The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:
I’m a monk in my 20s. Because of my job, I deal with people’s deaths, and I have trouble with it.
We monks make a living by attending many Buddhist events such as Bon in summer and Higan at the spring and autumn equinoxes, on top of funerals. However, I feel suffocated as I attend them, especially funerals.
A dead body in front of me definitely was breathing a few days ago. The fact of death in front of me frightens me a lot. I should be playing a role to ease the agony of other people, but I myself am agonizing over death.
I regard “death” as “becoming nothingness,” and that idea haunts me. Buddhism teaches samsara, or a never-ending cycle of life and death, but deep down inside, I deny the idea and become disappointed in myself.
The other day, I heard an elderly person saying, “I’ll be happy if I could live three more years.” I then thought, “Just three years? That’s too short. Doesn’t this person want to live forever?” The person’s words confused me.
What do you think of a monk who is scared of death? How can I be philosophical about life like that person? Do you think I can be like that person as I get older?
R, Shiga Prefecture
Dear Mr. R:
A monk seeks my advice. I first thought that I was being teased and wondered, “How should I answer this question?” But you actually are an honest person and are facing your job sincerely. That’s why you are scared of death. And besides, you are still young. You must have many things you want to do in your life. It’s natural that you cannot be philosophical about life.
When I was young, I encountered a haiku poem that says, “Death just means that you disappear.” The poem made me lonely and sleepless, but at the same time I thought that I have to do my best to live because life ends like a battery dies. You won’t enjoy your life if you always care about when the battery dies or how much charge is remaining.
You are scared of death from the bottom of your heart, and that’s why you can teach followers how to live their lives and get close to them. Death is an extension of living.
I introduce to you a haiku poem by Masajo Suzuki: “Shinukoto wo / Wasurete worishi / Tokoroten (I’ve forgotten about death, while enjoying tokoroten jelly).” As long as you live your very best and spend your day enjoyably, you can be like the female poet. Live positively and also refreshingly and smoothly just like how tokoroten goes down your throat.
Akemi Masuda, sports commentator