A Linked In writing group member, Afshain Afzal, posed a question regarding my latest blog post. Last week I wrote a blog titled: What is the Greatest Tragedy in Life, and how we should live with meaning and purpose rather than mechanically or even destructively. Afshain’s question had to do with self-sacrifice and helping others who are less fortunate than ourselves. He writes:
“There are lucky people who have options and choices in their lives. Many people are overburdened with their own responsibilities and obligations. Such people are left with hardly any time to think on such lines [about helping others]. We are lucky and not included in this category. One wonders how such people can play their part and contribute to the larger cause of humanity? What is your opinion? Will it suffice for [these people] to perform their duties and obligations properly or can they contribute more?”
I always thought self-sacrifice, charity, and helping others was primarily for those members of society who could “afford” to part with a little extra change or a portion of their salary to help those less fortunate. After all, if the poor could afford to help others, they wouldn’t be poor. This may be true to a certain extent. Certainly the wealthier among us has some obligation to help out those in need. This assumes, however, that helping others or contributing to the “larger cause of humanity” consists primarily of financial assistance. Fortunately, it does not.
Especially in Buddhism, where we help and support each other spiritually and emotionally, rather than financially. If we offer a few kind words of encouragement or praise to a friend, we will find ourselves encouraged. When we help others, we also help ourselves – in more ways than one. I’ve always liked the expression, “think globally, act locally.” Even small acts of kindness go a long way – a cheerful smile for the cashier, a prayer for our neighbor, a $10 bag of groceries for the hungry – every little bit helps. There is no sense getting overwhelmed by the multitude of sufferings in this world, but making time to help others also helps get our mind off our own problems and puts them into perspective. As Nichiren Daishonin states: “If you light a lamp for another, your own way will be lit.”
– Daisaku Ikeda
I feel as if the voices are receding farther and farther away – from me, from my own life, from my family and from my husband. I still hear them here and there, in bits and pieces, their whispering floats in and out of my head and my mind. There is very little screaming and yelling anymore. Occasionally I’ll hear a siren or two out on the street behind our house in Sunnyvale, but for the most part, the evil, intrusive insidiousness of the voices is gone. I still have myself to work on, but I believe in 2014 I will experience a newfound freedom I haven’t felt for many years. My life will never be the same.
I believe what Buddhism teaches: that death is a part of life. The above quote about dying is very true. Although many people die tragically before their time from accident or illness, isn’t it much worse to live life without purpose or meaning? To live as if dead? To me, this is what the terrible voices represent – people who lived, but were not alive. The voices started out in life as people (I always thought of them as people, at least initially) – yet somehow, somewhere along the way, for who knows what reason – their lives deteriorated and degenerated into something less than human. The voices were people who lived as if dead.
Needless to say, I never felt much compassion or pity for the voices, even when I thought of them as real people. There was nothing I had ever said or done that warranted the type of persecution I experienced. It is only by looking at my experiences from a Buddhist [faith] perspective, that I have found meaning and value in something that was so horrific. By sharing my experience in the form of a memoir, I aim to encourage other people with their own challenges and weaknesses.
If we take the time to think about why we are here, why were we born, what is the meaning of life, or other similar thought-provoking questions, what answer(s) do we come up with? Is it based on our religion or personal beliefs? Have we yet to arrive at a satisfying or meaningful conclusion? Do people care about why they are alive at this time on this planet? This is an age-old question that philosophers have spent entire lifetimes attempting to answer. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought’s response to “the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” is a mere “42.” While Douglas Adams’ computer generated answer to an eternal question is meant to be humorous, few people seldom discover this answer for themselves and live their lives in pursuit of nothing more than an ephemeral dream.
I found the following quote intriguing in this regard as it emphatically states that we do have a unique role or mission in life that no other person can fulfill. I believe this about myself, and I believe this is true for every person alive. The key is for each person to discover for themselves what their own unique mission is in life.
Everyone born in this world has a unique role that only he or she can fulfill. Were this not the case, we would not be here. The universe never acts without cause; everything invariably has a reason for being. Even the weeds people love to loathe serve a purpose.
– Daisaku Ikeda from “Wisdom for Modern Life: November 21, 2013“
“Mission” or “role” in this sense does not mean a person’s job or career, although many people fulfill their mission in life through their work. The mission of a doctor or teacher might seem obvious. A doctor is meant to heal people, while a teacher’s role is to educate others. But what about those whose mission in life might seem less clear or even nonexistent? It is not only up to the individual to discover what his/her unique role in life might be, but also the individual’s family, community and support system.
Everything invariably has a reason for being. This is true in nature as well. Every plant and animal has its role in the ecosystem in which it belongs. As people, we too have a reason for being. Sometimes it isn’t so obvious and we need to work at discovering our mission in life – whatever it may be. Ultimately, we all have a mission to become happy in this lifetime, but we must also help others become happy as well.
I took Savannah for a walk last week at a park near our house. I wanted a change from our usual Sunnyvale Bay Trail excursion, so I pulled into the Fair Oaks Park parking lot just as a group of Hispanic men were finishing their pick-up soccer game. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and I let Savannah lead me onto the sidewalk toward the grassy area where the men were resting after their game. She pulled me toward them, but I decided to head across toward the other side of the park. I knew she just wanted to say “Hi”, but approaching a group of seven or eight men by myself made me a little nervous, even in broad daylight. We wandered slowly over to the picnic area and the basketball courts. Another group of young Caucasian and Asian men had just finished a noisy basketball game, while an elderly African-American gentleman read quietly at a picnic table. I looked over at the playground and saw a young Latina woman with two small children and a friend. The children were playing on the playground while the women sat and talked. Savannah and I wove our way through the picnic tables, past the apartment with the barking dog, through the no longer spraying summer fountain, and came upon the two young women checking their phones and calling to the children. I smiled at one of the girls as I walked passed her with Savannah, but didn’t stop to talk. A few minutes later, as Savannah and I continued our walk around the circumference of the park, I saw the girls leave the park and head down the street toward the Chavez Supermarket and the 7-11 about a half mile away.
I led Savannah back through the picnic area where the African-American man was still reading, past the apartment with the barking dog, toward the tree in front of the basketball court where a squirrel chattered noisily at us from the safety of the upper branches. Savannah stopped briefly to peer up at the squirrel, but she is no tree climber and we continued our walk. We headed through the no longer spraying summer fountain again and passed by the activity center where I heard a group of teenagers inside talking, laughing and playing games. I saw a young Caucasian man standing outside the center with his art pad on top of the brick wall. I watched as he used one finger to carefully smudge the details of his picture.
I let Savannah lead me back toward the men who had taken a break from their soccer game. She walked happily up to them with her tail wagging. One of them turned to me and smiled, pointing at his teammate he said, “It’s him. He has peanuts.” He must have thought that was the reason why Savannah had wandered over toward their group. I responded, “I just thought she liked you guys.” I talked with one of the men for a little bit. He told me they play pick-up soccer at the park in the afternoons and evenings. I talked to him a little bit about Buddhism and gave him one of my Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo cards. He said he knew about Buddhism, but he hadn’t heard of my particular type of Buddhism. I started walking toward the car when another man came down from the bleachers to ask me what kind of dog Savannah was. We spoke briefly for a few minutes and I shared Buddhism with him as well.
When I came home, I reflected on all the people I had seen and encountered at the park that afternoon. I thought how wonderful it was on a bright, sunny, peaceful afternoon to see so many different ethnic and racial groups enjoying themselves at a small, neighborhood park in Sunnyvale. To me, this is an incredible example of what world peace looks like, and I believe the fact that all these different groups of people were able to find some peace and happiness together on a bright, sunny afternoon bodes well for the future of humanity.
I read such an incredibly beautiful quote today by SGI President Daisaku Ikeda. It is truly a revealing and amazing quote about friendship.
If a person has just one good friend, their happiness is doubled and their life immeasurably enriched. This is genuine wealth.
When I sat down to write a blog post this afternoon, I couldn’t manage to write one word. I didn’t have any ideas for something specific to write about, and I didn’t even want to open my website on my laptop to review what I wrote last week. Sometimes I get ideas this way. If I reread what I wrote the week before I can think about what has happened over the past week or even just reflect on the past few days. Today I didn’t want to write at all. It’s unusual for me to not have anything to write about. I feel like I always have something to say, but today was different. Maybe the frustration and disappointment got to me. I keep hoping the voices will go away forever, but so far they haven’t. I’ve even set a goal for myself for November 18th. I’m chanting for ABSOLUTE VICTORY with the voices. November 18th is the day the Soka Gakkai (Value Creating Society) was founded in Japan 83 years ago. This year, a new central headquarters will open in Tokyo and to celebrate the Soka Gakkai’s 83rd anniversary, I’m determined to make a fresh start in life and to be victorious in my own life based on my faith and sincere prayer. I’m expecting the best!
Later in the day when I thought about writing a post, I remembered the above quote. It was so encouraging I was inspired to write this evening. “If a person has just one good friend, their happiness is doubled and their life immeasurably enriched.” How wonderful! Just one good friend – how many of us have a good friend, or many good friends? Do we treasure our friendships? Do we value them? Do we realize the importance of a good friend? Perhaps not enough. If we have one good friend, do we consider ourselves wealthy? Probably not. Friends enrich our lives in many ways. I think back to high school and I was never the person with a million friends. I had a few good friends I spent the majority of my time with, and one very good friend who I’ll always treasure.
Maybe we don’t place enough value on healthy, trusting, and loving friendships. I prefer to develop close and long-lasting friendships with a few people, rather than spend time building a large circle of shallow acquaintances. As the quote says, “if a person has just one good friend…”