“Even Hell itself is a dwelling place.” ( Jigoku mo sumika)
Japanese culture is rife with allusions to ghostly worlds and intimations of the Land of the Dead bleeding into the mundane world of “reality.” The tradition of Buddhism also seeps into almost every aspect of Japanese life, exoteric and esoteric.
One of most interesting literary and cultural facets of Japan is its rich culture of sutra-like proverbs. The macabre proverb which heads this piece calls forth interesting images which for many are shocking and terrifying, for others jaded individuals simply humorous. However, in today’s world of demonic politicians, genetically modified foods advertised as manna from the skies, and human trafficking occurring literally by the hour, it’s not too far of a stretch to call the modern world “hellish.”
Regardless of the infernal timbre of this proverb, within its pithy space resides a massive message for individuals living in the chaotic modern world. On a daily basis I hear friends and patients complain about depression due the “state of the modern world.”
Upon inquiry about the causes of depression or malaise, more often than not the respective individuals will go into a diatribe listing world event after world event which in the long run has no direct effect on their daily lives, yet they are still allowing the events to destroy their lives.
When discussing the state of the modern world, we must assume an honest and sober tone: things are most likely not going to get “better” in the big picture. Politicians are not going to be the Christ-like savior, greed is not going to give way to compassion, and war will not end despite the endless social media campaigns to bring peace and joy to the world. Yet we still can have beautiful fulfilling lives.
Before allowing distant horrors to affect your quality of life, examine the actual quality of your life!
Do you have a fun inspiring web of social contacts? In this case I’m not referring to just meeting friends at the pub for a pint but social contacts which inspire and enrich your life and help you become a stronger individual.
For example, I always encourage anyone who feels depressed or uninspired to seek out a quality martial arts school. For many individuals this can be a daunting challenge and can take them out of their “comfort zones”; and this is the exact reason why they should do it!
The “comfort” zone of the daily status quo is in reality not a comfort at all but usually a medication for the malaise and ennui of living an uninspired life. Connecting with a high quality martial arts school can allow individuals to grow physically, mentally and spiritually as well as connecting them to an inspiring social environment where a brother or sister is always there to give honest advice and encouragement.
I encourage individuals to form reading groups in their local areas. This can be a wonderful way to create a stimulating social environment where ideas are discussed and digested and the mind can free itself from the homogenized drudgery of the daily grind. The books discussed can be spiritual in nature or inspirational and ideally allow the group to explore stimulating ideas which encourages creative thought and journeys beyond the mundane.
Both of these suggestions bring to mind another one of my favorite Japanese proverbs:
“Even in hell old acquaintances are welcome.” ( Jigoku ni mo shiru hito)
One idea which connects both the aforementioned martial arts school and reading group is inspiring social contacts. This Japanese proverb succinctly expresses the importance of nurturing and inspiring friendships in a world gone mad. It is vital to remember that although we must walk the path to Self-Realization as a solitary pilgrim, the environment of the journey is manifold: spiritual, mental, physical and social.
The social environment can support our inner / outer journeys or destroy them, it’s simply up to us to make the choice. Who we spend our time with determines who we become, in many ways almost more than our own personal efforts. Therefore in a world filled with a never-ending supply of depressing news and sadness, seek out direct social contacts which assuage the pain of the modern world and create an environment of inspiration and support.
Buddhism often states: This world is a travelers’ inn”, a transient fleeting lightning flash, a fleeting world of ghosts and shadows. But even in the darkest corners of Hell or in the tavern at the inn, despite how weary we may be, it’s always a joy to bump into an old friend.
Don’t waste time crying as the “hellish” world slouches towards Bethlehem; seek out and find your confidants on the battlefield of life!