Introduction to the Sutra of Infinite Life

September 19, 2010 - Leave a Response

The next course of study I will discuss about is the Sutra of Infinite Life.

First of all, what is it, and what does it say?

The Sutra of Infinite Life is the central sutra in Pure Land Buddhism. In it, it talks about the story of Dharmakara, and how he came to be known as Amida Buddha.

The sutra also describes the Pure Land and how we can enter into it.

In order to understand the Sutra of Infinite Life, I recommend watching the following Youtube videos to see a visual representation of it in action:

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=127CA622096A8D70

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Wrong to Kill or Natural Right?

September 8, 2010 - 8 Responses

In life, we as human beings must live amongst not only various kinds of people, but also various kinds of creatures, animals and beings. Nature has what is called the ‘food chain’ in which animals or beings of a higher species eat the lower ones in order to survive, who in turn eat the lower ones below that. It is therefore natural and a vital part of nature that beings kill other beings in order to survive. If this is not done, then not only will the balance of nature be upset, but many animals would not be able to survive on vegetation alone.

As expected, we humans are on the top of the food chain. We kill other animals for food, to make tools and necessary survival items, as well as kill them when they get in our way. I remember when I was young, my mother used to set mouse traps for catching mice, and then suffocate them because they were annoying pests. Other times our family has killed numerous cockroaches and bugs of various sizes without remorse. My parents were vegetarians, believing in Hinduism very strongly and old conservatives, but yet they still killed other beings.

My question to explore today is, is this wrong? If so, why is it wrong?

Unfortunately, it is a very difficult question to answer from the point of view of our own societal thinking. There are murderers out there who spend their lives in prison for killing an innocent individual, but yet the masses are not in jail for having murdered thousands of chickens, cows, and other living beings for the sake of food. Why is that? Why is it wrong to kill another human being but yet, not wrong to kill other animals for our food? However, I will admit there are laws against animal cruelty, and if you kill dogs or cats this will put you in the same boat. But why is it that we put dogs and cats before mice and chickens?

There was a story the other day on the news of a woman who was notoriously known for throwing puppies in the local river. The media created a huge backlash, and there was even more attention gained from animal rights activists. I wonder why no one realizes that people have been killing and eating fish, chicken and cows for centuries now and goes after those people. How come it is all of a sudden wrong to harm cats and dogs? I wonder if it is because these animals are more closer to us than the cows or chickens from an emotional point of view? In Japan as well, there has been a lot of recent debate about the dolphin killings in Taiji, as well as a movie (The Cove) which has been banned across many parts of Japan. Censorship or ignorance? I am not sure why this movie was made. Why didn’t they film chickens being slaughtered, or various other animals? Isn’t that the same thing?

So you see, it is very difficult to answer why it is wrong to kill from the point of view of our own morals and ethics. There are a lot of loopholes, and it seems the law is focused only on the human ego and what we deem as more valuable than another. We think that human life is more important than a cow or chicken’s life, for example. And, because we have our cats and dogs as pets, they hold emotional significance for us, and therefore it is wrong to harm them. Dolphins are considered by humans to be ‘beautiful creatures’ and so it was made illegal to kill them too.

In Buddhism, whether you kill one type of animal or another, all is considered a bad deed. Killing a human or a dog is on the same level as killing chickens or cows. There is no such scale in terms of the value of importance of certain kinds of life compared to another. That is why the way of thinking in Buddhism is a lot different from the way our general society thinks and a lot different from our own moral codes and ethics.

Killing is therefore wrong, however, it is also something that we all must do from time to time in order to live our life. Just as other animals may kill lower animals on the food chain, so must we in the same fashion. That only further proves the case that we are, at the core, defiled beings without any hope of salvation. We put ourselves at the forefront and place values on which lives are more important than others. This is merely an incarnation of the ego in our society. Yet, despite that, Amida Buddha has always known this and promises to carry us across the sea of suffering and bring us into his pure land by his primal vow. How fortunate we are to have somewhere to turn to despite all our shortcomings and egotistical belief systems. Turn to Amida Buddha and his vow, for that is all that is right and just in this world.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 21

September 6, 2010 - Leave a Response

XVIII
Some people say that the amount of offerings made to the Buddha Dharma will determine the size, great or small, that we will become as buddhas.

First of all, is it possible to determine the size of a buddha, whether great or small? Even though the size of Buddha in the Pure Land is described in the sutra, it is the manifestation of dharmakaya-as- compassion, appearing for the sake of human beings. When one attains supreme enlightenment and realizes dharmakaya-as-it-is, how can size be discussed, since such shapes as long or short, square or round, do not exist; and color is also transcended, whether it be blue, yellow, red, white, or black?

Some say that they see the transformed Buddha when uttering the nembutsu. Could they have based their view on such statements as the following and applied it here, “In loud utterance one sees a huge Buddha and in quiet utterance one sees a small Buddha”?

Furthermore, although offerings can be part of the practice of selfless giving, no matter how many valuables we present to the Buddha or give to our teachers, the act is meaningless if true entrusting is absent. If one is made to give the self up to Other Power and true entrusting is complete, even though one does not present even a single sheet of paper or even half a coin to the Buddha Dharma, he or she is in accord with the intention of the Primal Vow.

Are people intimidating their fellow practicers, using the teaching as a pretext, to fulfill their own selfish needs?

Explanation:

This chapter marks the end of our Tannisho study as it is chapter 18.

What this chapter is about is clarifying the misunderstanding that after we die, and reach Buddhist enlightenment, or Buddhahood; the size of the Buddha which we become depends on the donations or offerings which we have given to the Buddhas in this lifetime.

First of all, there is no such thing as the “size” of a Buddha and there is no way to determine what size a Buddha is according to this chapter. How ridiculous of an assertion is this? Big, small, tall or short, it really does not matter what the size of a Buddha is or how he looks like. The reason Amida Buddha exists is for the compassion of human beings, and for our sake, he grants us salvation into his pure land. How can we, as foolish beings, question what size of a Buddha we are to become after death? Such a claim has self power written all over it and does not have any backing, basis or claim in the teachings of Buddhism.

Second of all, this chapter says something about the motivation behind the act of giving. Our Buddhist teachers and masters guide us to the white path. Anything which we present to them or to the Buddhas must be done in accordance with true faith and other power. Therefore, the act of giving must be based solely on this. How can we expect to “bribe” our way into Buddhahood? It just does not happen. He who gives solely for the purpose of attaining salvation will see his efforts fail just as a rock will never float on water. Even one who does not give anything can still be in accordance with the primal vow of Amida Buddha.

Once upon a time, I have attended lectures of the Shinrankai. I was told many times that those who do not know and understand true Buddhism must refrain from spreading the dharma and concentrate their efforts on intense study until the time comes when they are able to teach the dharma. Such practice is to avoid spreading misunderstanding about the teachings of Buddhism and about the teachings of the dharma. However, I was also told that until that time comes, those who do not know the true Buddhism and are still learning must donate money to those who do know the true Buddhism so that they can spread the dharma for us (ie. the organization). This practice is very shallow and haunting to say the least.

In the Sutra of Infinite Life (which will most likely be our next topic of exploration here), Sakyamuni Buddha says that the most important thing is to spread the dharma and that it is his hope that the teachings of Buddhism will not be forgotten. We, as humans, are foolish beings at best and continually slander Buddhism and the teachings even though we do not realize it. The reason is because this is the age of the five defilements, or the period after the death of Sakyamuni, and so the only way we can come to know the teachings is by second hand accounts and records. Our understanding of Buddhism is therefore limited by those who have preceded us and translated the original teachings from their Indian language. We should therefore, encourage everyone to spread the dharma so that they can further their Buddhist studies and move towards the light.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 20

August 31, 2010 - Leave a Response

XVII

Some people say that those born in the borderland will eventually fall into hell. What attesting passage makes this claim?

This is asserted by those who claim to be scholars and that is truly deplorable. How are they reading the sutras, commentaries, and teachings? I have been taught that people who lack true entrusting, doubting the Primal Vow, are born in the borderland, where they atone for evil karma and ultimately attain enlightenment in the land of Fulfillment.

Since true entrusting is very rare, many people go to the temporary land.. And yet to contend that they are ultimately hopeless is to accuse the Buddha of falsehood.

Explanation:

This passage of Tannisho deals with the misunderstanding that those who are reborn into the borderland – that is, the land on the very outset of the pure land (we discussed this a bit last time); those people shall eventually fall into hell.

First of all, this assertion simply doesn’t make sense in the least. There is no evidence of this in any sort of sutra or commentary. Those who are born in the borderland are, for example, those who at the surface claim to have attained true faith, but deep down still have doubts in the Nembutsu. We discussed a little bit about these types of people the last time, and said that the border land is usually the destination for these types of people. But these people are still pursuing the path of the Nembutsu! There is no evidence at all that they will fall into hell or go deep into extreme suffering. There is also no truth that they will never achieve Buddhahood or be on level with Maitreya (Miroku) Bodhisattva and achieve the 51st level of enlightenment.

If you are born into the border land, this is merely temporary, and you will get out once you have contemplated further and resolved the problem of true faith. To achieve true faith is very rare, and so it is pretty common for people of the path of the Nembutsu to be born in the border land at first, only to achieve enlightenment later. Yes, it takes more time, but it doesn’t mean that you will fall into hell and go through endless sufferings.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 19

August 30, 2010 - Leave a Response

XVI

Some people say that if a practicer of true entrusting should unexpectedly become angry, act wantonly, or argue with others, they should by all means undergo turning-of-mind. Does this mean that we should sunder evil and practice good?

In the person of single-hearted nembutsu the turning-of-mind occurs only once. The turning- of-mind refers to this: transformation of those ignorant of the Primal Vow of Other Power who, being granted Amida’s wisdom and realizing the impossibility of everyday mind attaining birth, abandon the old mind and entrust the self to the Primal Vow.

If it is necessary to undergo the turning-of-mind, day and night, about every deed in order to attain birth, we may die before doing so, or before nurturing tenderness and forbearance, since our lives may come to an end between the inhaling and exhaling of breath. Then the Primal Vow which grasps us never to abandon us would have no meaning.

Even though some may claim to entrust themselves to the Primal Vow, they actually feel that only the good are saved, no matter how great the inconceivable power of the Vow to save evil doers. To that extent they are doubting the power of the Vow, lacking the thought of entrusting themselves to the Vow, and will be born in the borderland. How lamentable this is!

Once true entrusting is settled, we realize that our birth is due to the working of Amida and not to our calculations. Even though we may do evil, even more should we think about the power of the Vow. Then, tenderness and forbearance will appear by virtue of “made to become so by itself.”

In all matters regarding birth it is not necessary to contrive or design but always remember and become absorbed in the deep and profound compassion of Amida. Then we shall be able to say the nembutsu spontaneously, “made to become so by itself.” When I do not contrive or calculate, I am “made to become so by itself.” This is none other than the working of Other Power. And yet to my regret I hear some people talking knowingly about being “made to become so by itself” as if it were something special. How deplorable this is!

Explanation:

This section of Tannisho is about those people who claim to have been saved by the vow of Amida Buddha, and how if they become angry and commit evil deeds, go through a so-called “turning of mind” as the text above states.

First of all, we have to really take this issue apart and examine the context of the issue. Those who have been saved by the vow of Amida Buddha in this lifetime achieve what is called the 51st level of enlightenment, or otherwise known as the stage of non-retrogression. This means that once they reach this stage of enlightenment, there is no possible way they can degrade or retrogress to a lower level of enlightenment. There is nothing more for them to do for their salvation, for it is already assured that they will achieve rebirth in the pure land. Their birth is settled, as they also say.

What this passage is really talking about then, are those who “claim” to have encountered the vow, and been saved by the vow, yet at the core still have doubts about Amida Buddha, his pure land and/ or his vow. If you really examine the issue, it would mean that person has not achieved enlightenment at all! Because true faith requires that one place true singleness of mind in Amida and his vow, and having received other power faith, realize that there is no other path for them. Therefore, such kinds of people would have no doubt deep inside, as their birth is already settled in Amida’s pure land.

About this “turning of mind” – What this refers to is the change from self power to other power faith. This process of entering into the 51st level of enlightenment only happens one time, and doesn’t keep happening where you go down and up a ladder (for reasons already described above). Once you reach the 51st level, Amida’s primal vow grasps us and never abandons us again. To deny this is to deny the vow, and to deny the vow means to deny a very core, principal aspect of Buddhist doctrine.

Furthermore, we are given other power faith by Amida Buddha, not the other way around. I have mentioned countless times that it is impossible to achieve enlightenment by one’s own efforts. The most important aspect of achieving enlightenment is taking refuge in the Nembutsu, and taking refuge in the vow with singleness of mind. The Nembutsu and the vow of Amida Buddha are both one in the same, and this is called the path of the pure land. There is no ‘I’ or ‘me’. Everything that happens to us is due to our own karma working either with us or against us, and should Amida Buddha bestow this gift of enlightenment upon us, it is his choosing and by his merits, not our own. So there is no achieving enlightenment by setting a goal for it, or working hard to achieve it. You can read Buddhist doctrine all you want, or chant the Nembutsu, however, it is our karma alone which determines whether we are able to ultimately achieve it or not. Those who misunderstand the ways are left to be reborn in the borderland, which is basically on the very outset of the pure land, but not quite in it. It is sort of an in-between place much like how ‘purgatory’ is viewed in other religions.

Videocast Episode 2 – The Universal Law of Cause & Effect

August 28, 2010 - Leave a Response

Can Death Be Prevented?

August 27, 2010 - Leave a Response

Every once in a while I write an opinion piece on this website in which deeper reflection is required on the question as well as trying to answer this question by referring to Buddhism. Today, I would like to discuss whether a life could be spared if, by some circumstance, we were in the right place at the right time or had some ‘correct’ conditions prevailed. Believe it or not, it is a very common question, one in which every single one of us have asked ourselves for every death we have experienced.

When death happens, it is not the best thing in the world, and naturally, we look to blame anyone and everything under the Sun for our circumstances and the torture it brings us. However, such attempts are futile, and no matter how many people we blame, we can only do so with our own self power. What is done is done. Punishing the person involved or singling out a single party or element does not and will not aid in bringing the person back to life. We should therefore learn to accept the circumstances and move on with our own lives.

I will give you an example of a situation that happened to me, the passing of my own mother. Actually, it didn’t happen all that long ago (about 5 months ago), and so a lot of what I was feeling at the time I still remember and can fully express it in an accurate way here.

This year, I went to Japan for a working assignment for about 6 months – first month being March. I always called my mother to make sure she was doing OK (about 3 times a week) since I knew she was always going to the doctors and whatnot. She never really had an official ‘disease’, just a lot of general old-age issues like diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, etc. I was actually on my way to a Buddhist lecture that Friday night, so I thought I would call to catch up with my mom. Unfortunately, no one picked up the phone. Friday night is Friday Morning in the US, so I figured that at the time that I called she might have been on her way to some doctor (as was sometimes the case), so I just dismissed it. Apparently, that Friday night was the last time anyone heard from her. The next time she was discovered was Monday afternoon when she was taken to the hospital that night. I got a call on about Wednesday that week, and was on the next flight out from Japan (got there same day).

I don’t know what exactly happened, but all I really had to go by was that she was sleeping in the hospital bed in critical condition. Long story short, she suffered many, many small strokes and no one really knew the signs until it was too late. But actually, that was not the final diagnosis. She ended up having some rare disease that was not detected by virtually every doctor that she was seeing. It was a rare disease, after all and doctors usually do not test for these types of rare diseases as there was no risk factors for it. It was ultimately this rare disease catching up to her that caused the strokes, and after a short weeks time, her death. In case you are wondering, the disease was Cryptococcosis.

Personally, I don’t really blame anyone for what has already transpired. I never have, and I never will. Although, other people I know have. Some people blamed the doctors, claimed they were not doing their job correctly. Others harbored hatred for other individuals close by – but not me, I did not for one moment feel that anyone should be blamed nor anyone at fault. In a sea of people around me with only blame and hatred as their way of coping with the tragedy, I believe I was the only calm one. However, I owe it all to my Buddhist training and study. If not for Buddhism, I would have suffered in the same way as the others around me.

That being the case, I am always reminded of the words of Shinran Shonin:

I, Shinran, have never even once uttered the nembutsu for the sake of my father and mother. The reason is that all beings have been fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, in the timeless process of birth-and-death. When I attain buddhahood in the next birth, each and everyone will be saved.

What happens to us in the present time and what is destined to happen is a result of the karma which we have accumulated from eons past. It is all apart of the Alaya mind (where the karma energy is stored) and there is no way to really reverse this energy force that powers over us unless we receive other power faith and attain enlightenment. This, in effect, is the universal law of cause and effect working its due course.

In essence, what has happened has already happened. Sakyamuni Buddha once said (when speaking of whether fancy ceremonies have any benefit to the dead) that once a stone sinks to the bottom of the ocean, there is nothing that anyone can do to make it rise again on its own. The course of death, as such, is more like the same. Once a person dies it is their karma alone which has caused it to happen to them at that particular time and place, and under the circumstances. No matter how many times you go over it, the same result will happen.

So, the answer in this case is that no death can be prevented. Everyone must face death 100% of the time, although it is uncertain where and when they will be facing it. These factors are all determined by one’s karma. Even though you do attain enlightenment and enter into other power faith, this still does not immune you from death in this lifetime. However, if you do accomplish that task, you will not be bound by the chains of Samsara after your life in the present ends. You will be born into Amida’s pure land where you will resolve to attain Buddhahood.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 18

August 26, 2010 - One Response

XV

Some people say that one can attain enlightenment in this very body filled with blind passion. This is completely out of the question.

This passage of the Tannisho is quite difficult, and so I will take it piece by piece rather than commenting on the whole.

Here, in this first paragraph, the enlightenment that is being talked about is enlightenment of the 52nd level, or Buddhahood. At first glance, you might misread this to mean that enlightenment is impossible to achieve on this planet, while still alive. However, what this really means is that we could attain enlightenment of the 51st level in this lifetime, and subsequently resolve to attain Buddhahood after we are reborn in the pure land where the conditions are more favorable.

The doctrine of attaining Buddhahood in this very body is the essential teaching of Shingon Esoterism, the ultimate attainment of the three esoteric practices. And the purifying of the six sense-organs is the doctrine of the One Vehicle teaching of the Lotus Sutra, the attainment of the four blissful practices. These are all difficult practices performed by superior religious adepts and enlightenment realized through perfecting meditative practices. In contrast, the enlightenment that unfolds in the next birth is the essence of the Pure Land way of Other Power, the true entrusting which is settled and final. This is the effortless practice undertaken by inferior religious practicers in which the distinction between good and evil is non-existent.

This passage basically confirms more of the above. In order to truly reach Buddhahood in this lifetime, we would need to go through both all the practices of the Lotus Sutra, which purify the six-sense organs (ie. alaya mind, karma, etc.) and extreme meditative practices to purify the body. All of this is extremely difficult for an ordinary being to do, let alone impossible. The only one who has ever done it was Sakyamuni Buddha himself on this earth planet.

In contrast, the conditions for reaching the pure land through the path of the Nembutsu are more favorable and easy for us defiled beings, and when we do reach the pure land, attaining enlightenment of the 52nd level is indeed possible. This is also called the path of the pure land; the way of practice through sutras and meditation is called the path of the sages.

Since it is unthinkably difficult to sunder blind passion and evil hindrances in this present life, the virtuous monks of Shingon and Tendai disciplinary practices also pray for enlightenment in the life to come. How much more so for ordinary people like ourselves! Although the upholding of precepts and attainment of wisdom are lacking, when we have crossed the painful ocean of birth-and- death on the vessel of Amida’s Vow, reaching the Other Shore of the land of Fulfillment, the dark clouds of blind passion immediately vanish and the moon of enlightenment, dharma-as-it-is, appears instantaneously. Having become united with the Unhindered Light that illuminates the ten quarters, we bring benefits to all beings. This is true enlightenment.

In this passage, Yuien describes what it means to achieve enlightenment of the 51st level, in this lifetime. Inevitably, it is impossible to rid ourselves of the blind passion that plagues us such as greed, money, jealousy and anger.

At this time, I too would like to also ask a question: Why is it that human beings are evil? Why is it that we are plagued with and made up of nothing but blind passions? In my whole life I have never come across one individual who did not, at the core, suffer from these passions. To be honest, I do not know the answer to that question. I have searched and searched, but have yet to come up with a true answer. What I know is that us humans are plagued with these blind passions, and to escape them means to turn to Amida Buddha and his vow to attain other power faith. This is all I know at present.

Once we attain other power faith, the darkness vanishes and Amida’s light rushes in like the Sun after a heavy thunderstorm.

Do those who believe in attaining enlightenment in this very body reveal themselves in various forms of enlightenment, as did the historical Sakyamuni? Do they possess the thirty-two features and eighty characteristics of an enlightened being? Do they benefit sentient beings by expounding the Buddha Dharma? This is what constitutes enlightenment in this life. Shinran writes:

When true entrusting, firm as a diamond,
Is settled, at that very instant
Amida’s light grasps us and protects us,
And we forever transcend birth-and-death.

This means that when true entrusting is realized, Amida grasps us never to abandon us, and we no longer transmigrate through the six realms. When we understand this fully, how can we confuse it with the enlightenment in this life? How sad that such a misunderstanding exists. As the late master said, “In the true teaching of Pure Land I have been taught that in this life we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow and in the Pure Land attain supreme enlightenment.”

Considering the above explanations, this passage is pretty self explanatory. In it, Yuien explains by means of the words of Shinran that there is a confusion over the enlightenment which occurs in this lifetime (51st level) and the enlightenment that occurs after one reaches the pure land (52nd level). Furthermore, once enlightenment is attained in this lifetime, and other power faith is granted, we can no longer traverse the six realms. Meaning, we will no longer be caught in the torturous cycle of birth and death and caught between other realms like on the border of the pure land or hell. Amida’s vow alone is enough to realize salvation.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 17

August 25, 2010 - Leave a Response

XIV

Some people say that one should believe that heavy evils of eight billion kalpas can be extinguished in the single utterance of nembutsu. This view refers to an evil person, guilty of ten vices and five transgressions, who has never said the nembutsu throughout life but who for the first time at the moment of death is told by a good teacher: nembutsu uttered once shall extinguish the evils accumulated in eight billion kalpas, and nembutsu uttered ten times shall extinguish the evils accumulated in eighty billion kalpas, thus leading to birth in the Pure Land. Is the single utterance or ten utterances meant to suggest the relative weights of ten vices and five transgressions? if so, this refers to the utility value of nembutsu in extinguishing evil. This is far different from our understanding. The reason is that in the awakening of one thought-moment, having been illuminated by Amida’s light, we are endowed with true entrusting which is firm as a diamond; thus, we are already included in the stage of the truly settled. When our life comes to an end, all the blind passions and evil hindrances are immediately transformed into the realization of the “wisdom of non- origination.”

Realizing that without this compassionate Vow, wretched and evil beings such as ourselves can never go beyond birth-and-death, we should know that all the nembutsu said throughout our lifetime simply expresses our gratitude to the benevolence and virtues of Tathagata’s compassion.

To believe that each saying of nembutsu extinguishes evil is to seek birth in the Pure Land by eliminating evil thoughts through one’s own efforts. If that is the case, since every thought we think in life binds us to birth-and-death, we must say the nembutsu until the final moment, continuously and consistently, without ever attaining birth. But since karmic consequences are decisive, we may end our life because of unforeseen accidents or we may be tormented by illness without ever attaining right-mindedness. Saying the nembutsu in such a state would be, indeed, most difficult. How are we to extinguish evil in such a state? If evil cannot be extinguished, then is attaining birth impossible?

When we entrust ourselves to the Vow that grasps us never to abandon us, we shall quickly attain birth, regardless of whether we commit evils for unknown reasons and even end our lives without saying the nembutsu. And when we say the nembutsu spontaneously, our trust in Amida becomes stronger and our gratitude to Tathagata becomes deeper as we approach the moment of supreme enlightenment. To desire to extinguish evil is the thought of self-power, the intention of those who hope to achieve right-mindedness at the moment of death. This shows the lack of true entrusting which is made possible by the working of Other Power.

Explanation:

This chapter is talking about the misunderstanding that a single recitation of the Nembutsu (by one’s own power) is enough to extinguish 8 billion kalpas of evil. Actually, I have heard this many times before, and it is still a misunderstanding that happens in this day and age.

First of all, we are talking about reciting the Nembutsu under our own power. This alone tells you that it is not plausible. Even having attained other power faith, we can only but say the Nembutsu out of true compassion and gratitude towards Amida Buddha for having saved us from the torturous cycle of birth and death.

Suppose that one has done nothing but commit evil throughout his whole life and in old age, encounters a master who teaches him of the Nembutsu. He says the Nembutsu once, and this extinguishes 8 billion kalpas of evil karma. However, the one thing that is missing from this picture is the fact that humans beings are defiled to the core, and can do nothing but commit evil with the mind, body and mouth. So, although saying the Nembutsu once may (in erroneous theory) extinguish 8 billion kalpas of evil, it is impossible to destroy all the evil which we have accumulated because we commit evil every hour of every day. Should we keep saying the Nembutsu every minute then until death? And what happens if we are unable to do that while having grown ill? It is simply an impossible feat that makes no sense. That is what this passage presents.

“To desire to extinguish evil is the thought of self power.” In Buddhism, while we are still alive, the evil and blind passions that make up our being will always be there. The purpose of Buddhism is not to extinguish these passions, but actually take control of them, reflect upon them, and be the master of them. We must, in effect, become more self aware of what deeds we are truly doing and capable of. It is only after we do that that we are able to abandon all self power efforts and enter into other power faith.

Unlocking Tannisho, Part 16

August 24, 2010 - Leave a Response

XIII

Some people say that those who do not fear committing evil because of the inconceivable power of Amida’s Vow are guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow and, therefore, will not attain birth. This betrays doubt in the Primal Vow and shows a lack of understanding of good and evil as the product of past karma.

Good thoughts arise in our minds due to the effect of past good, and we are made to think and do evil because of the working of karmic evil. The late master said, “We should know that even as trifling a thing as the speck of dust on the tip of a rabbit’s hair or a sheep’s fleece is the product of past evil karma.” At another time he asked me. “Would you agree to anything I say, Yui-en?”

“Of course, I will,” I replied.

“Are you sure that you won’t disobey me?,” he repeated, and when I again agreed, he continued, “Go, then and kill a thousand people and your birth in the Pure Land is settled.’

“Even though that is your order,” I protested, “and even with the capacity for evil within me, I cannot kill even a single person.”

“Then why did you just say that you would not disobey what I, Shinran, said?” And then he went on, “By this we know that if we could act according to our thoughts, we could kill a thousand people for the sake of birth in the Pure Land if so required. We do not kill, not because our thoughts are good but because we do not have the karma to kill even a single person. Yet, even though we do not want to injure anyone, we may be led to kill a hundred or a thousand people.”

The gist of this statement is that when we think good thoughts, we think we are good; and when we think evil thoughts, we think we are evil, not realizing fully that it is not these thoughts but the inconceivable power of the Vow that makes our salvation possible.

Once there was a man who fell into wrong views proclaiming that he would intentionally do evil as a way of attaining birth, since the Vow is directed to those who are evil. Thus saying, he committed many evil deeds. When Shinran heard about this, he admonished in a letter, “Do not take poison just because there is an antidote.” He made this point to correct such erroneous views, but not at all to say that evil is an obstacle to attaining birth.

Shinran, moreover, said, “If upholding the precepts and maintaining the disciplines are required for true entrusting, how could we ever hope to go beyond birth-and-death? It is only by encountering the Primal Vow that such hopeless beings like ourselves are shown to be prideful and haughty. And yet evil cannot be committed unless it is already within us.”

Again, he said, “People who make a living by casting nets or fishing in the seas and rivers, those who sustain themselves by hunting wild life and catching birds in the moors and mountains, and people who pass their lives by trading and cultivating fields are all alike.” According to Shinran, “Under the influence of our karmic past we human beings will do anything.”

And yet, in recent years people put on the guise of striving on the nembutsu path. They claim that only good people should say the nembutsu. Or they post restrictions at gathering places, proclaiming that those who commit certain acts are prohibited from entering. Are these not the sort of people who show outwardly how wise, virtuous, and diligent they are, while inwardly cherishing vanity and falsehood?

Karmic evil committed because of taking pride in the Vow is also an effect of past karma. Thus, leave everything good and evil to the working of karma and single-heartedly entrust yourself to the Primal Vow. Such is the way of Other Power. In Essentials of Faith Alone it is said, “To what extent does one know the power of Amida’s compassion when a person believes that salvation is impossible because of karmic evil?” For the very reason that we are guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow, the true entrusting as the gift of Other Power is settled.

We can be free of taking pride in the Primal Vow only after we entrust ourselves to the Primal Vow, having extinguished karmic evil and blind passion. But if blind passion were extinguished, one is already a buddha; and for a buddha the Vow realized through five kalpas of profound thought would be useless.

Since the people who censure others for taking pride in the Primal Vow themselves are filled with blind passion and impurities, aren’t they also guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow? If so, what is the evil that takes pride in the Primal Vow and what is the evil that does not take pride in the Primal Vow? Indeed, all this debate reveals shallowness and immaturity.

Explanation:

This passage of Tannisho is one of my favorite passages because it hits at the core of the matter of the debate on ‘good’ and ‘evil’, as well as explaining the relationship between that and Karma.

“Some people say that those who do not fear committing evil because of the inconceivable power of Amida’s Vow are guilty of taking pride in the Primal Vow and, therefore, will not attain birth. This betrays doubt in the Primal Vow and shows a lack of understanding of good and evil as the product of past karma.”

This point was created because of a misunderstanding of the words of Shinran. There are people in this world who believe that the primal vow of Amida Buddha is directed towards those who are evil. This is a correct assumption, being that all beings at the core are evil, however, that does not give one the right to commit as much evil as they want to. As master Shinran stated “Do not take poison just because there is an antidote.” Just because the vow of Amida Buddha promises to save even the most defiled of beings, that doesn’t mean you should commit murder and other crimes freely. Likewise, just because there is an antidote, it doesn’t mean you should keep putting poison into your system!

Then, there is a anecdote between Yuien and Shinran about what effect past Karma has on our actions in the present.

“Would you agree to anything I say, Yui-en?”

“Of course, I will,” I replied.

“Are you sure that you won’t disobey me?,” he repeated, and when I again agreed, he continued, “Go, then and kill a thousand people and your birth in the Pure Land is settled.’

“Even though that is your order,” I protested, “and even with the capacity for evil within me, I cannot kill even a single person.”

“Then why did you just say that you would not disobey what I, Shinran, said?” And then he went on, “By this we know that if we could act according to our thoughts, we could kill a thousand people for the sake of birth in the Pure Land if so required. We do not kill, not because our thoughts are good but because we do not have the karma to kill even a single person. Yet, even though we do not want to injure anyone, we may be led to kill a hundred or a thousand people.”

Our karma determines the actions that we are able to take in this lifetime, and our circumstances in this lifetime. There is no other possible explanation as to why some people are born in rich families and others in poor. Why some people live a lavish lifestyle and others who do not. Why there are some people who like peaches and other who like oranges. It is all due to the karma we have accumulated in the past life. Likewise, there are those who have the capacity to commit evil and those who do not. It is all dependent on Karma. Yet, under the correct circumstances, we cannot deny that every single one of us would be capable of evildoing. Imagine if someone did ask you to rob a bank. Would you do it? Mabe you would not, but what if you were robbing the bank to get medicine to save a dying family member or close friend? To pay for surgery to save yourself? Would you still deny that you are incapable of committing such a deed? I would think not. That is the sheer wonder of the working of Amida’s vow, which promises to save even the most defiled of beings. Everyone is defiled and so in relying on Amida’s vow, we are able to attain other power faith and achieve rebirth in his pure land. But whether we achieve rebirth in the pure land has nothing to do with our thoughts. We are always thinking, speaking and doing evil. Yes, there are intermittent thoughts of good, but this is not a factor that will determine whether we are able to achieve salvation or not.

When Dharmakara (Amida Buddha) spent 5 kalpas in contemplation, he also came to the very same conclusions. He has known the true nature of beings all along, and there is no way possible to fool him. Everything that is good and evil is only due to the workings of Karma. So, we should not pay attention to this, and leave it at that. These are called the evil passions which human beings suffer from. Through other power faith, their roots can become cut, however, our blind passions will still exist. The most important thing is to be true and entrusting to the vow of Amida Buddha, this is the one thing that can guarantee salvation and enlightenment.