Death Gives Greater Meaning to Life
(Adapted from the dialogue The Wisdom of the Lotus Sutra, Vol.4, published in Japanese in December 1998 1)
We all know that we will die someday. But we cling to that idea of "someday," expecting it to be far off in the future. Young people naturally try to brush aside the thought of death, but this is even true of older people, and perhaps increasingly so as we age.
But the reality of life is that it may come to an end at any moment. The possibility of death is always with us--be it from an earthquake, an accident, or a sudden illness. We simply choose to forget this.
As someone once noted: "Death does not lie in wait before us; it creeps up on us from behind."
As we keep procrastinating, telling ourselves, "I’ll challenge myself harder someday" or "I’ll make greater efforts after I finish doing this," our lives slip by and, before we know it, we are facing death without having achieved anything, without having accumulated any really profound inner treasures of life. Many people live their lives this way. When the final moment comes, it’s too late for regrets.
Upon reflection, whether death awaits in three days, three years, or three decades, the reality is essentially the same. That’s why it is so important to live fully right now, so that we will have no regret if we die at any moment.
From the perspective of eternity, even a century is just an instant. It is genuinely true, as Nichiren says, that "now is the last moment of one’s life."2 President Toda also said: "In truth, we practice Buddhism for the time of our death."
Nothing is more certain than death. That’s why it is vital to immediately set ourselves to the task of accumulating the treasures of the heart that will endure for eternity. Yet the great majority of people put off this most crucial of all tasks or leave it for some future time.
There is nothing as important as what Buddhism calls the "one great matter of life and death." Compared to this crucial matter, everything else is minor--a fact that becomes abundantly clear at the moment of death.
Someone who has been at the bedside of many at their last moments has said: "In their final days, it seems that people often recall their lives as if gazing over a vast panorama. What appears to stand out are not things such as having led a company or done well in business, but rather how they have lived their lives, whom they have loved, whom they’ve been kind to, whom they’ve hurt. All of their deepest emotions--the feeling of having been true to their beliefs and lived a fulfilled life, or painful regrets at having betrayed others--rush upon them as they approach death."
An awareness of death gives greater meaning to our lives. Awakening to death’s reality prompts us to seek the eternal and motivates us to make the most of each moment.
What if there were no death? Life would just go on and on and probably become painfully dull.
Death makes us treasure the present. Modern civilization is said to ignore or deny death. It is no coincidence that it is also a civilization characterized by the unfettered pursuit of desires. A society or civilization, just like an individual, that tries to avoid the fundamental question of life and death, will fall into spiritual decline as it fails to look beyond living for the moment.