Finding the Real Treasure of Life

Recently a friend sent me an interesting email about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple computers, who died some years ago. Here are a few excerpts from that email. These were some of the last thoughts of Steve Jobs.

I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is the epitome of success. However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I have been accustomed to. At this moment, I am on my sick bed, and recalling my life. I realize that all of the recognition and wealth in which I took so much pride, have become meaningless in the face of my impending death….

As we grow older, and hopefully wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $3,000 or a $30 watch is not important. The time is the same. Whether we carry a $300 handbag, or a $30 handbag, the contents are the same. Whether we drink a $100 bottle of wine, or a $10 bottle of wine, the hangover is the same. Whether we live in a house that has 3,000 sq. ft. or 300 sq. ft., the loneliness is the same. Whether you fly first class or economy, if the plane goes down, you go down with it.

You will come to realize that true inner happiness does not come from the material things of this world.

How touching and also sad are these last words by Steve Jobs. Even though he was a billionaire, any person might find hinself in such a situation as he faces his impending death. What have I done in my life? I have accumulated wealth, a home, a car, nice clothes and things, but what was it all for? None of them can save me from the inevitable. No amount of money or even social status can stave off the inevitable. What has been my life?

These are questions that any of us could find asking ourselves. However, for those of us who have been fortunate enough to have encountered the Buddha-Dharma in our life, we might have come to see the futility in all of those things years ago in our life. Maybe we have come to find in Buddhism a teaching directing us away from striving for material happiness and to find a true and lasting treasure in life, such as the Three Treasures of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, or in the truth of the Nembutsu, Namuamidabutsu.

There are many treasures in life. Our family, our friends, our work or career, our hobbies and recreation, our health, these of course are all wonderful treasures that we hold dear to us. However, our family cannot join us on that final journey of life, nor would we want them to. We cannot take our work with us. We cannot take our hobbies with us, other than putting our prize putter in our casket if we love golf. Friends cannot join us, even lifelong friends. We can have scrapbooks of photos from travels all over the world, but they are mere photos of the past, unable to save us from the inevitable.

Unless we have found a timeless truth, a timeless treasure in our life, we might find that nothing is able to give us solace as we face the end of our life.

However, Shin Buddhism is rich in the history and tradition of countless followers of the Nembutsu who have found such a truth, such a treasure in their lives, and with that truth in their hearts and minds, not only faced and accepted the inevitable, but they faced it with a sense of gratitude and fulfillment.

Years ago, I translated a few poems by Ayako Suzuki, who was the wife of a temple minister in Japan, but died of cancer leaving her family and friends behind. One of her poems goes as follows:

Now I finally understand the Buddha’s words.
For this life that I have received,
I am very thankful.
For this body that is able to listen
To the Buddha Dharma,
I am very thankful.
For the Nembutsu that I have been able to receive,
I am very thankful.
And now, with inner joy and gratitude,
I also receive the end of my life.

From Gankokuchi no ato de, “After the Diagnosis of Cancer, by Ayako Suzuki.

How is she able to say, “….with inner joy and gratitude, I also receive the end of my life,”? Isn’t that an amazing statement to be able to make? Wouldn’t we feel like we would be saying, “No, not yet. I don’t want to die.”

But somehow, Ayako Suzuki has a heart of gratitude, even on the verge of death. I think this is what it means to find real treasure in life, to receive a real truth in life. Such a treasure, such a truth is timeless, everlasting. When we discover that treasure, that truth, we touch the timeless and everlasting.

Rev. Marvin Harada