by Rev. Marvin Harada.
This winter I will be teaching a Buddhist Education Center course titled, “Resolving Life’s Problems Through Buddhism.” In this course I will be covering four areas of life’s problems:
1. The matter of life and death.
2. Relationships (mainly marital).
3. Work issues.
4. Self Esteem.
It is my feeling that Buddhism is a teaching that shows us a path, a way to resolve all the problems of life that we face. I don’t say that as an idealist, as an optimist, or as some kind of dreamer. I say this because our Buddhist tradition is rich in examples of people who have done exactly that, resolved the greatest problems and issues in their lives through the teachings. Sometimes this very practical aspect of the teachings is not brought out sufficiently. Who is there that doesn’t have problems? We all face problems in life. Some of our problems are big problems. Some of our problems are little problems. Sometimes little problems don’t get resolved, and they become big problems. Big or small, there isn’t anyone who can say they don’t face problems in life.
How should we resolve such problems in life? Some people try to escape from their problems. They might literally leave their spouse or family, or change jobs or even occupations. Others try to escape their problems by drinking or by doing drugs, to numb the pain of their problem. But when they sober up or come down off of their high, their problem is still there, staring them straight in the face. Clearly, those are not the best solutions to life’s problems. They can add to the problems a person already has.
Buddhists over the many centuries have resolved the greatest issues of life, like their own impending death, or being handicapped, or having your spouse leave you for someone else. Their solutions were not easy. They didn’t find them on page 50 of a Buddhist text or anything like that. However, because the Dharma was the foundation of their life, that foundation lifted and liberated them from their life’s problem.
Saichi the Myokonin is one vivid example of resolving life’s problems. His poems reflect how the Dharma enabled him to receive a truth that transcends life and death. For Saichi, death is not a problem. Death is not to be feared. He of course does not want to die, and is in no rush for it to occur, but he came to realize a deeper truth of life that goes beyond his own physical birth and death. For Saichi, that truth is the Nembubutsu, Namuamidabutsu. In one of his poems, he writes,
Death has been snatched away, and in its place, Namuamidabutsu.
Okaru, another Shin Buddhist Myokonin, resolved her own tragic marital issue through the Dharma. Although her husband was having a love affair, Okaru came to truly meet the Dharma because of her marital problems. Her marital problems brought her to seek help from a local Shin Buddhist minister, Rev. Gendo, who helped Okaru to see her life problem as a real opportunity to encounter the Dharma. Her problem was transformed into insight and realization. She came to be grateful to her marital problem for being the karmic condition that enabled her to meet the Dharma.
We normally don’t think of Buddhism in the workplace, but Buddhism is the totality of our life, whether we are at work or play. Work issues can be resolved through Buddhism as well. Does that mean that Buddhism will help me get a promotion? Does it mean that Buddhism will keep me from getting fired? No, not necessarily, but an understanding of Buddhism could help you improve in your work and how you work with people. If your boss sees that as valuable, you might be promoted because of how you are living and working as a Buddhist. Buddhism also helps you to not be attached to the “promotion” and that your fulfillment is in your work itself, and not necessarily the paycheck or the position.
Self esteem is one of the most widely discussed topics on talk shows on tv. I don’t know how many times I have heard people on Oprah Winfrey talk about how they suffer from low self esteem. Buddhism enables us to resolve our self esteem problems because it raises into question the very matter of the self. What is the self that lacks esteem? What is this self that is hurt when others criticize it, or is inflated when someone praises us? The true resolution of self esteem issues is to resolve the matter of the self, which is the focus of the Buddha-Dharma.
In the winter course, I will discuss all of the above topics and show examples of Buddhists who have resolved those four major issues of life. They are the living proof that Buddhism is truly a teaching that enables us to resolve the big and small problems of life, enabling us to live a most meaningful and fulfilling life. Who is there that doesn’t want to live that kind of life?
Rev. Marvin Harada