Month: September 2016

Dharma Ending Age

 TEXT IN KYOGYOSHINSHO

末 法 時 代

dharma-ending-age-fa

In his wonderful exposition on The Pure Land Way, Master Shinran, quoting from the writings of Master Tao-Cho of China wrote….

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Further, The Great Collection Sutra states:
In the Dharma Ending Age
Out of billions of sentient beings practicing to cultivate the Way
Not one will attain Enlightenment.
We are now in The Dharma Ending Age
It is the evil world of the five defilements
The Pure Land Gate is the one and only path that affords passage.

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Dharma Ages are broad time periods starting from Shakyamuni Buddha’s Parinirvana. They define the distinctive characteristics of sentient beings and their spiritual capacities in practicing the lifetime teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha. It should be pointed out that The Buddha Dharma itself, being absolutely everlasting and imperishable, does NOT change at all through the Ages. Rather, it is the nature, understanding and abilities of Buddha Dharma followers born into this world that have changed. Thus, the classification of the Dharma Ages is just a chronological progression describing the moral and spiritual degeneration of beings engage in the practice of The Buddha Dharma.

The sole purpose of The Buddha’s appearance in this world as a human being in mortal flesh about 2600 years ago, is to teach us about this dreadful, cyclical existence of pain and suffering and how to put a permanent end to this unsatisfactory, relentless torture we have been experiencing in this samsara, at long last.

Suffering beings like us do not know why we are born here – in a perishing environment attached to greed, hatred, ignorance jealousy and pride – living perhaps for only a short period of a 100 years and then blindly leaving this world in agony for another unknown existence of continued pain and suffering. How painfully foolish and blind we are, not making use of this precious human birth which has brought us the right condition to free ourselves from samsara.

With boundless compassion for the suffering multitude, The Buddha taught for 45 years, showing individual persons or groups – in accordance with their natures and spiritual capacities – appropriate means on how to escape from samsara. Through His countless discourses, He also dispenses the appropriate Dharma medicines for those spiritually less endowed, foolish persons, during His lifetime and for future generations.

In the Right Dharma Age (正 法 時 代) which lasted 500 years from His Parinirvana, The Tathagata’s strong presence and Buddha-field enabled persons of different capacities to use the self-power methods He taught them to obtain emancipation. Shakyamuni Buddha tells us in The Great Collection Sutra that during the Right Dharma Age his disciples will be resolute in acquiring wisdom. Disciples of The Buddha born during this Age were morally resolute with excellent spiritual faculties and due to their good karma from the past, appeared in the immediate energetic influence of a True Living Buddha, A World-honored One, Teacher of gods and humans.

Thus, the self- power practices of the difficult moral disciplines and meditations taught by The Buddha were fully in accord with the strong spiritual capacities and natures of these followers on this Path of Sages – mainly for monks and those who are spiritually well-endowed. Thus, countless persons gained various levels of emancipation, practicing strictly and truthfully in accordance with the methods He taught and many were permanently freed from the firm clutches of samsara.

The Semblance Dharma Age (像 法 時 代) that followed lasted another 1000 years. During this period self-power practitioners of the Buddha Dharma were resolute in meditations and the performance of difficult Buddhist practices. However, most of them, not understanding their own natures and influence of the Dharma Age they were in, failed to gain permanent freedom from samsara, having been unable to practice strictly in accordance with the teachings and difficult disciplines.

It is called Semblance Dharma Age, simply because most of the followers of The Buddha Dharma at that time, still thought they had the same spiritual capabilities as their counterparts on the Path of Sages in The Right Dharma Age, though they were only practicing a semblance of The Right Dharma. Their emancipation was denied by their own egoistic clinging to self-power practices which were simply beyond their actual abilities.

On the other hand, those counted as foolish persons, truthfully admitting their low spiritual capabilities and relying on the other-power teachings of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, flourished. Thus, many followers during the Semblance Dharma Age, relying on the power of Amida Buddha’s 48 Vows were freed from samsara at the end of their lives.

The Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代) followed after the end of the Semblance Dharma Age, 1500 years after The Buddha’s Parinirvana. This Dharma Ending Age will continue until all forms of practices of The Buddha Dharma taught by Shakyamuni Buddha become extinct in this world. This is the Dharma Age in which followers of The Buddha Dharma are resolute in building towers and temples, practicing meritorious conduct, repentance and other self-power Buddhist practices without regard for their own innate capabilities.

Conflicts and strife amongst followers of the Buddha Dharma, become widespread with the proper practice of the good Dharma that gives practicers a method of permanently ending pain and suffering at the end of their lives, becoming practically impossible. The time for achieving the enlightenment that extricates us out of samsara through self-powered practices in this life, has already passed in this Dharma Ending Age.

Master Shinran in his original Classical Chinese text quote above, confirmed that we are now deep in The Dharma Ending Age, in a world consumed by the five defilements of greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and pride. His intention of specifically highlighting this Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代) is clearly to differentiate it from the other Dharma Ages. However, many followers not understanding its significance, have translated this term into English as ‘Age of Dharma Decline’ which is incorrect. He further wrote:

Truly we know that the teachings of the Path of Sages were intended for the periods when the Buddha was in this world and for the Right Dharma Age; they are altogether inappropriate for the times and beings of the Semblance and Dharma Ending Ages and the Age when the Dharma has become extinct. Already their time has passed; they are no longer in accord with beings.

The true essence of the Pure Land Way compassionately draws all the innumerable evil, defiled beings to enlightenment without discrimination, whether they be of the periods when the Buddha was in the world, of the Right, Semblance or Dharma Ending Ages, or of the time when the Dharma has become extinct.

This is the Dharma Age in which no sentient being is able to escape from samsara by their own efforts. Those who think they could are, simply put, too egoistic and unrealistic about their own nature and spiritual capabilities as they continue to struggle in vain to achieve emancipation, till the end of their fleeting lives.

Shakyamuni Buddha has firmly revealed to us that the main purpose for which He came to this world was to preach  Amida Buddha’s Vow of Boundless Compassion which promises to save all mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu), good or evil, irrespective of their gender, social status, and intelligence or living environments and the Dharma Ages they are in. This was especially so in The Semblance Dharma Age and particularly effective in this latter Dharma Ending Age when The Pure Land Gate is the one and only viable escape route out of samsara.

In this Dharma Ending Age, human beings are absolutely incapable to practice strictly according to Shakyamuni Buddha’s lifetime teachings to obtain enlightenment by their own self-power, strict discipline, difficult practices. The Buddha, out of great compassion for all suffering beings,  exhorts all His disciples like ourselves who truly do not have the capacity for these practices, to sincerely entrust themselves single-mindedly to Amida Buddha and His fulfilled Primal Vow which is a sure way of breaking free from the vicious cycle of samsara at the end of this life in mortal flesh.

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Understanding the enormous impact of The Dharma Ending Age, let us not struggle in vain with self-power practices which are totally useless to us in our plight to get out of samsara at the end of this terrible existence. May we become True Disciples of Buddha by Listening Deeply to what The Buddhas have taught, truthfully acknowledging our persistent shortcomings and accordingly rely solely on Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow.

In deep gratitude to Amida Buddha for having saved us and freeing us from all pain and suffering at the end of our lives, we Say The Name (Namo Amida Butsu 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) endowed with infinite virtues and embodied in The Primal Vow.

Thus, we have Truly Heard:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo Amida Butsu   南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛

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HOME PAGE: The Call of Boundless Compassion

Hindrance of doubt

Hindrance of doubt

疑 情 為 所 止

hindrance-of-doubt-fa

In his Shoshinge – Gatha of True Faith (正 信 偈), Master Shinran clearly tells us that the Hindrance of Doubt obstructs our path to The Pure Land…

Our continued return to this cyclic home of birth and death
Is certainly due to the hindrance of doubt
Swift entrance into the peaceful, uncreated Realm of Bliss
Is necessarily brought about by Shinjin

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Hindrance of Doubt obstructs our complete freedom from the firm clutches of samsara – the cycle of birth and death marked by relentless pain and suffering – which has been our perpetual home for countless billions of lives. We transmigrate endlessly within the six realms without a suitable condition that could put an end to this dreadful cycle of painful existence.

Many of us might have come into contact with the Buddha Dharma – in our previous lives or the present life – which had taught us how to escape from samsara, but due to our egoistic ignorance, we doubt the Compassion and Wisdom of The Buddhas and so we continue to drift in the ocean of pain and suffering. Doubt is the hindrance to us in our seeking for a way out of this unsatisfactory existence.

Doubt is the natural mechanism and manifestation of our ego; our self-centered tendency to dismiss anything we cannot see or perceive with our eyes and to construe as false, transcendental existences that are absolutely true but beyond the limited knowledge of us humans. This self-centered ego, hardened through countless existences, takes as real the relative knowledge of science and technology which further strengthen the sense of our own intelligence and cause us to be spiritually blind. Thus, we lack the wish to escape from samsara through the only True Path of Salvation available to us.

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Doubts regarding Shakyamuni Buddha obstructs many of us from listening deeply to what He has taught. Many doubt His teachings on Impermanence, laws of cause and effect and dependent origination, rebirth, suffering, the cause of suffering, the ending of suffering, the appropriate means that put a permanent end to suffering and attainment of the state of absolute freedom – Nirvana. They unreasonably ask for scientific proofs of these teachings which are clearly beyond the limited scope of our puny mental capacities and outside the realm of material measurements. Thus, these persons of doubt have no trust in The Buddha Dharma and exclude themselves from the Buddhas’ Teachings on the true path to Salvation.

Doubts regarding Amida Buddha obstructs many of us from listening deeply to the only teaching of salvation available to mundane foolish persons – in this Dharma Ending Age in which beings are unable to perform difficult spiritual practices – to receive permanent freedom from samsara. They doubt the True and Real existence of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in The Pure Land Sutras.

Thus, these persons of doubt exclude themselves from the Boundless Compassion of Amida Buddha – the only absolute grace that can save these ignorant persons as they are, with their foolish selves and stubborn mental defilements – the easy path that would unfailingly save them from the vicious cycle of samsara at long last.

Doubts regarding Amida’s Primal Vow obstructs one from listening deeply to the other-power teaching of complete reliance on The Primal Vow that embodies the Saying of the Name endowed with infinite virtues – (Nembutsu  念 佛  – Namo Amida Butsu  南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) – as clearly explained by Master Shinran in his expositions on The True Pure Land Way. To be completely free from all pain and suffering, is to be born in the fulfilled Pure Land of Amida as a Buddha, at the end of this life.

Master Shinran exhorts all mundane foolish persons like us to abandon all self-power practices and entrust our karmic destiny entirely in Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow. Doubt in The Primal Vow – Amida Buddha’s unconditional promise to save every one of us regardless of our faults, conditions or environments – caused us to be born in the ‘borderland’ or ‘womb-palace’ which are unfavorable environments for immediate transformation to Buddhahood.

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In his songs on the Dharma Ages, Master Shinran wrote 23 verses on the offense of doubting the Primal Vow, eight of which are quoted below:

As a mark of not apprehending Buddha-wisdom
People doubt the Tathagata’s various kinds of wisdom
Believe in recompense of good and evil, rely on their practice
Of the root of good, and hence remain in the borderland

Doubting the inconceivable Buddha-wisdom
People devote themselves to saying the Nembutsu in self-power
Hence they remain in the borderland or the realm of indolence and pride
Without responding in gratitude to the Buddha’s benevolence.

Because of the offense of doubting the Buddha-wisdom
They remain in the realm of indolence and pride or borderland
Because the offense of doubting is grave
They pass long years and kalpas there; thus it is taught

People who say the Name in self-power
All fail to entrust themselves to the Tathagata’s Primal Vow
Because the offense of doubting is grave
They are chained in a prison of seven precious materials

People who perform various good acts in self-power
All doubt the inconceivable Buddha-wisdom
Hence, by the law of receiving the results of one’s acts
They enter a prison made of the seven precious materials

Practicers who doubt the Primal Vow
Are born within lotus buds from which they cannot emerge
Or are born in the borderland, or fall
Into the womb-palace

Those who practice the root of good
While believing deeply in the recompense of good and evil
Are good people whose minds are possessed of doubt
Hence, they remained in the provisional, transformed lands

The fault of doubting Buddha-wisdom is grave
Becoming fully aware of this
You should, with deep repentance
Entrust yourself to inconceivable Buddha-wisdom

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This Hindrance of doubt is therefore the opposite of True Entrusting (Shinjin -信 心) which is the essence of the Pure Land teaching. The natural process by which doubt is transformed to true entrusting occurs when the repeated exposure to the Buddha Dharma in the past, is nurtured and enhanced by listening deeply to the Dharma again in the present life. Thus, when we constantly come into Amida Buddha’s presence through The True Pure Land teachings and dialogues with persons of True Shinjin, we humbly give ourselves the opportunities to resolve every doubt in our minds.

True Entrusting (Shinjin) naturally occurs due to the ripening of good karmic seeds, in that instant, the one-thought moment (一 念) when all our doubts, regarding Amida Buddha, His Pure Land and the Primal Vow are completely resolved. We spontaneously let go of our self-power practice and inclination, allowing ourselves to be embraced by the natural working of The Primal Vow. Thus, we KNOW without any doubt that this is our last life in samsara and that we are assured of Buddhahood at the end of this life.

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May those who are brought here due to the ripening of good karma, are altogether free of the hindrance of doubt, as they listen deeply and HEAR:

The Call of Boundless Compassion

Namo-Amida-Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo-Amida-Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛
Namo-Amida-Butsu   南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛

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HOME PAGE: The Call of Boundless Compassion