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What To Do with Our Worldly Passions: Fulfill them or Eliminate them?

March 5, 2018

 

Until recently there lived a mother squirrel behind the eagle emblem of LA Shinran Center, raising its pup. Once in a while, when its pup fell off on the balcony and the mother came to fetch it, I unexpectedly had some eye contact with the squirrel. I felt some bond with it. 

 

I haven’t seen them lately. It seems they have moved somewhere else now that the kid is grown. 

We all want to live with peace of mind and satisfaction. Raising kids and protecting our family is just one way of achieving that goal. It applies to all sentient beings including that squirrel. 

 

Likewise, all the ideas and thoughts in human history are the outcome of a search for salvation from various kinds of agonies. 

 

If we try to fulfill our desires to the full, ironically we will end up in much dissatisfaction until we die. If we try to change our mindset and be positive, the sense of happiness attained by that doesn’t last long and we would feel dissatisfaction again. 

 

 Some Buddhists believe we must eliminate our worldly passions. But since pleasure derives from the fulfillment of those worldly passions, eliminating the worldly passions means losing pleasure. In addition to that, if we eliminate our worldly passions, we cannot survive in this world. 

 

In what way are we able to be saved? Amida Buddha’s salvation is not achieved through eliminating the worldly passions nor fulfilling them. 

 

Only once we have achieved absolute happiness will we be full of gratitude when everything is going well and, through repentance, full of joy in times of adversity. It’s an ever-lasting peace of mind and satisfaction. 

 

Master Shinran’s words have a special aura of the absolute happiness. I can feel his compassion in his wish for us to achieve the same happiness. Let’s read a passage from You Were Born For A Reason.

 

Hearing the word “salvation,” most people cannot help thinking that it must mean some sort of change in our mental state— that we become dauntlessly positive thinkers, or are able to endure suffering with a bit more grace, or some such thing. One writer has surmised as follows: 

 

Then, what changes? Possibly it is that even though we go on suffering, we are able to bear it. I am inconclusive on the matter because I believe that sometimes even those who have gained real faith can lose the strength to live. That has to be accepted as something “not in one’s own discretion.” 

 

Others apparently think that it means we are liberated from egotism, and become indifferent to the lure of money and things, living aloof to the temptations of the world. The Chinese sage Lao-tse declared that happiness consists in “knowing sufficiency.” In Japan, a book called Seihin no shiso [The Philosophy of Honest Poverty] became a bestseller after the market crash based on the bursting of the land-price bubble. Many people believe that the only way to be happy is to suppress desire; some indeed believe that unless all desire is rooted out, happiness can never be achieved. But in his debate with Socrates, Callicles mocked such people, saying that those who want nothing cannot truly be said to be happy, “for then stones and dead men would be the happiest of all.” 

 

If we spend our lives attempting to satisfy our limitless appetites, we can never succeed, and we are doomed to suffer throughout our lives. No philosophy or way of thinking can show us the way out of this dilemma. Only Shinran pointed to the existence of an astonishing sort of happiness that we can experience without reducing or eliminating our besetting passions, likening it to the brightness of a cloudy day: “Beneath the clouds and fog, all is light, and not darkness.” 

 

This analogy represents another effort by Shinran to do the impossible—use words to portray a world beyond words or imagination. Words cannot express true salvation (twofold revelation), but since there are no other means of communication, he took on this impossible task.

 

(You Were Born For A Reason, Part two Chapter 23, page 162)

 

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #28 | 2013, What To Do with Our Worldly Passions: Fulfill them or Eliminate them?

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