New York Civic Forum
“What is the Meaning of Life?”

If we put the principle of cause and effect to good use and think good thoughts and do good deeds, our thoughts and deeds have the power to change our life course.

While earnestly managing companies, I have kept thinking about the question of “what rules govern our lives?” Each person is born into this world with his or her own fate. I also believe that there is another invisible hand that guides our life’s journey: the universal law of cause and effect, an extremely simple law that directly joins causes to results. Good deeds produce good results and bad deeds produce bad results.

I first encountered the idea of consciously using the law of cause and effect in Fate and Establishing One’s Destiny by Masahiro Yasuoka, a Confucian scholar who influenced many Japanese politicians and economists. In his book, Yasuoka relates the classic Chinese tale of Liao-Fan. The story, which was written more than four centuries ago, goes like this:

Liao-Fan was born to a family of doctors. His father died when he was young and his mother raised him single-handedly. During his youth, Liao-Fan began studying medicine in the tradition of his forefathers. One day, an elderly man came to visit. “I have mastered the art of fortune-telling,” the elderly man said, “and in obedience to the command of heaven, I have come to tell you the essence of what I have learned.” The elderly man then turned to Liao-Fan’s mother and said:” I expect that you are planning to train this boy in medicine, but he isn’t destined to become a doctor. When he grows up, Liao-Fan will take the imperial exams and become a government official.” The elderly man further predicted not only the age at which Liao-Fan would take the exams and the grades he would score but also that he would be appointed regional governor while still young, rise to a very high rank, marry but never have children, and finally die at the age of 53.

Liao-Fan’s life unfolded exactly as the elderly man had foretold. One day, after Liao-Fan had become the regional governor, Liao-Fan visited a renowned Zen master and asked to join him in meditation. “You have reached such a high level of consciousness. Where on earth did you train?” the master asked.

Liao-Fan answered that he had received no training and then told him about the elderly man he had met in his youth. “My life has unfolded exactly as that man foretold. It is my destiny to die at 53 and, therefore, there is no point in worrying about the future.”

The Zen master rebuked Liao-Fan sternly: “I was impressed that you had reached enlightenment at such a young age but now I know that you are just a fool! Do you intend to live your life as destiny dictates? True, fate is God-given, but that does not mean we can’t change it. If you think good thoughts and do good deeds, you can transcend your fate and turn your life in an even better direction.”

Liao-Fan took this explanation of the universal law of cause and effect to heart and thereafter strove to do good deeds, not bad. As it turned out, he was blessed with a child and lived well beyond the age that had been predicted.

At the time I read this book, I was wondering about the meaning of life. I decided to think good thoughts and do good deeds.

Aligning our good thoughts with the Will of the Universe that accelerates the growth and development of everything that exists within it.

However, being a scientist with a science degree who had researched ceramics, I had a hard time completely believing this. Then, I was told by a modern physics teacher about how the universe was born.

In the field of astrophysics, the dominant theory concerning the origin of the universe is the Big Bang. According to the Big Bang theory, an infinitely hot, dense clump of elementary particles inflated and expanded about 13.7 billion years ago to form a continually expanding universe. The universe, like a single organism, continues to grow (expand) today.
First, elementary particles, including protons, mesons, and neutrons, formed and were joined together to create atomic nuclei, which then combined with electrons to give rise to the first atoms. Individual atoms combined through nuclear fusion to form altogether new types of atoms and, when certain types of atoms combined with other types of atoms, molecules came into existence. Molecules then fused into macromolecules and life was born. Over a mind-boggling span of time, primordial forms of life evolved into higher organisms, which eventually developed into the human race. The history of the universe is thus a dynamic process of evolutionary development from elementary particles to higher organisms.
There is a well-intentioned will of force in the universe that acts like a current of energy, continuously propelling the growth and development of all things, guiding all matter, both organic and inorganic including the human race, in a positive direction.

It is the will of the universe that promotes positive results. Aligning our attitudes and our ways of life with the great will of the universe, therefore, is of the utmost importance. The success or failure of our lives and of all our endeavors is determined by whether we are aligned to this will, to the flow of the universe.

Understanding the Law of Cause and Effect changed my destiny

Nature gives us various hardships during our lives. Sometimes, it is bad luck or good luck. How you behave when you face a hardship will decide the rest of life. I treated every bad fortune as a challenge by staying very positive and pleasant. I continued making endless efforts.

When I look back, my life was full of failure until I jumped into research activities at Shofu Industry Co., Ltd. I failed twice in junior high school entrance exams and I also came down with tuberculosis, which at that time was considered incurable. I failed the entrance examination of the university that was my first choice. I was not hired by any of the top companies. Shofu Industry Co. Ltd. was on the verge of bankruptcy. I found my situation discouraging. All of our new hires started complaining and talking about quitting. Once my situation reached this stage, I had no choice but to put my negative thoughts about my job behind me. There was no point of complaining any further about my circumstances, so I decided to change my approach to my job completely. I threw myself into research, working as hard as I could.

My work began to reflect my change in attitude and I produced results that earned the praise of my superiors. Their recognition made me want to work even harder, which consequently produced even better results, creating a positive cycle. My life started changing from that point forward.

Founding and growing Kyocera and KDDI is not something a country boy like me was able to do. By understanding the law of cause and effect, I was able to change my life.

The meaning of life is refining the soul

Each person will sooner or later die. This “death” means the death of a body. When you think of death as a new starting point of a soul, the purpose of life is to become a better person than I was at birth, that I came to die with a soul that is nobler and purer than the one I was born into, no matter how slight the improvement. To me, this is the only purpose in life; to live fully in the temporal plane, savoring all its joys and sorrows, washed by the waves of good fortune and bad, and to use my time on earth as a fine sand that refines my nature as a human being and cultivates my spirit such that I leave this world with my soul in a higher state.

How can we build character and refine our souls? I believe the answer is an act of working. I, myself, worked extremely hard from the inception of Kyocera until today. This act of work shaped myself and my life.

Rokuharamitsu (the Six Perfections) helps us elevate our minds. They are Fuse: the act of selfless giving; Jikai: the avoidance of wrongdoing; Shōjin: making a diligent effort in whatever one does; Ninniku: the practice of patience; Zenjō: finding a moment to reflect in a silence; and Chie: the eternal truth of the universe. The six essential practices of the Rokluharamitsu show us the path we must travel to reach enlightenment. These are not difficult at all. I want you to begin practicing starting today.