Amidst the difficulties I’ve encountered dealing with the voices, along with the daily challenges of living and breathing and moving forward from one day to the next, one week to the next, and one year to the next, I am always reminded of how important it is to live with a sense of appreciation rather than complaint. It isn’t always easy to live each day with a sense of appreciation, gratitude and joy, especially when times are hard. It’s easier to live a life of complaint, always picking out the flaws in others, and wondering why our lives turned out the way they did. Instead, if I learn to appreciate others as well as myself, I am much happier.
My favorite Buddhist story I read about every May during our annual SGI contribution month. The story goes like this:
During the Buddha’s lifetime, there lived an old woman of profound faith. She longed to offer something precious to the Buddha but was too poor to do so. One day, the old woman encountered a long procession of carts carrying an abundance of flax oil through the streets of Magadha. The oil, she learned, was a donation to the Buddha from King Ajatashatru. Deeply moved, the old woman cut her hair and sold it. With her meager earnings, she bought just enough oil to light a lamp for half a night. Still, she thought, if the Buddha recognizes my faith and feels compassion for me, then the lamp will burn throughout the night. Sure enough, as strong winds swept down from Mount Sumeru, all the lamps were extinguished, except for the flame of the lamp fed by her oil. The following morning, when people tried to blow the flame out, it glowed all the more brightly, as if to illuminate the world.
The Buddha reproached his disciples for trying to extinguish her lamp, explaining that in previous existences she had made offerings to 13 million Buddhas. He then prophesized that she would become a Buddha called Lamp Light Sumeru. In contrast, Ajatashatru, who was filled with arrogance, did not receive a prophecy of enlightenment from the Buddha.
This parable of “The Poor Woman’s Lamp” underscores the value of sincerity that arises from repaying one’s debt of gratitude. In the end, the old woman’s lamp was far more valuable than the thousands of barrels of lamp oil offered by the ruler of the country, because it was an offering given with her entire being.
President Ikeda states, “Neglecting gratitude is a reflection of a life controlled by innate negativity” (World Tribune April 5th, 2013). For me, I remind myself of the wonderful things I have in my life. I have a loving and caring husband, I have a warm, supportive family, I have my Buddhist practice and my fellow Buddhist friends, I live in a beautiful house in a terrific climate in the most beautiful part of the country. Obviously, there are parts of my life that I need to improve and there are things in my past that I wish hadn’t taken place. However, I can’t go back in time to change anything. There is no “what if”. That only leaves me one choice – to live in the present with an eye toward the future. I have much to appreciate in life, and little reason to complain. It is just as Nichiren Daishonin states, “winter always turns into spring.”