Q: I’m a high school student, and I don’t understand why people need anything so old-fashioned as faith. Is that what Shinran taught? Tell me why faith is necessary.
A : Faith is old-fashioned, you say, and you question the need for it. The reason we need it is that we can’t live without it. You have to understand what faith is. To put it in different words, faith means relying on or drawing strength from something.
Wives rely on their husbands, husbands on their wives. Parents rely on their children, and children draw strength from their parents. People rely on all sorts of other things too: health and life, money and possessions, honor and social position. Without something or someone to put our faith in—to rely on and draw strength from—we can’t go on living.
To live is to believe. Therefore, all people do possess faith of some sort. Sometimes what one person believes in may appear foolish to others, but to that person it’s a real object of faith. Faith doesn’t only mean believing in supernatural beings of a specific religion.
Though faith is necessary for us to live, just living is not enough. We all hate suffering and anguish and seek happiness in life.
How do suffering and anguish arise? It happens when the object of our faith betrays us.
Sick people suffer because their health fails. Marital tragedy stems from the betrayal of a trusted husband or wife. Children betray their parents, parents their children. “My child would never do such a thing!” The more deeply parents hold this belief, the greater their rage and suffering when betrayal comes.
Although we must all believe in something to go on living, I’m sure you can see that it’s foolish to believe in something that will only let you down in the end.
Then is there anything in this world that we can put all our faith in with no regrets? Is there anything that will absolutely never betray us?
The short answer is no. Even if something you rely on lasts your whole life, at the moment of death it provides no support. Betrayed by all, we all must die, and our very flesh turn to dust.
Shinran expressed this truth in these words:
This world is unstable as a burning house, inhabited by human beings consisting of nothing but blind passions; all is empty and foolish, without a grain of truth. Only the nembutsu bestowed by Amida is true. --Tannisho
Everything in this world will surely betray you. All is nonsense and foolishness, and not one thing is true. The only truth that never fails is the nembutsu of Amida’s Primal Vow.
This is what Shinran, the light of the world, maintained firmly throughout his life. The only thing that doesn’t change even at the instant of death is the salvation of Amida Buddha, the master of all buddhas in the cosmos.
Those in whom Amida believes and who are saved by him can indeed live forever in unending happiness.
(Petals of Shinran, Wisteria Volume, Chapter 1)
Amida sees that human beings are totally lacking in a mind to believe in him; believing in Amida is beyond our ability. Knowing this about us, Amida vowed to save us even so. The author deliberately states that Amida “believes” in us to indicate that the meaning of faith as taught by Shinran is utterly different from faith in the usual sense of the word: it is something inconceivable.
By Kentesu Takamori
Translated by Juliet Carpenter
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #25 | 2013, People Today Don’t Need Faith, Do They?
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