The Fragility of Life, part 2

As eluded to in this post, I’ve been reading some books in Japanese about Buddhism. I started branching out from reading just manga to reading books on subjects I enjoy. One book, which my wife bought for her self, is a collection of writings by famous Japanese monk Kukai (also known as Kodo Daishi), who is the founder of Japanese Shingon Buddhism. The book is titled 空海!感動の言葉 by 大栗道榮 if you’re shopping for Buddhist books in Japanese. 😉

The book’s author, Mr. Ōguri, is a head temple priest or oshō (和尚) in Shingon Buddhism and writes commentaries on each of the selected writings by Kukai. One passage really struck me. I quote it verbatim in Japanese, with my very-amateur translation below:

風のある日にお墓参りに行き、墓前で二本のローソクをつけます。手で囲って風をよけ、ようやくついた炎を片方は一陣の風でふっと消えました。もう一本は風が吹くたびにあっちへゆらり、こっちへゆらりといまに消えそうですが、なかなか消えません。 こんなとき、ふと教えるのです。

Kaze no aru hi ohakamairi ni iki, hakamae de nihon no rōsoku wo tsukemasu. Te de kakotte kaze wo yoke, yōyaku tsuita honō wo katahō wa ichijin no kaze de futto kiemashita. Mō ippon ha kaze ga fukutabi ni acchi he yurari, kocchi he yurari to ima ni kiesou desu ga, nakanaka kiemasen. Konna toki, futo oshieru no desu.

This is my translation (comments and suggestions for improvement appreciated):

On a windy day, you go to pay respects to the deceased, and before the grave are two candles. With your hands you block out the wind, but the flame you finally got lit is blown out in a single puff of wind. Another one you light blows in the wind this way, and then that way, and it seems like it is about to go out, and yet it doesn’t. At times like this, there is a great lesson.

I really thought this was a poetic example of life. The author explains how someone who seems young and healthy can unexpectedly die, while someone who has a bad heart can still live to be 95 years old. People can’t be sure what will happen tomorrow. In the same way, through external causes and conditions a person’s life, like a candle flame, can be snuffed out, but at the same time, a candle flame can keep burning if causes are just right.

I talked about this in a related post recently on death and rebirth in Buddhism, but I thought it was worth repeating after reading this inspirational passage.

P.S. Previous post on the fragility of life.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

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