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The Path to Happiness Through the Gate of Suffering

Whenever it comes to December, my mind seems to relax a little and I am allowed to look over the past 12 months and reflect on my life.  

It isn’t all pleasant, but for the most part, I love this holiday season from Thanksgiving through our Hoonko services in January. One part reflects on my past. I remember my family and the wonderful memories of those gatherings where we get together, eat, laugh, and try to love one another. I remember the incredible gifts of kindness and generosity I have been allowed to receive. I have tried to create similar memories for my own children.  

However, the part that I have difficulty with is while I think of the joy in this holiday season for myself, family and friends, what about the incredible suffering in this world?  

How many parents are there that cannot create similar memories for their children. I believe that even more difficult than a child not receiving their Christmas wish is the suffering of a parent who is not able to grant their child’s wish. 

We are in a time where our world seems to be especially angry — war in the Middle East, war in Ukraine, and war in our country over political ideologies. In each of these cases, it is without regard for the feelings of the other. It isn’t up to me to say who is to blame. I think in almost all cases, such as those I have listed, both sides must take some responsibility.  

However, these are huge problems and questions. What can I do to help alleviate this suffering?

It is a scientific fact that we human beings at a cellular level are hardwired to be bombu (foolish beings). We are filled with greed, anger and ignorance (bonno).  

To all the criticism we receive as Buddhists, this should be the answer to those that call us pessimists. It isn’t pessimism. It is a reality of the human condition. This may also help us better understand those people we just hate to be around. 

Isn’t this the beginning of any war? Is not understanding the other person and the suffering they may be feeling the basic instinct that grows into war? This idea that we humans down to the cellular level are filled with greed, anger and ignorance means that we can’t help it. 

Humans are instinctively driven to war. We are living out our instinctual animal selves. Our suffering, which is a result of our bonno, is not pessimism, but a truthful bit of scientific fact. However, it is also a scientific fact that this bonno can be modified and overcome with gratitude, compassion and mindfulness.

Gratitude, compassion and mindfulness are the characteristics of Amida Buddha. They are also characteristics each of us can strive for to be better human beings. 

It is my deep wish that each of us will strive to work toward taming our bonno with gratitude, compassion and mindfulness, not just this holiday season, but everyday.  

War is inevitable. However, is there something you can do to help to lessen the suffering of others? As you buy gifts for your family and friends, ask yourself, “Can I help others I may not know personally?” 

As Amida Buddha looks to us as bombu as the object of love and compassion, how can we extend that to others in a similar manner? I realize that in Jodo Shinshu we are often taught that no matter what we may want to do to help others, it is tainted with our ego and greed. Nevertheless, if each of us tried to adjust our attitudes a bit — although it may not change the world as we would like — I believe we could still help to alleviate some of the suffering that is so prevalent.

The bells of Christmas rung by the Salvation Army volunteers remind me of the sound of enlightenment. Just as the gate of suffering leads to the path of happiness, these bells of enlightenment show us the pain and suffering in the world. The gate of suffering can lead us to our own path to happiness and possibly at least shed some light on the path for others. 

On behalf of myself and my family and BCA’s Center for Buddhist Education staff, I thank you for your support throughout the year.  

Please join us in strengthening our Sanghas with kindness, gratitude and compassion. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Hoonko!  Namo Amida Butsu


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