What is the purpose of living? Life, as poets and songwriters remind us, is like a journey. From yesterday to today, from today to tomorrow, on we travel without cease, but where are we bound? Imagine this scene. We are riding on a boat headed downriver. On board we pass our time busily, making friends with some, quarreling with others whom we dislike, drinking liquor, making and losing money, weeping and laughing.
Day after day we are engrossed in such things, but what of our boat’s destination? Though no one seems to give the matter any thought, we are headed for the basin under a cataract. All people are on a boat bound for the basin of death. That being the case, no matter what we may come into possession of, or how much, we cannot know true peace or satisfaction. Concerning this, Rennyo wrote as follows in “The Letters”:
At the moment of death, nothing one has previously relied on, whether wife and child or money and treasure, will accompany one. At the end of the mountain road of death, one must cross the river all alone.
“A living being will meet death without fail,” it is said, and indeed we can be 100% certain that the basin of death is our future. When the moment of death is at last at hand, all the things we have previously relied on, our families, our treasure, and everything else that has given us strength, will leave us.
We cannot live without relying on something and deriving strength from it. A husband relies on his wife, a wife on her husband. Parents look to their children, and children look to their parents for strength. Moreover, we tell ourselves, “With all this money, I’ll be all right,” or “I have possessions, so my mind can rest easy,” and rely on wealth and property. Some people take heart from their status or honor as prime minister, cabinet minister, or company president. Yet when it comes time to die, none of these provides the least bit of strength, and those people fall, boat and all, into the cataract basin of the pitch black afterlife.
Taira-no-Kiyomori, the first Japanese warrior to conquer the realm, was portrayed on the year-long NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai, or Japan Broadcasting Corporation) drama as shouting, “No matter what I gain, I cannot reach the light. I am in utter darkness. Someone help me!” He must have felt exactly as if he was falling into a waterfall basin.
Nothing else is of such critical importance, and that is why this is known as “the crucial matter of the afterlife.” As we hurtle toward that tragic basin of death, among all the vast numbers of buddhas in the universe, none but Amida, the master and teacher of all buddhas, can save us into everlasting happiness in this life: this is what Śākyamuni taught, and what he called “Ikko Sennen Muryojyu Butsu”: believing only in Amida and following only him. That is why Rennyo in turn wrote, “Our fervent wish must be the next life, the one we rely on must be Amida, and the place where we must go after having had our faith settled is the Pure Land of bliss.”
Paraphrased, this means, “Our top priority in life is resolving our crucial matter of the afterlife. Except through Amida’s Vow, we will never be able to resolve this crucial matter. It is only one who has attained Faith in this life that can go to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land after death.” “Having one’s faith settled” means to be saved by Amida Buddha: the crucial matter of the afterlife is resolved and no matter when death comes, one is assured of birth in the Pure Land. Birth in the Pure Land is indeed the ultimate goal of all humanity. Whether we become able to attain it or not depends on whether or not we believe only in Amida Buddha and follow only him.
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #40 | 2014, All Humanity Is Headed for the Basin of Death
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