-An extract from Venerable Pomnyun’s book, Life Lessons–
P: “Why should a person live?” This is a question many people ask when they are young, and then there is another phase in life when people revisit this question. As people enter into their 40s, 50s, or reach menopause, they ask again with skepticism, “What does it mean to live, what exactly is life?”
However, there is no answer to this question because living the life we are given comes before thinking about “Why do we live?” In other words, existence precedes reasoning. Because we live, we are able to think, so we cannot possibly get an answer to the question, “Why do we live?” We were already born into the world regardless of whether we wanted to or not.
We weren’t born Koreans because we wanted to; we just were. Consequently, there is no answer to the question, “‘Why was I born a Korean?” Yet, if we keep asking ourselves such a question, we could end up thinking, “What’s the purpose of living when I don’t even know the meaning of life?” When we relentlessly continue to ask, “Why do we live?” we are likely to fall into negative thoughts like committing suicide. Therefore, it is imperative that we change our way of thinking.
All living creatures go on living simply because they were born. Grasshoppers, squirrels, and rabbits don’t question themselves why they live. They just do. You and I live just like the animals do. So, we should ask ourselves the question, “What is the best way to lead our lives? Is it better to live happily or live miserably?” Of course “It is better to live happily,” so we should ponder, “Then, how can I live that way?” This is the healthy attitude that a person with the gift of life should take. Plants, rabbits, and humans all simply live. And, when the time comes, they all die. We don’t live or die because we want to. Life is something that is just given to us, and when the time comes, it is taken away. Thus, ultimately, the only thing we can choose for ourselves is the attitude with which we embrace the life we are given. “Should we live with suffering or with happiness?”
Hidden behind the question “Why should I live?” is the thought, “I am special. Therefore, I have to live a special life, but I can’t make my life special, so I am unhappy.” Ironically, such a thought makes us feel miserable because we can’t live up to the standard we have set for ourselves. Consequently, when we assign special values to our lives, we end up feeling the burden of having to meet the expectations we have set for ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, our lives are no different from those of a plant alongside the road or a squirrel in the mountain.
Although we consider ourselves special beings, we are not. No matter how conceited we are, we will die if we don’t eat for 100 days or if we can’t breathe for 10 minutes. Therefore, it is extremely important that we don’t consider ourselves special. That way, we can be relieved from the burden of being special and just live lightheartedly. Then, we can be comfortable with anybody we meet and any task we take up. We are the masters of our own lives. Thus, we have both the responsibility and the right to make our lives happy.
Nevertheless, if we keep making ourselves miserable with various excuses, we are actually throwing away the happy life we rightfully deserve. Therefore, instead of asking the question of “Why do I live?” which will only make us feel negative about life, we should utilize our valuable time and energy to think about “How can I live happily today? This is the way to live as masters who have both the responsibilities for and the rights to their own lives.