Buddhist Vocab Class - Worldly Passions

Q: Will worldly passions be eliminated after striking temple bells on New Year’s Eve 108 times?

In Japan, people commonly use the expression, “He’s showing his worldly passions without shame.” I know “worldly passions” is a Buddhist term, but what does it mean?

A: “Worldly passions” (or “blind passions”) are things that trouble and torment us. Buddhism teaches that each human being is an aggregate of 108 blind passions.

It is traditional in Japan to strike temple bells on New Year’s Eve 108 times. This comes from the number of our worldly passions. Among the 108 worldly passions, the three that trouble us the most are called the “three poisonous worldly passions.” They are greed, anger, and envy.

“Greed” is something that makes us crave things we don’t have, and once we acquire them, we always crave more. Greed is the drive to seek out money, status, fame, and sex. Each day we spend all our time on fulfilling our desires, and we are even willing to fight with others to do so, as if fulfilling our desires is the purpose of our lives.

You might wonder, “But what is wrong with seeking to fulfill our desires?” The reason why our desires are considered dreadful is that we seek to fulfill our desires blindly, even if it means trampling on others.

A classic example that shows us the ugliness of our desires is the troubles many people face as they try to secure their inheritance. Even if siblings or other relatives had all been nice to each other until this issue reared its head, they begin to fight with each other over the assets of their deceased loved one. In the worst case scenario, people end up in court fighting over the matter for more than 10 years, and they hate each other for the rest of their lives. It is exactly a reflection of the greed inside that reveals itself as a selfish monster.

Another example is that when we are tired of taking care of our aging parents, we may even feel that we want our parents to die sooner. Our desires are never completely fulfilled, and as we strive to fulfill them, we commit all kinds of sins.

Don’t you think that day after day we are troubled and tormented by our desires? When our desires are thwarted by others, anger arises in us. When we are furious, our rationality and intelligence vanish into thin air. We say things that we should not say and do things that we should not do. Many couples divorce when their anger at each other creates a rift in the relationship. We hear stories like this everywhere.

Envy is the state of mind that is jealous of other people’s talent, beauty, success, and new homes, and which rejoices over other people’s misfortune, such as failures and disasters. Weekly magazines actually sell more when their stories focus more on divorces than marriages. In addition to that, the more cruel the cover stories are, the higher the number of readers will be. This phenomenon shows how monstrous our true nature is.

Master Shinran describes himself as “a human being beset by worldly passions.” In other words, Master Shinran declares he is a foolish being made entirely of blind passions. But this does not apply only to Master Shinran. All of us have this true nature, whether we are aware of it or not. Our worldly passions will therefore never be diminished or eliminated. Amida Buddha is the only one who can save such masses of worldly passions into eternal happiness. It is for this reason that Master Shinran devoted his whole life to clarifying salvation by Amida Buddha.

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #53 | 2015, Buddhist Vocab Class - Worldly Passions

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