I saw Woody Allen’s new film Magic In the Moonlight this past week with my mom when I visited my parents in Colorado. The movie was funny, charming and a little silly, but the one line that struck me the most was Colin Firth’s lament about death and unhappiness. Firth’s character Stanley complains bitterly, “I’m a very unhappy man. To be born, to have committed no crime, and then to be sentenced to death? Happiness is not the natural human condition.” What an unusual perspective to have on death – and life.
“…to have committed no crime, and then to be sentenced to death.” If we look at it from this perspective, all of us are in the same boat. No one can escape death, and yet viewing death in this manner – as a punishment without a crime – as Stanley suggests, is mere folly. It was meant as a joke. Yet Stanley was a very cynical magician who hadn’t discovered his true purpose in life. He saw no reason to be happy.
Death, like life, has a purpose. We die for a reason, and we also live for a reason. Life is no accident, but we were not born with a sign on our forehead dictating the purpose of our birth. That is up to us. A profound Buddhist quotes states:
Looking back, I have been studying the Buddha’s teachings since I was a boy. And I found myself thinking, “The life of a human being is fleeting. The exhaled breath never waits for the inhaled one. Even dew before the wind is hardly a sufficient metaphor. It is the way of the world that whether one is wise or foolish, old or young, one never knows what will happen to one from one moment to the next. Therefore I should first of all learn about death, and then about other things.”
The Importance of the Moment of Death – The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin Vol II p 759
How profound! How often do we take the time to study death? It isn’t a popular subject, and yet it provides us with a more deeply fulfilling perspective on how to live. I disagree with Stanley, I believe happiness is a natural human condition, it’s just something that has to be learned and not taken for granted.