by Rev. Marvin Harada.
Whether people realize it or not, I think that all people at some time of their life have touched on the wish to become a Buddha. You might think, “I don’t think I have ever thought about wanting to become a Buddha.” You might argue the point and say that you have never, ever in your life had the thought or aspiration to become a Buddha. I would disagree. I think that all people, even non-Buddhists, have had this thought, and are having this thought in their life, but they never knew it.
Let me rephrase the question. Have you ever had any of the following thoughts: “What is the meaning of my life? Why am I living? Why was I born into this world? Is there a purpose in my life? Who am I, really? I mean, I know my own identity of course, but on a deeper level, who really, am I?”
Or, have you ever had this kind of question in your life: “Isn’t there more to life than this? Is life just work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, and then someday die? Isn’t there more to life than this?”
Or, have you ever had these thoughts in your life: “I am so miserable. My life is a total mess. Nothing in life is going right. I must be destined to suffer. Why can’t I find happiness?”
If you have ever had any of the above thoughts or questions arise in your heart and mind, then you have had the thought of wanting to become a Buddha. To wish, or aspire to become a Buddha is the wish to find meaning in your life. It is the wish to find your true self. It is the wish to find a sense of purpose in your life. It is a wish to transcend the sufferings of life that we all incur. It is the wish to find the truest meaning of happiness. In that sense, every human being that has ever lived has had that wish or aspiration.
Shakyamuni Buddha, as a young prince, had these same questions that led to his eventual renunciation and long spiritual search for truth or enlightenment. As a prince, he had every material possession that he could want, like a palace, servants, the finest clothing, the best horse and chariots, the finest of foods. But yet, he was not happy. Not only was he not happy, he was actually quite miserable. He had come to the realization that materials things could not bring him a truest sense of happiness, but yet he did not know the source or meaning of true happiness. Young Prince Siddartha also pondered those same questions, “What is the meaning of my life? Isn’t there more to life than just eating, sleeping and working? Am I just born to live and then die someday? Is that all life really is? What is the meaning of my being born into this world, anyway?” Such were the questions that arose in the heart and mind of Prince Siddartha, that led to his quest for enlightenment.
Does this mean that we have to leave our homes and family to find an answer to such questions? No, it doesn’t mean that we have to do exactly as Shakyamuni Buddha did. The Buddha has already gone on that quest and has discovered the answers to all of those questions. However, in another sense, we have to embark on our own spiritual journey to find those answers to those questions through the Buddha’s teachings. That is the meaning of listening to the Dharma. We listen to the Dharma, to find the answer to those questions that have always made us ponder and reflect. We listen to the Dharma to find our own answer to questions like, “What is the meaning of my life? Why was I born into this world? Who really, am I?”
Those questions can become the springboard for our listening to the Dharma. Instead of passively listening to the Dharma, we become an active listener, because one never knows where an answer to our questions may appear. Those questions can become the fertilizer, the fertile soil with which the seed of enlightenment can sprout forth in our life. Those questions can be the driving force, the impetus that propels us along the path of the Buddha-Dharma, like someone pushing us from behind.
Shinran Shonin expresses this wish to become Buddha in one of his poems, called the Wasan. That poem goes as follows:
The mind that aspires to attain Buddhahood
Is the mind to save all sentient beings;
The mind to save all sentient beings
Is true and real shinjin, which is Amida’s
Benefiting of others.
p. 365, Collected Works of Shinran
The wish to become Buddha is one side of a two-sided coin. The other side of the coin is the wish to save all sentient beings. You might think, I have never had that thought either. But the wish to save all sentient beings is also a wish we have all had deep within us. We don’t want happiness just for ourselves. We wish that all people could be happy. We don’t wish for peace and serenity just for ourselves, but we wish that all beings could find peace and serenity. That is the other side of the wish to become Buddha, ... it is the wish that all beings might find Buddhahood.
These two minds are the contents of shinjin, which is the true heart and mind of the Buddha that we receive from truth itself, from Amida Buddha.
I think we have all had, at some time or another, the wish to become Buddha, to find our true self, to find the real meaning of our life.
Rev. Marvin Harada