The Fragility of Life

I feel bad for posting this on Sunday, especially since it’s Easter today here in the US, and we are spending time with our daughter at great-grandma’s house (my paternal grandmother) hunting Easter eggs. However, I had a surreal experience I wanted to share.

My wife, daughter and I were watching some recorded TV shows from Japan that my sister-in-law sometimes sends us. The show features the members of the band Kanjani Eight (same talent agency as Arashi, though slightly younger generation), as they tour parts of Japan and sample local cuisine. The variety of cuisine in Japan is simply amazing sometimes, and it’s a fun show, and a good chance for me to improve my listening skills.

Anyhow, yesterday, we watched one episode recorded late last year where they visited the city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture. The episode was fun, the food was good, and there was a lot of good jokes and adventures. However, as soon as my wife and I saw the location, we recognized the name. Kesennuma was near the epicenter for the Great East Japan Earthquake, and was severely damaged. After the earthquake and tsunami, the city’s harbor was burning for days.

It was really strange watching something recorded months before when everyone was happy, and had no idea their city would be destroyed. It even occurred to me that some of these people on the TV show are probably now dead.

It reminded me of something from a Buddhist sutra, the Immeasure Life Sutra (Muryōjukyō 無量寿経 in Japanese), with emphasis added:

“Groaning in dejection and sorrow, they [the people of this world] pile up thoughts of anguish or, driven by inner urges, they run wildly in all directions and they have no time for peace and rest.
“For example, if they own fields, they are concerned about them. If they have houses, they worry about them. They are also anxious about their six kinds of domestic animals, such as cows and horses, about their male and female servants, money, wealth, clothes, food and furnishings. With deepening troubles they sigh repeatedly, and anxiety increasingly torments and terrifies them. Sudden misfortune may befall them: all their possessions may be destroyed by fire, swept away by floods, plundered by robbers, or seized by adversaries or creditors. Then gnawing grief afflicts them and incessantly troubles their hearts. Anger seizes their minds, keeps them in constant agitation, increasingly tightens its grip, hardens their hearts and never leaves them.
“When their lives end in such agonizing conditions, they must leave everybody and everything behind.

Our lives are tenuous, and built upon a foundation like sand. From a Buddhist perspective, our lives are sustained by external causes and conditions, but if those conditions change (due to other causes and conditions), the whole thing changes or falls apart.1

It’s one thing to know this intellectually, but seeing this on TV was really quite a shock for me…

One should very carefully ponder this point until it is clearly understood. Otherwise we waste our lives on stupid pursuits until too late. And you can never be sure when it is “too late”, until it is really too late.

Namo Shaka Nyorai
Namo Amida Butsu

P.S. Impermanence is the first of three Dharma Seals (三法印] samboin), which another way of summarizing Buddhist truths, just like the Four Noble Truths. The other two are no-permanent-identity (self) and the peace of Nirvana.

1 To me, this is the implication of the metaphorical “Jewel-Net of Brahma/Indra”, where every jewel in the net reflects light from every other jewel. Thus everything in existence sustains everything else directly or indirectly, but is inherently unstable causing the constant change and flux that marks existence.

Be the first to like this post.

Leave a Reply

Gravatar Logo
Twitter picture

You are commenting using your
Twitter account. (Log Out)

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your
Facebook account. (Log Out)

Connecting to %s