The One-eyed Turtle & Being Grateful

So, I have been associated with Japan, Japanese manners, customs and traditions since 1983. I have been a practicing Lotus Sutra Buddhist for 36 years.

As an interpretive tour guide, it is one of my jobs to teach my guests about anything Japanese related. One of those things, is something that the Japanese say before eating a meal. ITADAKIMASU.

‘ITADAKU, means to take part in. Pretty much any meal that is set in front of you, it has taken 20 or 30 people, if not more, to get that food in front of you. Someone grew the beef, pork or chicken, someone grew the vegetables, someone grew rice, and it probably took multiple people from those places to assist in growing and caring for those items.

There were other people that transported those items to where they needed to go. There were people involved in processing, cleaning, organizing, inspecting, delivering and selling these items.

Then there are the people that prepare and serve these items to you in whatever shape or form. YOU, now take part in the final process, which is consuming these items for YOUR benefit. YOUR enjoyment.

All of these people came together to produce what you are staring at on the table in front of you. So now when you say the word, ITADAKIMASU, you are in effect, thanking all of those people that came together to produce the meal you are about to eat.

LIFE is the same way when you think about it. You would not be where you are today if it wasn’t for everybody else that knowingly or unknowingly had a hand in getting you where you are today. I know that there are going to be some of you that say ‘I got where I am because of who I am’ and how hard you have worked to get to this point and yes, I am in no way negating that fact.

What I am saying is that we go on everyday without thanking or informing the spirits of our Ancestors of what is going on in our lives. We do not think about these people that came before us. If it wasn’t for all those people, you would not be here today. None of us, or very few of us, ever get the chance to thank the person that delivered us.

A lot of us, have thanked and are still friends with the teachers that we grew up with. But there are so many people, between all of those people, that were involved in raising you and directly or indirectly providing for you. Let’s just take our clothes for example. This is not the old days, where clothes would have to have been made by someone in the family. Most likely you and/or your parents bought them off the shelf, this goes for pretty much everything that you own. So let’s just break it down, and look at all of the things in your house that you would need to survive in this life, I mean the things that you really NEED and the things you cannot do without. How many people were involved in making those things?

It is so funny when you hear about someone wanting to be a minimalist. I have lived off of the grid, made my own firewood, some of my own furniture, and have grown my own food, both vegetable and protein. But there are still many things that I NEEDED that I could not myself produce. I am so grateful for all of the people that were involved because if not, I would not be alive. So I’m just taking the time to think about that today

It does not matter whether they were producing those items to make money or not. There were items that I needed. Let’s take my iPhone for example. I spent many a year without a phone not knowing I needed one of these things. I believe that Steve Jobs himself said that they were going to produce something that people don’t even know they need yet, or something to that effect.

The conclusion, is that we all need each other. I think that is the underlying factor, the most important thing that we need to look at. I think when you begin to ignore that and take your life for granted, and take the things that you have for granted, you are not only doing yourself a disservice, you’re being morally ungrateful

So for me, today going forward, I will do my best at keeping this in my mind every single day. I will think about my ancestors every single day. I will show deep appreciation and gratefulness with everything I do. It is really hard to explain. But I think everyone should thank everyone, every day, for everything and keep helping each other.

There’s an interesting story in the Lotus Sutra, I have shortened it and paraphrased it for easy reading;

Eighty thousand yojanas down, on the bottom of the ocean, lives a one-eyed turtle. His belly is as hot as heated iron, but the shell on his back is as cold as the Snow Mountains. What this turtle yearns for day and night, morning and evening—the desire he utters at each moment—is to cool his belly and warm the shell on his back.

The turtle longs with all his might to climb onto a log and place his belly in a hollow there in order to cool it, while exposing the shell on his back to the sun in order to warm it. According to the laws of nature, however, he can rise to the ocean’s surface once every thousand years. But even then it is difficult for him to find a log in the ocean at exactly the right spot that he surfaces. The ocean is vast, while the turtle is small, and floating logs are few.

Even if he is fortunate enough to find a log, it rarely has a hollow the size of his belly. If the hollow is too large and he falls into it, he cannot warm the shell on his back, and no one will be there to pull him out. If the hollow is too small and he cannot place his belly in it, the waves will wash him away, and he will sink back to the ocean’s floor.

Even when, against all odds, the turtle comes across a floating log with a hollow of the right size, having only one eye, his vision is distorted, and he sees the log as drifting eastward when it is actually drifting westward. Thus the harder he swims in his hurry to climb onto the log, the farther away he goes. When it drifts eastward, he sees it as drifting westward, and in the same way, he mistakes south for north. Thus he always moves away from the log, never approaches it.

My thoughts are, say he finally has the log where he wants it, how can a turtle climb up on this log with out the log spinning? Even if he makes it on the log, hopefully the weather will be good for his back to warm and it’s not raining. LOL

What this story is saying is, that we living beings, transmigrating through the universe, have been born sometimes in the world of heavenly beings, other times in the world of human beings, and still other times in the worlds of hell, hungry spirits, and animals. Thus we have been born in immeasurable numbers of lands where we have undergone innumerable sufferings and occasionally enjoyed pleasures, but it is rare to be born as a human. It is as rare as the turtle finding the log. It only comes around once every so often and timing and various karmic circumstances you have produced, both positive and negative, have to come together to make it happen.

Just that appreciation to be born as a human is beyond words, then we need other humans to keep us live. A turtle is born on the beach and can head straight to the ocean immediately upon hatching and must fend and survive on its own. No other turtles to help it. Humans cannot do this.

We need help from the very first day and if we keep that humbleness about us, that gratefulness about us, that appreciation about us, how can we argue and start wars? How can we not then help each other for the benefit of everyone.

Just one of my thoughts.




Author: Richard

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