Buddhism is the teaching of “bakku yoraku.” In other words, Sakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings are about eliminating suffering (bakku) and bestowing ease (yoraku). Sakyamuni elucidated human suffering as the four sufferings: the suffering of birth, the suffering of aging, the suffering of illness, and the suffering of death. The suffering of birth is the suffering we experience from being alive. Just as one Japanese poet said, “The life of the flower is short, and full of suffering.” To live is to suffer. In order to live we need food, clothing, and shelter, and in order to acquire these we must work. All people are putting their blood, sweat, and tears into their work so that they can go on living.
The suffering of aging is the suffering of growing old. As a person’s body gradually ages, they suffer various kinds of pain: their sight grows dim, their back becomes hunched, wrinkles develop on their face, their hands begin to tremble, their legs grow frail, and they become unable to move as they want to.
The suffering of illness is the suffering of bad health. It is said that humans are “vessels for disease,” and indeed, there are thousands of illnesses we could experience in our lifetimes. We do not know when we might be struck down with which illness.
Finally, the suffering of death is the suffering of having to part from this world. When a person is going through unbearable suffering, they may say that it is “so awful I could die.” This is because what everyone truly feels is that they do not want to die. We must part from those we love, and we have to encounter those we despise. We also find ourselves unable to obtain that which we want, and we even suffer simply on account of having a physical body. We are faced with so many kinds of suffering and distress that we don’t know what to do with ourselves. How absurd life is! Were we born only to suffer? Of course, we were not. Master Shinran, who clarified the essence of Buddhism, declared that “there is a great ship on the sea of life’s suffering.”
Amida Buddha, who reigns supreme amongst Buddhas throughout this universe, wanted to save us from this ocean of suffering that is teeming with drowning people. He therefore created the ship of “Namu Amida Butsu.” Once we are brought aboard this great ship, the source of our suffering is eliminated in a split-second, and we are reborn into absolute happiness. Yet this is not all. This great ship is also headed towards Amida’s Pure Land of Utmost Bliss, so all those aboard the ship will, at the moment of death, go to the Pure Land and simultaneously be born as Buddhas. This is what is taught in the “Practice” volume of Teaching, Practice, Faith, Enlightenment.
No human being is able to escape the four sufferings of birth, aging, illness, and death. However, these are examples of “branch suffering”. The source of suffering, which runs through the three temporal worlds, is called “root suffering”. Amida Buddha pledged to eliminate this root suffering from all people and endow them with absolute happiness. Even after we have been brought aboard the great ship, our worldly passions will not disappear until we die, but these will not cause even the slightest wavering in the immense satisfaction we will feel from having had our births in the Pure Land settled. The following is what Master Zonkaku taught.
“Even though the three poisonous worldly passions keep arising, true faith is not disturbed by them. Even though upside-down deluded views never cease, they no longer bring bad consequences in the future.” (Essentials on Pure Land Shin Buddhism)
It is masses of worldly passions that are Amida’s true target. Once our root suffering has been completely severed in a split-second, we will be brought aboard the ship of Namu Amida Butsu with our worldly passions still fully intact, and our bright and cheerful voyage towards the Pure Land will begin.
“Arranged flowers may bloom
Deceived by worldly water
But they will never bear fruit”
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #48 | 2015, Boarding the Great Ship of Namu Amida Butsu
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