One of the most important questions all belief systems seek to address is: What is the purpose of life? Almost all religions propose a way of life leading to salvation, liberation, satisfaction, or happiness. Buddhism is no exception.
As I pose these thoughts, allow me a few words of background. Many are unaware my ex-wife shows signs of early dementia. Thus, during the course of this disease, we’ve had many conversations surrounding the meaning of life and doing what we are called. As we dialogue and pick apart one’s personal journey and meaning, I am reminded of Harry Chapin’s comments from his grandfather.
“My grandfather was a painter. He died at age eighty-eight, he illustrated Robert Frost’s first two books of poetry, and he was looking at me and he said,
‘Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad tired.
Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy.
Good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away.
Harry, all my life I wanted to be a painter and I painted; God, I would have loved to have been more successful, but I painted and I painted and I’m good tired and they can take me away.’
Now, there is a process, in your and my lives, in the insecurity that we have about a prior-life or an afterlife, God- I hope there is a God. If He is- If He does exist, He’s got a rather weird sense of humor however. But let’s just- But if there’s a process that will allow us to live our days, that will allow us that will allow us that degree of equanimity towards the end looking at the black, implacable wall of death, to allow us that degree of peace, that degree of non-fear, I want in.”
Most people dislike facing the facts of life and prefer the false sense of security by sweat equity, dreaming and imagining. Thus, we accept shadow for substance and fail to realize life’s uncertainty.
Being deeply religious, my ex-wife understands life by facing and understanding death as nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary existence. Still, many misconstrue life’s ultimate meaning: reaching upwards to a higher level of being. Whether rich or poor, live in India or the United States, are Catholic or Atheist, it’s the power to transform negativity into positive; turning the ignoble, noble; the selfish, unselfish; the proud, humble; the haughty, forbearing; the greedy, benevolent; the cruel, kind; the subjective, objective.
Although many forms of religion had come into being in the course of history, only to pass away and be forgotten, each one in its time had contributed something towards the sum of human progress. We are not to counter personal growth. As a Buddhist, I’m called to embrace and transcend, not to conquer for material end, but rather to strive to attain harmony with nature or spiritual satisfaction. That’s being good tired.
May we all become ‘good tired.’