The Purpose of Buddhism is Removing Suffering and Imparting Ease

The Buddhist chapel room in Shimane Kaikan, which just opened in September, contains a large framed work of calligraphy 抜苦与楽 that reads bakku yoraku: “remove suffering, impart ease.” This four-character Buddhist phrase sums up the purpose of the more than seven thousand volumes of sermons that Sakyamuni Buddha delivered during his time on earth.

No one was born or lives in order to suffer. Everyone wants to be rid of suffering, to lighten their heavy load and attain ease. Politics, economics, science, medicine, ethics, morals, sports, and every other human endeavor exist for the purpose of easing suffering and making it go away. Some people, unable to escape their suffering no matter how they try, decide they would be better off dead. In recent years the number of people who take their own life has shot up, making suicide an urgent social problem. Even they act out of a strong desire to be free of suffering.

Why are we born into this world, why do we live? What all people strive for, morning to night, is bakku yoraku; this is indeed the ultimate purpos of everyone’s life. Physical suffering can be relieved through treatment in a hospital, but the suffering that Buddhism removes is not physical. It is what Rennyo, in one of his letters, calls “karmic hindrance through the Three Worlds.” This is what causes each of us to suffer throughout what Buddhism calls the Three Worlds of past, present, and future? in other words, the world before each of us was born human, the present world we live in now, and the future world that comes after death.

Without last year, there could be no this year. Even if you have forgotten what happened around this time last year, it did happen. The past leads to the present and the present connects on into the future. For us, who tend to forget even what we ate yesterday, remembering the world of the past before we were born human is a clear impossibility; nevertheless, Buddhism teaches the solemn reality of the Three Worlds. And Buddhism proclaims that karmic hindrance, which causes suffering throughout the Three Worlds of past, present, and future, is the source of all pain and suffering.

Physical suffering ends in a century or so, but “karmic hindrance through the Three Worlds” is an illness of our eternal life, one that causes suffering before we were born, now, and even after we die. In The Letters, Master Rennyo also calls this “the dreadful disease of darkness of mind and karmic hindrances that has continued without beginning.” When in an ichinen (an irreducibly tiny fraction of time), we receive the Name created by Amida Buddha, “Namu Amida Butsu,” our dreadful disease of darkness of mind and karmic hindrance is healed and we are saved into absolute happiness, a realm of happiness that differs in dimension from relief from physical pain. This is what it means to “impart ease.”

The great virtue of “Namu Amida Butsu” is transferred in an ichinen to us sentient beings when we rely on Amida. Therefore the karmic hindrance of the Three Worlds of past, present and future instantly vanishes and we are established in the stage of those who are truly settled, or the stage equal to perfect enlightenment. (The Letters, Fascicle Five, Letter Six)

Buddhist teaching removes the karmic hindrance of the Three Worlds, which is the root of all suffering, and imparts absolute happiness that is unending and changeless in this world and the next.

Translated by Juliet Carpenter

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #23 | 2013, The Purpose of Buddhism is Removing Suffering and Imparting Ease

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