The Light of the World (Part 1)

The painful sea of birth and death knows no bounds. Long have we been sinking in its waters. Only the ship of Amida’s universal Vow will take us aboard and carry us across without fail. (Master Shinran)

“We are drowning in a sea of suffering; the only thing that can take us aboard and carry us to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss cheerfully and happily without fail is the great ship that Amida built.”

All people live chasing happiness. However, our health, wealth, fame, possessions, our spouse and children - all are fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow. Betrayed by happiness that we managed to attain with sweat and tears, we grieve. We find and grasp another kind of happiness, only to be abandoned by it and end up weeping again.

Countless people are led astray by false religions or superstitions and go through suffering because of it. After repeating this cycle time and time again, finally the strength of these people runs out and they die. People are killing themselves one after another.

The pain of living makes them think, “I don’t want this anymore.” The greater one’s beauty is, the deeper the suffering of getting old becomes. Even a strong, healthy body is a vessel of sickness and cannot win against the suffering of disease. In the end, what awaits us is the universally- reviled suffering of death.

The famous American actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive double mastectomy due to the fear of dying after learning through DNA testing that she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer. However, even if we don’t get cancer, the probability that we will die is 100%. There is not a single person who can escape from death in any time or in any place.

Indeed, life is the prison of birth, aging, sickness, and death. On this subject, Sakyamuni Buddha declared, “Life is suffering,” and Master Shinran said, “The painful sea of birth and death knows no bounds.” True joy for life that makes us shout, “How glad I am to have been born human!” is nowhere to be found. Doesn’t that mean that human beings are born in order to suffer?

“It cannot be helped. Life is like that. If we can have fun even for a short while, that’s fine.” Saying this, people have resigned themselves to this situation. But Master Shinran told us, “You have no need to resign yourself to this,” and he decisively taught the real and rock-solid existence of Amida’s great ship in the introduction to Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment, his most important work, which begins with this line: “Amida’s inconceivable Vow is a great ship that carries us across the sea that is difficult to cross.”

In the previous hymn, he taught: “We have been continually submerged in the dark sea of suffering for countless aeons. There is a great ship of Amida that saves us into absolute happiness. Amida Buddha, the master of all buddhas in the universe, built the ship, which is so huge that it still has enough space even if all humanity is brought aboard. That ship carries us across our life cheerfully and happily to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss without fail.”

Master Shinran declared that the only thing that can save us is the ship of Amida’s universal Vow. This is by no means his own personal judgment. He said so because the conclusion of Sakyamuni Buddha’s lifelong teachings is Ikko Sen’nen Muryojubutsu — “Believe only in the Buddha of Infinite Life.”

To be continued...

Source: The Buddhist Village Times #36 | 2014, The Light of the World (Part 1)

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