‘The Sea Of Trees’ (Jukai: 树海) is an alternative name of Japan’s ‘Suicide Forest’ (Aokigahara: 青木ヶ原), with its dense foliage that moves with swells and waves like the sea. Believed by many to be very easy to get lost in, it is reminiscent of this Sahā World (娑婆世界) as a bitter ‘sea of suffering’ (苦海), that is easy to drown in, if land is not found in time.
With some said to had perished in the forest not by suicide, but by being lost, it is terrifying to imagine this ‘purgatory’-like state, to be trapped between actual life and actual death. Yet, this window period still offers some chances to change minds and life itself.
In this fictitious telling, a man is overwhelmed by guilt and grief, over not being able to apologise to his wife for an affair, who just died in an accident. Entering the forest with a hesitant death wish, he encounters a desperate man, who has a ‘life wish’ instead, who regretted entering the forest.
Seeing the latter’s desperation, the first man tries to find the way out with him, at first only for him. They go around in circles though, with uncertainty, filled with cyclical hopes and fears, much like us within our existential rebirths.
If accidents are believed to happen by chance, absurdity should just be embraced, with no reason to grieve over them at all. However, Buddhism teaches that even amidst apparent absurdities of life and even death, there is order, as there are the workings of karmic causes and effects involved.
What matters is to learn what we can from what happens, as graciously as we can, and to make amends best we can. This would be the way to create new and positive karma for the better. Suicide unfortunately creates among the most destructive karma, through oneself.
The duo have heartfelt and moving chats over why they came to the forest. The second man had lost his sense of dignity when he lost his job, which some Japanese salarymen perhaps take too much to heart. If this is an ego issue, the ego should ‘die’ then; not him.
He did not really want to live; but did not want to die either – thus his change of mind. Seems like he should seek liberation from the cycle of birth and death instead. Paradoxically, the second man’s wish to survive gave the first man a sense of purpose, to help him find the way out, while reassessing the worth of his own life.
As they empathised with each other, it turned out that the second man was physically more lost, while the first man spiritually more lost. It is with compassion for one another, that we will be able to help and save one another. It is with kindness and forgiveness to ourselves and others, that we can all be redeemed.
If we can be kind even when life seems unkind, our lives are immediately worth all its troubles great and small. If living to help one is meaningful, living to help all is surely most meaningful. It is Bodhicitta itself – the most noble spiritual aspiration to guide oneself and others to the True Happiness of Buddhahood.
If feeling suicidal, do seek help as soon as possible. That there are many free and anonymous counselling hotlines (and centres) that can easily be found online means many do care for you, without any conditions at all, even if you are a complete stranger… but you must care enough to look for them, to seek their professional second opinions on how to look at your life.
Of course, there are also people whom we know around us too, mentors, family members and friends who care. Together, let us help one another out of the sea of suffering. While the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always doing their best to help us, we should do our best to be Bodhisattvas for one another too, to help them to better help us!
(This was originally published here.)