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.
Hymns on the Masters
To paraphrase: “We have long been floundering, lost in the vastness of the ocean of suffering; the only thing that can take us aboard unconditionally and carry us to the far shore without fail is the Vow of Amida.”
“Long have we been sinking in its waters” means all people, who for countless aeons have been suffering without knowing why they were born.
“Life is suffering,” Śākyamuni taught, and the teaching does not apply only to India 2,600 years ago. This is a truth that permeates the Three Worlds and the Ten Directions, applying to all countries and times.
Śākyamuni grouped human suffering into the four universal sufferings of birth, aging, sickness, and death. Those we love are torn from us, things precious to us are lost, pleasant times come to an end. Life is full of sad partings. But we must meet with disasters and accidents, aging and sickness, and other unpleasant things. And in the end comes the greatest suffering of all, death.
Just as Śākyamuni taught, life itself is suffering; the innocent cry “Life is sweet!” lasts only for a short while. But we were not born to suffer, nor is that why we live. The reason we were born as human beings, which is so hard, is to be saved from delusion that extends back uncountable aeons.
Politics and economics, science and medicine, ethics and morals, law, literature, and all other human endeavors all exist to help us live. They resolve the suffering of not knowing how better to live and enable us to live longer and more comfortable lives.
Medicine, for example, seeks to extend life even by minutes and seconds. But why we should live even at the cost of undergoing organ transplants is a question that medicine cannot answer. Politics, economics, and the rest are all means of living, and none of them can explain the purpose of life. No matter how convenient things become, we do not understand the all-important meaning of life, and sink in the sea of suffering.
But if we die of hardships or illness, we can neither know nor fulfill the purpose of life. Whatever the cost, we must live until we encounter the salvation of Amida, which we have sought for countless aeons.
The extended life that medicine provides takes on true meaning when we realize our long-cherished goal in life. In order for us to achieve this incomparably solemn purpose, it is vital that science and medicine make strides.
The answer to the crucial question “Why live?” Shinran proclaimed in these words: “Only the ship of Amida’s Vow / will take us aboard and carry us across without fail.”
This is a declaration that the universal purpose of life for all humankind is to be taken aboard the ship of Amida’s Vow and become someone who can cross to the Pure Land without fail.
All people everywhere are sinking in the sea of sufferings of birth-and-death. We followers of Shinran who have been able to hear this truth which is difficult to encounter must drive home to others the reason for living so that we and they may fulfill the true purpose for which we were born human.
(Translated from Kensho shinbun July 15th edition, 2012)
Translated by Juliet Carpenter
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #27 | 2013, Seeking Amida’s Salvation from Countless Aeons Back
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