Shinran and Absolute Happiness

Q: Shinran taught that the purpose of life is the attainment of absolute happiness. What kind of happiness is absolute?

A: Buddhism speaks of two kinds of happiness, relative and absolute. Relative happiness refers to temporary pleasure and satisfaction. That is the kind of happiness that doesn't last, but turns inevitably to sadness and suffering. It includes the joy of marrying someone you love, the satisfaction of building your dream house, and any of the myriad other kinds of happiness that we long for and live for day by day.

Such joys and satisfactions never endure. In the end they are sure to crumble and disappear. However wonderful a person you may marry, there is no telling when he or she may fall sick or die. Or the two of you may have a falling out and experience the trauma of divorce, perhaps becoming embroiled in a bitter feud. Society is filled with grieving widows and widowers, and parents enraged by their children's betrayals.

Others feel anguish as the house they built after a lifetime of toil is reduced overnight to ashes. Today's traffic accident or disaster can plunge yesterday's peaceful, affectionate family into a hell of heartache and torment. The happiness we know is fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow. Such happiness is by definition not true happiness, since it is haunted by the perpetual fear of loss.

Even if a person's life continues without calamity, in the face of death whatever happiness he or she has acquired is doomed to collapse. Since none of us can escape death, happiness of this sort can never bring heartfelt peace or satisfaction. When we stand before death, what joy or comfort can money and honor, status and possessions provide? Even if we gain them, they fail to deliver true peace of heart and satisfaction, yet we go on struggling and suffering to make them ours.

Shinran taught that the reason we do this is because we do not know that there is such a thing as true, absolute happiness, and that such happiness is available to all through the Vow of Amida Buddha. Shinran devoted the ninety years of his life to teaching people that attaining the absolute happiness of Amida's salvation is indeed the purpose of life.

Then what is absolute happiness? Shinran called it muge no ichido, “the path of no hindrance.” He had this to say about the world of absolute happiness:

He of the nembutsu is on the path of no hindrance. Why is this so? Before the one who has true faith, gods of heaven and earth bow down in reverence, and evil spirits and false teachings can pose no obstacle. Such a one is unaffected by any recompense for evil, and beyond the reach of every possible good; thus he is on the path of no hindrance. Lamenting the Deviations, Section 7

Those who are saved by Amida and say the nembutsu are perfectly happy, in a world where no impediment poses any hindrance. Why? Because before those who have received faith from Amida, gods above and below bow their heads in reverence, and evil spirits and heretics can no longer put up any obstruction. No sin such people have committed, however great, causes them to suffer, and no good deed, however superlative, can yield results that touch their happiness; this is why they have absolute happiness.

Now that I have boarded the ship of Amida’s great compassion, now that I am afloat on the vast ocean of brightness, the breezes of supreme joy blow softly and the waves of all woe are transformed. Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment The “Practice” Section

Seen from aboard the ship of Amida's Vow of great mercy, the ship that Amida built, life is a vast ocean of dazzling brightness. How wonderful it is to be alive, like voyaging over the sea with a fair wind in the sails!

Once we hear the world-transcending Vow of mercy no longer are we foolish beings [trapped in the cycle] of birth-and-death. Though the defiled body leaking blind passions is unchanged, the mind is at play in the Pure Land.

Sundry Hymns

After we are saved by Amida's Vow, we are not people of delusion any more. The blind passions of desire and anger, jealousy and envy are no different from before, but the mind feels as if it is playing in the Pure Land.

In all these various ways, Shinran proclaimed his attainment of absolute happiness. Those who say there is no absolute happiness simply have yet to experience the wonders of Amida's salvation. This is what Shinran teaches us.

(Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume, Chapter 2)

By Kentetsu Takamori

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #13 | 2012, Shinran and Absolute Happiness

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