At a recent service, one of our members asked me a question. He was looking for an answer to something he had on his mind. Actually, he had a very serious question. I am sure there are many different answers for him, but today I would like to give my friend a Kiyota version of a very famous Buddhist story.
A long, long time ago, there lived an old couple. They were very nice people. They were so nice that one day, the Buddha said to them, "I will grant you one wish." After thinking it over for a while, they answered, "We are getting old now and we will probably die soon. But we don't want to die. We would like you to take us to a land where we will never die." Buddha said, "There is a Dream Land above the sky. You will never die in the Dream Land. I will take you there now." Buddha took their hands and flew up into the sky.
Soon, they arrived in Dream Land, far above the clouds. Buddha said, "Now, you can get anything your heart desires. If there is anything you want, just wish for it and it will be yours." Then Buddha disappeared. The old man, Ojii-chan, said, "Oh, this is the "land of my dreams, of everlasting life. Look at that, Sweetheart, the sky is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful, and the mountains are beautiful. Isn't this Dream Land a really nice place? By the way, I am very hungry do you want something to eat?" Then the old woman, Obaa-chan said, "I'm getting hungry too. When I was a little girl, I used to get so excited when we got to go to McDonalds! My favorite food was a McDonald's cheese burger! So that's what I want to taste now. Let's imagine the golden arches and order our favorite meal." Just by thinking of a McDonald's cheeseburger in her mind, it appeared. Then Ojii-chan said, "It looks delicious, but my favorite was an In-and-Out Burger. I can see my burger now! " It also appeared in front of him. He started to take a bite but said, "Oh, sweetheart, look at this burger, the meat looks like it's a little bit raw." Then Obaa-chan said, "Don't worry darling, even though it doesn't look fully cooked, it's not going to kill you. Remember, we are in never-never die land." "Oh, you are so right," said Ojii-chan.
Day and night, they ate all kinds of food like burritos, curry rice, spaghetti, and so forth. One day though, they finally lost interest in eating the food of their choice whenever they wanted. They were fed up with eating so much good food all the time. Then Ojii-chan decided, "Let's do something different. To tell you the truth, I've always wanted to ride a motorcycle." He imagined being on a motorcycle, and he got a big Harley-Davidson one. Old as they were, the two of them rode together and enjoyed speeding on their new bike. Of course, the motorcycle was very big and it was also hard to control, so they often fell over and sometimes crashed, but they never died because this was Dream Land. However, when they realized that a bad fall or hitting something couldn't hurt them, speeding suddenly didn't seem so much fun anymore. "Let's do something else," they said.
They continued to try all sorts of different things until they couldn't find anything else to do. "We tasted everything we wanted to eat, and did everything we wanted to do. What shall we do now?" "OK, let's sit down and talk about our younger days." And they started to talk to each other. They enjoyed their conversations. They talked and talked day and night, until they ran out of things to talk about. "Oh, I heard it before, darling. How many times are you going to tell me about that?" "You said that before, sweetheart. I'm tired of listening to the same stories." After a while, they had nothing to talk about. They got fed up with everything.
Nothing seemed to interest them anymore. Even the sky wasn't beautiful anymore. The ocean and mountain didn't seem to be beautiful anymore. They became bored because there wasn't anything new or exciting for them to do. So they looked down from the clouds to see the world they used to live in, the world in which people actually died. In that world, people were suffering from aging, sickness, and death. However, even though they were suffering, they were enjoying themselves everyday, and appreciating each day. The old couple decided to call Buddha, and said, "Thank you for giving us a chance to live in the Dream Land, but we have learned that the best place for us is where we came from. Please take us back where we belong." They were granted their wish and were allowed to go back to their hometown.
The message of this story to us, living our lives here in this "world under the clouds," is that everything here is changing and we will all die someday. However, it is because we will die someday, that we can also truly and deeply feel that the sky is beautiful, the ocean is beautiful. The Buddha teaches us that we meet only once in our lifetime. Each meeting is the first meeting as well as the last meeting. Every occasion is the first occasion and the last occasion. I am here meeting with you today. We cannot say for sure that we will meet again next Sunday. Because of this, we can appreciate now, this moment. This moment is very precious for you and me. Every occasion is the last occasion. Every moment is the last moment.
Enjoy and treasure your meeting with your parents, relatives and friends, every moment of every day. Your father will die someday. Your mother will die someday. We will all die someday. I know it is very sad. But the Buddha taught us that we are from one life, and we will return as one life. The origin of our life is one. We are now sharing one life. That is the reason why we feel sad when our parents and friends are in sorrow.
But whenever you remember them, you will meet your father, mother, uncle, aunt and friends again. You will not only be together with your family and friends, but you will be with your goldfish, dog, and cat in your heart and mind, because we are all sharing the same life together. You are not living alone. We can meet everyone whenever we want. We call this condition of mind, Pure Land. So don't worry. Continue to come to the temple to learn about the Pure Land, the world where we are always together.
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