My kids always seem to fight: Arguing over chores, who gets to watch television, and who talks more on the telephone. It’s normal for kids, I think. What really worries me, though, is if they fight as adults.
Unfortunately, a big cause of fighting between kids is the death of their parents. Too often, children fight over their parents’ money and property. At first glance, the matter may seem simple: Two kids can split in half the inheritance; four kids get 25 percent each.
What if one child takes care of an aging parent, while the other child never visits? Does one child deserve more than another? Maybe the oldest one feels he deserves the most; likewise, a financially needy sibling with her own children may feel she deserves more. Throw in a stepmother or stepchild and there could be all-out war. Brothers and sisters will stop talking to each other, sometimes feuding the rest of their lives.
What started out as good intentions—parents wanting to leave behind their “fortunes” (life-savings, homes, a family business)—sometimes turns out to be a curse. It seems the bigger the fortune, the bigger the curse.
Yet, most people probably think of money or property as the fortune they most want to leave behind. Is that the kind of fortune our children need most in life? An old saying comes to mind: “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” Is there a teaching we can leave behind that would be more helpful and valuable than money?
Recently, I saw a documentary on television called “The Bridge” (more information at www.ifctv.com), about a film crew who recorded people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. For an entire year, they trained their cameras on the bridge, and from time to time, recorded the suicides. Then they interviewed family, friends and witnesses of the people who jumped, piecing together the stories of how that moment came to be.
A windsurfer who was below the bridge during one jump said that when he surfed that day, he was feeling on top of the world. At the same moment, he said later, he realized there was someone who felt at the bottom of the world.
I wondered for a person who has reached the lowest point in his or her life, what could possibly help. According to the interviews, those people were dealing with a variety of problems, related to personal relationships, careers, their emotions, sometimes mental illness and sometimes, but not always, money. A young man jumped after his mother, who was his closest friend and confidant, passed away. He couldn’t see any meaning to his life.
What kinds of things could have helped these people? More than money or possessions, I thought of things such as patience, the ability to tell right from wrong, to try your best, to focus on what’s important (and not worry about what’s not important), to feel compassion in your life, and to live with wisdom. I then remembered that these six qualities are none other than the Six Paramitas in Buddhism, which are the six paths to becoming a “bodhisattva” (or Buddha-like).
These six aspects of life are what the Buddha tries to teach us. Through words, through texts, through rituals and through services, this is the wisdom that is handed down to us through generations, by various teachers and by those people who have preceded us as seekers of truth in the Buddhist tradition. By understanding these six aspects and embodying them in our lives, we gain the strength, wisdom and courage to encounter whatever difficulties life throws at us. We can live with joy and fulfillment, whatever our circumstances, whether we are young or old, male or female, rich or poor, healthy or sick. There can be no greater fortune than the wisdom that helps us see life truthfully.
We may not all be parents, but we are all children who have inherited this legacy from our parents, whether they are our real parents, or our “spiritual” parents. The parents who have come before us worked hard to build our temple, so that the “Buddha dharma,” the truth that awakens us to the preciousness of life, would be kept alive and passed on to us.
Some of you have said you only come to special services out of respect for your parents, who were once active at our temple. But your parents helped keep this temple alive for you. It was your parents’ wish to bestow you with great wisdom to live a fruitful and fulfilling life, that would break the bounds of our selfishness and help us embrace the universe and all the people in it. More than money and more than a big house, what greater fortune could you receive than knowing the true meaning of your life? Once grasped, then each moment of your life becomes a gift and you feel an unbroken connection to the world around you. This unbroken connection is expressed in the words “Namu Amida Butsu.”
In this way, people come to the temple to express their gratitude for having a place where they can hear teachings that are more precious than diamonds and jewelry, more useful than a business or law degree, and more valuable than a roomful of cash. Many of your parents felt this way, keeping this temple alive with the hope of passing this legacy to the next generation. And many of you feel the same way, supporting the temple through your efforts and contributions, helping to pass this wisdom down to yet another generation.
This is how the Dharma was passed down through the ages, from one generation to the next, over the past two thousand five hundred years since the time of Shakyamuni Buddha, from India, across Asia, over the Pacific, and all the way here to you today. Behold the most precious gift in the world.