There is much in our lives to be happy about. The experience may not be a giddy happy, but a feeling of well being and joy. A feeling of joy that acknowledges difficulties. We may not be able to recognize happiness at times, but happiness is always there. Even in the most difficult of times happiness is there. When we lose something important happiness is there. When someone we care for deeply dies happiness is there. In all our experiences happiness is there. We simply need to recognize it. This does not mean we do not feel loss or sadness. Rather we can understand that loss and sadness is only part of our experience.
In Letter 6 of the ‘Lamp for the Latter Ages’ Shinran wrote,
‘It is saddening that so may people, both young and old, men and women, have died this year and last. But the Tathagata taught the truth of life’s impermanence for us fully, so you must not be distressed by it.
‘I, for my own part, attach no significance to the condition, good or bad. of persons in their final moments. People in whom shinjin is determined do not doubt, and so abide among the truly settled. For this reason their end also – even for those ignorant and foolish and lacking in wisdom – is a happy one.’ CWS, p531
When we’re happy, we’re happy. When we’re experiencing difficulties happiness is more challenging. If we see only difficulty, it is harder to experience the comfort of family and friends. Harder to appreciate the things that support or sustain us. If we see only difficulties it is harder to truly extend our support to others.
Old age and sickness are also part of our experience. Slower in its expression, but just as powerful. Near the end of his life, Shinran told his family and students, ‘When I die, throw my body in the Kamo River and let it be feed for fish.’ In 1181, the year Shinran was ordained by Jien, a famine that would last for two years began to deepen. The famine was so devastating it brought the Gempei war to a halt. Kamo no Chomei describes Kyoto as a place where so many had died that many bodies were piled in the streets ‘like cord wood’ and many others left along the banks of the Kamo River.
When Shinran died, his body was cremated. His remains were then placed in a cemetery and eventually at a permanent site. His familyÕs action were opposite of ShinranÕs wishes. Shinran expressed his understanding of the impermanence of things. His family’s action expressed the importance of his life. His life was important to his family, and to us, so his remains were treated in a way that expressed that importance.
Nearly eight hundred years later we do not mourn with the same intensity of Shinran’s family and friends. Yet, we still remember the importance of his life. We celebrate his birthday at Gotan-e. We are mindful of the relationship with Shinran’s life that continues to influence our lives. What he, and Shakyamuni Buddha, shared helps us see our lives differently.
We often forget the joy of life when we experience difficulties. The Buddhadharma reminds us that difficulties result from our inability to see things simply as they are. Shinran’s appreciation of life comes from Amida’s assurance that everyone will experience the resolution of difficulties. Mindful of this absolute assurance we can experience the same joy of life as Shinran in the midst of difficulties.