The Dalai Lama had gallbladder surgery. The surgeon mentioned to His Holiness that, though he was in his seventies, he had the heart of a twenty year old. The Dalai Lama told the surgeon he believed his youthful heart was the result of his practices of altruism and compassion.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. —MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
Japan has the greatest longevity of any country in the world. Many people speculate about the reason for this. I believe it is because Japanese people generally think of other people first, they are naturally altruistic. The other night I was watching Document 72 Hours on NHK World about people living on Kakeroma island who take a water taxi to get to the main island of Amami Oshima for work and and shopping. The film crew approached a man sitting in the taxi waiting area after his work day, and asked him why he did not take an earlier taxi home. The man said he was waiting for the last water taxi because he helps the 80 year old taxi driver moor the boat and makes sure he gets home safely. The man has been doing this for the old man for ten years. The man said of course he would like to go home right after work, but he feels it is important to help the old man. This is altruism. This is kindness and compassion. This is the reason I believe Japanese people live the longest.
Another example is found in the following essay written by Pamela Bloom in the book Buddhist Acts of Compassion:
On a recent trip to Japan on a spiritual pilgrimage, I was staying in a hotel in the sea city of Atami, with a balcony overlooking the great Pacific Ocean. Yukiko, my roommate, was a Japanese born woman who moved me deeply with her quiet presence and inner strength, for she had battled a catastrophic illness and survived. For the first two nights we had been simply too tired to pull ourselves out of bed to see the legendary sunrise over Atami’s waters, but on our last morning I was determined to share the beauty of it with her. Just as the lush red dome was peeping over the horizon, I ran to the cold balcony in bare feet, calling out to Yukiko to follow. Each second this great eastern ball of fire rose higher and higher, fabulous in color and size, but Yukiko was nowhere to be found. I became so irritated she was missing the view. Where was she? Then suddenly, seconds too late, she arrived at my shoulder looking a bit sheepish—holding out slippers and a heavier kimono for me. My heart broke. While I had been thinking only about the sunrise, she had been only thinking of my comfort.
Reverend Akiyama of the Haleiwa Shingon Mission said that one good quality of Japanese people is humility; by humility he meant the ability to put other people first. He went on to say that a humble person is respected by other people so they don’t need to boost themselves up or work to make themselves look good. They focus on making other people happy by doing a good job or service. Reverend Akiyama is over 90 years old and can still chant stronger than me. He said he never expected to live this long, and yet, he is still happily available to anyone who comes to the temple. He said the temple is there for the people, it is a place for people to come and get some relief from the harshness of life. Reverend Akiyama promotes Yoo Omairi: With a big smile, greet others you meet with an open heart by saying “Yoo Omairi” The meaning of Yoo Omairi is—I welcome and respect you. I pray for your fulfillment and success. May your wishes and prayers come true. Odaishi-sama is always with you.
The Dalai Lama, the man from Kakeroma island, Yukiko and Reverend Akiyama are people we respect because of their actions. They don’t do their actions to get respect, they do what they do because their hearts move them to. This, I believe, is one of the reasons the Japanese people live so long. The same good heart is something I hope to develop within myself, not just to live a long life, but to live happy.