Think of a person in this world whom you most like or dislike. Describe the trait that makes you like or dislike him or her and find reasons for this trait. State both the trait and the reason for it. Example: The truck in the right lane ahead of me began to drift into the left lane, leaving the three cars ahead of me little choice but to brake. If they had not done so, they would have had no alternative but to swerve into the oncoming traffic, and the resulting accident would have been quite a mess.
As it happened, the first car stopped rather abruptly; reacting to the first car’s brake lights, the alert drivers in the second, third and fourth cars in the line jammed on their brakes. Unfortunately, the driver of the fifth car wasn’t paying much attention to anything beyond the car immediately in front of him. As a result, he failed to anticipate the impending crash and was slow to brake, putting the fourth car (mine) in the unwelcome position of ‘helping’ his car stop. In the above example, some of the causal relationships are signalled using causal linking constructions, and some are indicated implicitly through other constructions.
Make a list of the relationships, identifying causes/reasons in one column and effects/results in a second column, and indicating in a third column which relationships are explicitly signalled and which are implicit. What is the purpose of life? It is to become happy. Whatever country or society people live in, they all have the same deep desire: to become happy. Yet, there are few ideals as difficult to grasp as that of happiness. In our daily life we constantly experience happiness and unhappiness, but we are still quite ignorant as to what happiness really is.
A young friend of mine once spent a long time trying to work out what happiness was, particularly happiness for women. When she first thought about happiness she saw it as a matter of becoming financially secure or getting married. (The view in Japanese society then was that happiness for a woman was only to be found in marriage. ) But looking at friends who were married, she realized that marriage didn’t necessarily guarantee happiness. She saw couples who had been passionately in love suffering from discord soon after their wedding. She saw women who had married men with money or status but who fought constantly with their husbands.
Gradually, she realized that the secret of happiness lay in building a strong inner self that no trial or hardship could ruin. She saw that happiness for anyone – man or woman – does not come simply from having a formal education, from wealth or from marriage. It begins with having the strength to confront and conquer one’s own weaknesses. Only then does it become possible to lead a truly happy life and enjoy a successful marriage. She finally told me, “Now I can say with confidence that happiness doesn’t exist in the past or in the future.
It only exists within our state of life right now, here in the present, as we face the challenges of daily life. ” I agree entirely. You yourself know best whether you are feeling joy or struggling with suffering. These things are not known to other people. Even a man who has great wealth, social recognition and many awards may still be shadowed by indescribable suffering deep in his heart. On the other hand, an elderly woman who is not fortunate financially, leading a simple life alone, may feel the sun of joy and happiness rising in her heart each day.
Happiness is not a life without problems, but rather the strength to overcome the problems that come our way. There is no such thing as a problem-free life; difficulties are unavoidable. But how we experience and react to our problems depends on us. Buddhism teaches that we are each responsible for our own happiness or unhappiness. Our vitality – the amount of energy or “life-force” we have – is in fact the single most important factor in determining whether or not we are happy. True happiness is to be found within, in the state of our hearts. It does not exist on the far side of some distant mountains.
It is within you, yourself. However much you try, you can never run away from yourself. And if you are weak, suffering will follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you don’t challenge your weaknesses and change yourself from within. Happiness is to be found in the dynamism and energy of your own life as you struggle to overcome one obstacle after another. This is why I believe that a person who is active and free from fear is truly happy. The challenges we face in life can be compared to a tall mountain, rising before a mountain climber.
For someone who has not trained properly, whose muscles and reflexes are weak and slow, every inch of the climb will be filled with terror and pain. The exact same climb, however, will be a thrilling journey for someone who is prepared, whose legs and arms have been strengthened by constant training. With each step forward and up, beautiful new views will come into sight. My teacher used to talk about two kinds of happiness – “relative” and “absolute” happiness. Relative happiness is happiness that depends on things outside ourselves: friends and family, surroundings, the size of our home or family income.
This is what we feel when a desire is fulfilled, or something we have longed for is obtained. While the happiness such things bring us is certainly real, the fact is that none of this lasts forever. Things change. People change. This kind of happiness shatters easily when external conditions alter. Relative happiness is also based on comparison with others. We may feel this kind of happiness at having a newer or bigger home than the neighbors. But that feeling turns to misery the moment they start making new additions to theirs! Absolute happiness, on the other hand, is something we must find within.
It means establishing a state of life in which we are never defeated by trials and where just being alive is a source of great joy. This persists no matter what we might be lacking, or what might happen around us. A deep sense of joy is something which can only exist in the innermost reaches of our life, and which cannot be destroyed by any external forces. It is eternal and inexhaustible. This kind of satisfaction is to be found in consistent and repeated effort, so that we can say, “Today, again, I did my very best. Today, again, I have no regrets. Today, again, I won. The accumulated result of such efforts is a life of great victory. What we should compare is not ourselves against others. We should compare who we are today against who we were yesterday, who we are today against who we will be tomorrow. While this may seem simple and obvious, true happiness is found in a life of constant advancement. And the same worries that could have made us miserable can actually be a source of growth when we approach them with courage and wisdom. One friend whose dramatic life proved this was Natalia Satz, who founded the first children’s theater in Moscow.
In the 1930s, she and her husband were marked by Soviet Union’s secret police. Even though they were guilty of no crime, her husband was arrested and executed and she was sent to a prison camp in the frozen depths of Siberia. After she recovered from the initial shock, she started looking at her situation, not with despair, but for opportunity. She realized that many of her fellow prisoners had special skills and talents. She began organizing a “university,” encouraging the prisoners to share their knowledge. “You. You are a scientist. Teach us about science. You are an artist. Talk to us about art. In this way, the boredom and terror of the prison camp were transformed into the joy of learning and teaching. Eventually, Mrs. Satz even made use of her own unique talents to organize a theater group. She survived the five-year prison sentence, and dedicated the rest of her long life to creating children’s theater. When we met for the first time in Moscow in 1981, she was already in her 80s. She was as radiant and buoyant as a young girl. Her smile was the smile of someone who has triumphed over the hardships of life. Hers is the kind of spirit I had in mind when I wrote the following poem on Happiness”: A person with a vast heart is happy. Such a person lives each day with a broad and embracing spirit. A person with a strong will is happy. Such a person can confidently enjoy life, never defeated by suffering. A person with a profound spirit is happy. Such a person can savor life’s depths while creating meaning and value that will last for eternity. A person with a pure mind is happy. Such a person is always surrounded by refreshing breezes of joy. When I was younger, I thought I had nothing to do with those who were elderly. I think most young people find it hard to believe that they themselves will grow old.
The reality is however, that now I am among the “elderly,” and I can’t move with the speed and ease that I once did. My teacher used to say that the last years of our life are the most important. If those last few years are happy ones, we have had a happy life. Old age is a time of spiritual fruition and completion. When people are no longer pursuing position or status, money or material possessions, they can look closely at themselves and at the reality of life and death without the distractions of superficial concerns. When you reach old age, you know in your heart if you have lived a satisfying life or not.
No one else can know this or decide it for you. The single greatest challenge we each will face is whether we can honestly say at the end of our days on this Earth that our life has been well spent. I believe that whether we can live a truly satisfying life to the end depends to a considerable extent on how we view death. Sadly, many older people are anxious and fearful about death. But, as a Buddhist, I find it helpful to compare the cycles of life and death to the daily rhythms of waking and sleeping. Just as we look forward to the rest sleep brings after the efforts nd exertions of the day, death can be seen as a welcome period of rest and re-energizing in preparation for a new round of active life. And just as we enjoy the best sleep after a day in which we have done our very best, a calm and easy death can only follow a life lived to the fullest without any regrets. It is natural for trees to bear fruit in the harvest season, and in the same way, “old age” is a period of ripening. It can be the most valuable time in human life, when we have rich experience, deeply polished character, and a pure and gentle heart. The loss of certain capacities with age is nothing to be ashamed of.
Rather, I feel the various infirmities of age should even be seen as badges of honor and worn with pride. There is a saying that goes, “To a fool, old age is a bitter winter; to a wise man it is a golden time. ” Everything depends on your own attitude, how you approach life. Do you view old age as a period of decline ending in death, or as a time in which one has the opportunity to attain one’s goals and bring one’s life to a rewarding and satisfying completion? The same period of old age will be dramatically different depending upon your own outlook. I received a letter a few years ago from a woman in Kyoto who was then 67 years old.
Her advice was as follows: “We need to banish any expression of defeat from our minds–statements or thoughts such as ‘I can’t do it,’ ‘I’m too old,’ ‘There’s no point in my trying,’ ‘I’m past it,’ or ‘It’s too hard. ‘ Instead we should be telling ourselves: ‘I won’t give up yet,’ ‘I’m still young,’ ‘I can still do it,’ ‘I’ve still got plenty of energy. ‘ Just by changing the way we speak to ourselves and others we can change our pattern of behavior in a positive direction. ” Research shows that when people make continuous use of their powers of memory and concentration, these abilities need not fade.
An active interest in others, finding new pastimes and making new friends–such positive attitudes have been shown to slow physical and mental decline. Even though our bodies may age, if we maintain an active, positive attitude, our hearts and minds will remain “youthful” as long as we live. To quote the poet Samuel Ullman, “Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life. It is vital to always look to the future, to have plans and aspirations-such an outlook is crucial to making the last years of one’s life rewarding and fulfilling. One woman whose youthful attitude greatly impressed me was the American painter known as “Grandma Moses. ” She had produced around fifteen hundred paintings by her death at the age of one hundred and one. Yet she didn’t even start painting until she was seventy-five. She had never studied painting and was an ordinary farmer’s wife until then. She had faced many difficulties in her life.
Five of her ten children died young, and she lost her husband when she was sixty-six. She said that though she had experienced real pain and hardship, she refused to be dragged down by suffering and always looked ahead. Whatever she encountered, Grandma Moses strove to make each day and each moment shine with her smile. After her surviving children left home and her husband died, she refused to give in to loneliness or step back from life. She took up the challenge of painting, and her last years glowed like a beautiful sunset.
She wrote, “I look back on my life like a good day’s work. It was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented. I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it; always has been, always will be. ” There is a great difference between simply living a long life and living a full and rewarding life. What’s really important is how much rich texture and color we can add to our lives during our stay here on Earth – however long that stay may be. Quality is the true value, not quantity.