Under the Care of Others
Being Bedridden Can Be Donation
LIFE EXPECTANCY is the number of years we can reasonably anticipate living, but there is another way of considering this, which is called health expectancy. This is the span of time in which we can lead our daily lives without being limited by our health concerns. According to recent government statistics, for Japanese men the average life expectancy is 79.55 years, with health expectancy being 70.42 years.
For Japanese women, average life expectancy is 86.30 years, and health expectancy is 73.62 years. Therefore, it is highly likely that at the last stage of life, nearly everyone in Japan will need some form of assistance.
And yet, we hope for the kind of end summed up by the onomatopoeic Japanese phrase, pin pin korori, whichmeans remaining and energetic until the end and experiencing a quick and painless death. Operating here are feelings of guilt about becoming a burden upon one's children or having to be cared for by others, yet this is the reality facing people.
However, if we do become bedridden and must be cared for by other people, even this can be broadly interpreted as one very meaningful form of donation.
I have heard that especially those people who have studied and practiced Buddhism and have always been mindful of serving other people may, upon losing their physical mobility and thus becoming unable to continue such activity, worry about this and begin to doubt even the value of their own existence. However, when sick people show us what it is like to be sick, and when the elderly show us what being old means, we should be able to accept these as lessons of great importance for human beings, similar to Kannon's liberation.
Although the act of caring for other people may appear unilaterally directed toward the recipients, at the same time the recipient of others' care-giving can be said to be making a donation that only he or she can make.
Thanks for Giving and Receiving
A contemporary Roman Catholic Jesuit priest has written a book in which he says, "When we fall ill, when we are unable to move, that is the opportunity for someone else to get involved without asking anything in return." Someone with limited physical mobility and in need of assistance is thereby giving other people an opportunity to open their eyes to love and compassion that asks nothing in return.
If this is the case, although those in need may have difficulty thinking so themselves because they assume that their condition is a burden to others, that condition is, in and of itself, valuable from the perspective of the gods and the buddhas.
Of course, from the time we are born, we human beings are only able to live thanks to the many blessings we receive. Through our interconnections to each and every person and thing, we lead lives that support others and are supported by others. Regarding such great blessings, I myself feel incapable of repaying my debt of gratitude in any concrete way. But if I am able to do anything, then at the very least it should be simply accepting these with a sincerely expressed "thank you."
Our thinking should be the same when we have to be cared for by others. When we receive care from other people, we naturally develop heartfelt gratitude toward them. There is no better way to repay those who have cared for us than to honestly rejoice at the development of this heartfelt gratitude and sincerely thank the care-givers.
Buddhism teaches us that the genuine practice of donation involves the purity of those who make the donations, those who receive them, and anything that is offered as donation. I mentioned above that even being bedridden can be a form of practicing donation, and in this regard, when the person who cares for someone in need is grateful for the opportunity to be able to do so, and the person who receives the care can respond to it with sincere thanks for being able to practice donation in receiving the care, a compassionate exchange develops through which both parties grow.
On February 15 we mark the anniversary of Shakyamuni's entering nirvana. Let us make it the opportunity to deeply reflect upon the important lesson that Shakyamuni teaches us through the weakening and death of his physical body.