make the board move away and again the turtle fails. So it is extremely difficult for a blind turtle, dependent on wind and wave, to find the drifting board and to put its face in that opening even if a chance of once a hundred years comes.

Through this astounding fable, Sakyamuni Buddha teaches us the wonder of receiving life in human form in this world, a nearly impossible probability. The words at the beginning of the Three Treasures, “Rare is it to receive life in human form; yet, now I have received it” sink deep into my mind again.

Each one of us has a unique opportunity that is ours alone. We can only live once, so Sakyamuni Buddha points us in the direction of a way of living that makes each life shine; that is, understanding one another and respecting and supporting one another, which is the way those of us fortunate enough to have received human life should live.

Consider again these familiar words: “Rare is it to receive life in human form; yet, now I have received it.” I believe if we truly rejoice in and appreciate our own life, we will come to understand how precious and valuable each life is and how we must treasure all lives as if they were our own. Bullying, which can threaten and wear a child down till he or she will even consider suicide to escape it, is a truly shameful act, and an unforgivable act as a Buddhist because it is counter to the vow of Amida Buddha. We must always keep this in mind and neither commit nor should we tolerate any act of cruelty upon another person, especially a child.

During our lifetime, each of us will have to endure hardship and stress. However, no matter how painful a position we are in, I sincerely hope each of us can strive to be a true Nembutsu follower, grateful and joyful to have received life in human form as we embrace the light of the Nembutsu.

In Gassho,
Reverend Yushi Mukojima

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Mountain View
Buddhist Temple
575 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043

650 964-9426