Excellence Reporter: Professor Habito, what is the meaning of life?
Ruben Habito: Allow me to respond not as a “professor” but as one human being just like yourself, just like everyone else for whom this question is unavoidable, and looms large in our minds. It confronts us every day as we course through our life journey here on earth, though we may not always be thinking about it. After all these years of having had this question in my heart since my youth, and pondering and struggling with it through the ups and downs of my own life, this is what comes up for me:
There is no “meaning of life” apart from living it, breath by breath, moment by moment, one day at a time, grateful for the mystery, the miracle, the wonder of it all.
It is waking up and welcoming the new day, washing one’s face, getting dressed, smelling the coffee, taking breakfast. It is going off to work, saying “Good morning!” to colleagues, buckling down to business, taking a lunch break, back again to the office for more work, taking a break, checking out at five. It is getting back home, relaxing a bit, taking a walk outside, preparing dinner, smelling the aroma of what’s cooking from the kitchen, enjoying the food with family, fixing up, doing the dishes, listening to music, reading a bit, getting tired, going to bed.
It is seeing a child smile, and smiling back. It is looking up at the blue sky, and seeing the clouds, feeling glad that the sun is shining. It is looking at the trees, the houses in the neighborhood, people walking their dogs, children playing in the park. On another day, it is hearing the ominous thunder, seeing the flash of lightning from the corner of my eye, rushing for shelter as the rain starts to fall, wiping my shoes on the rug in front of the door, watching the raindrops from my window, being glad I’m dry and safe inside.
It is playing with the kids, watching over them when they’re sick, being relieved when the fever subsides. It is seeing a son or daughter off to college with a mixed feeling of relief and nostalgia, recalling those times when he or she was just a toddler. It is taking care of an elderly parent, speaking a little more loudly or repeating what you just said for the umpteenth time so they may understand. It is spending time with friends, eating out together, trading corny jokes and laughing out loud. It is watching a film with a loved one, holding hands during the movie. It is visiting a sick friend, feeling concerned, making small talk not knowing what else to say. It is losing a job, feeling despondent, finding a new one, changing career. It is counting the pennies, trying to make ends meet. It is saving up for a vacation, going on a splurge every now and then.
It is watching the news and getting troubled by what’s happening in our world. It is lamenting for those who just died on a boat off the coast of Greece as they sought to flee their country seeking a better life elsewhere. It is feeling angry and helpless as another school shooting is announced in the news. It is feeling a numbing ache deep in my gut in reading about the melting polar ice caps, about the thousands of species are dying and disappearing from this Earth every year, about the rainforests being depleted. It is signing a petition to support a cause, writing a letter to a senator to urge some action on a matter one feels strongly about. It is joining a peace march, joining a rally for a cause of justice.
It is being hurt by a thoughtless comment of an acquaintance, and keeping it to oneself, not snapping back, though tempted to. It is feeling glad and grateful at hearing a kind word, at being appreciated for little favors done for another. It is buying a card to send to a friend for a birthday, or texting to convey greetings. It is attending a memorial service, saddened at the loss.
In the midst of all these ordinary things that happen from day to day, it is being stunned every now and then, by the mystery, the wonder, the beauty of it all. Without knowing why or where from, it is having the firmly rooted sense of being accepted, being cared for, of being loved. Empowered by this, it is living one’s life just wanting to love back. It is being gifted with a glimpse of a boundless and timeless horizon opening up right here in this moment, in every here and now. It is the simple and quiet joy of just being, just as one is, grateful to be alive, and earnestly wishing from the heart, “may all be well, may all beings be well!”
It is growing old, getting sick, feeling weak, forgetting things. And when the time comes to bow out, heaving a last breath, with palms joined, heart filled with boundless gratitude, for this wondrous ride that is called life. Throughout all this, it is knowing deep, deep within, that somehow, in the final scheme of things, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.
~Ruben L.F. Habito is a former Jesuit priest turned master practicing in the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Zen. He received Dharma transmission from Yamada Koun.
Professor of World Religions and Spirituality at Perkins School of Theology
Founder of Maria Kannon Zen Center.
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