THE STORY OF WHO WE REALLY ARE
淨 邦 緣 熟
Icchantikas are wretched, hopeless persons lacking the seed of salvation – people like ourselves who are stricken with a common human sickness, most difficult to cure in this world. Only the Compassionate Light of a Supreme Buddha can cure us…..
Concerning beings who are difficult to cure, the Buddha has taught the following in The Nirvana Sutra: “Kasyapa, there are three kinds of people in the world who are hard to cure: those who slander the Great Vehicle, those who commit the five grave offenses, and those who lack the seed of Buddhahood (icchantikas). These three sicknesses are the most severe in the world; they cannot be treated by sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, or bodhisattvas.”
An Icchantika (一 闡 提) is the description that Master Shinran gave himself as he carefully explains to us, how difficult it is for this group of wretched, hopeless, foolish and ignorant persons, to cross the ocean of samsara, the painful cycle of birth and death. Without exception every one of us is an icchantika, a person consumed by the uncontrollable urges of lust, ambition, greed, hatred, jealousy and arrogance, in this Dharma Ending Age. He relates to us the story of Ajatasatru – The Story of who we really are:
“As I carefully reflect, I see that the inconceivable Universal Vow is indeed a great vessel bearing us across the ocean difficult to cross and that the Unhindered Light is the Sun of wisdom dispersing the darkness of our ignorance.
Thus it is that, when karmic conditions for the teaching of birth in the Pure Land had ripened, Devadatta provoked Ajatasatru to commit grave crimes. And when the opportunity arose for explaining the pure act by which birth is settled, Sakyamuni led Vaidehi to select the Land of Serene Sustenance.”
The story of Ajatasatru, the unborn enemy – told in the Nirvana Sutra and related in Master Shinran’s wonderful exposition, the Kyo Gyo Shin Sho (真 實 教 行 信 證) – is an excellent example of a mundane foolish person (凡 夫, bombu) who is overwhelmed and consumed by fire of blind passions of greed, hatred, deep-rooted ignorance, jealousy and arrogance. Having committed the gravest despicable crimes, Prince Ajatasatru later recognized how evil he was and considered himself an ‘icchantika’ – one who lacked the seed of salvation; a person without any hope of emancipation and was certainly condemned to the deepest hell.
The relationship of Ajatasatru’s hopeless plight and our own is direct and similar, but most of us are not truthful enough to recognize that we are just as evil, wretched and hopeless as Ajatasatru. Transmigrating through billions of lives, we have accumulated an incredibly immense amount of evil karma and are also destined for the deepest hell. Truly, Ajatasatru is our story – the story of who we really are.
Prince Ajatasatru – the beloved son of King Bimbisara of the country of Magda in northern India over 2500 years ago – under the instigation of Devadatta, a rebellious senior disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, seized the throne and viciously starved his blameless father to death in prison. If not for the intervention of his compassionate uncle Jivaka, a true disciple of Shakyamuni Buddha, he would have also killed his own mother Queen Vaidehi for smuggling food to sustain the imprisoned Bimbisara. The extreme pain and unimaginable suffering experienced by Vaidehi brought her to implore The Buddha to show her a place throughout the entire universe and trillion world systems that was completely free from the dreadful agonies of mortal samsaric existence.
That tragic incident in this story of Ajatasatru, presented the ripening of a karmic opportunity for Shakyamuni Buddha to reveal and teach about Amida Buddha and His Pure Land of Happiness and Serene Sustenance – the undisputable choice selected by a painfully distraught Vaidehi from amongst myriad Pure Lands showed to her by The Buddha, through His transcendental power.
Vaidehi’s prayer to Shakyamuni Buddha at that time, opened up an extraordinary escape route for the masses of wretched, mundane foolish persons (凡 夫, bombu) who truly do not have the nature or spiritual capacity to perform difficult meditative or non-meditative disciplines and sagely practices. This is fully in accord with what the Buddha said to Vaidehi about her poor spiritual capacity at that time: “you are a common mortal with inferior mental capacity”.
Recognizing her own nature and hopelessly inferior spiritual capacity, Vaidehi made this passionate prayer:
“My only prayer is this: World-Honored One, may you preach to me in detail of all the places where there is no sorrow or trouble, and where I ought to go to be born anew. I am not satisfied with this world of depravities, with Jambudvipa, which is full of hells, full of hungry spirits, and of the brute creatures. In this world of depravities, there are many assemblies of the wicked. May I not hear, I pray, the voice of the wicked in the future and may I not see any wicked person.
World-Honored One, although all other Buddha countries are pure and radiant with light, I should, nevertheless, wish myself to be born in the realm of Buddha Amitayus, in the world of Highest Happiness, Sukhavati.”
Guided by the power of The Buddha, Vaidehi saw the marvelous splendor of Sukhavati. In that instant, she joyfully received the certainty of Shinjin, the Entrusting Faith and insight into the wisdom of the Buddhas. Ecstatically, with joy and gratitude, she exclaimed:
“World-Honored One, Never have I seen such a wonder! People such as I can now see that land by the power of the Exalted One! To remember these words is to remember the name of the Buddha. Namo Amida Butsu.”
Vaidehi recognized that any self-power efforts on her part would be utterly useless and that she was able to see Amida Buddha and The Pure Land only by the other-power of Shakyamuni Buddha. She also knew without any doubt, that her endless pain and suffering in samsara, would definitely come to an end with her assured birth in Sukhavati.
Ajatasatru’s amazing journey to receive Shinjin – the Entrusting Faith of Salvation directly transmitted to him by The Buddha – would not have been made, had he not encountered and listened deeply to his uncle Jivaka who was a good teacher; a kind and knowledgeable Dharma friend (善 知 識). Ajatasatru’s good karma accumulated from the past must have ripened at that time.
Because he killed his father, a fever of remorse arose in his own heart and filthy sores began to cover his entire body – he was consumed by extreme pain and agony. Although Ajatasatru had earlier repented his vile, evil nature and despicable behaviour, he could not see any possible escape from the painful hell he had created.
Six close ministers came before him one after another giving him various advice to seek the miraculous formulas of their trusted gurus. Yet, Ajatasatru cannot put any trust or comfort in their words. It was only on the wonderful Dharma teachings and urging of Jivaka that Ajatasatru built up the confidence to seek the compassionate help of Shakyamuni Buddha who already knew that he would come with Jivaka.
The Buddha taught the Dharma of Salvation to Ajatasatru, radiating the Compassionate Light that instantly healed his body and mind. As Ajatasatru listened deeply, absorbing the wonderful words from the Tathagata, his heavy burden of karmic evil was lightened, enabling him to receive the inconceivable Shinjin, the Entrusting Faith that had no root in his heart. With ecstatic joy and profound gratitude to the Buddha, he exclaimed:
“How is this possible! At the beginning I did not know to revere the Tathagata, and did not entrust myself to the Dharma and Sangha. World-honored One, if I had not encountered the Tathagata, the World-honored One, I would have undergone immeasurable suffering for countless, incalculable kalpas in the great hell.”
Thus, entrusting himself and his karmic destiny entirely to the other-power of the Buddha, Ajatasatru’s enlightenment was assured. He knew without any doubt that he will be freed from the relentless cycle of pain and suffering at the end of his life.
Listening Deeply (深 聞 佛 法) to the Buddha Dharma and to the essential teachings conveyed to us in Ajatasatru – the Story of who we really are – will certainly expose the stark truth, that we are actually the icchantikas who are destined for the lowest hell, without any karmic condition whatsoever for salvation.
Learning from this excellent, true story of Ajatasatru, let us truthfully recognize the terrible karmic mess we are in at this time. This precious human birth has given us all the right opportunities to be repeatedly exposed to Shakyamuni Buddha’s teachings on Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, the one and only Dharma door that remains open to every person, especially spiritual idiots like us. Deeply listen, listen, and again listen to this excellent Dharma.
Ajatasatru’s amazing journey out of samsara, should also be our journey. Firstly, His good karma from the distant past ripened when he found and listened deeply to a kind Dharma friend and spiritual confidant (善 知 識) – his uncle Jivaka – a true disciple of the Buddha.
Next, with Jivaka’s repeated encouragements, he found the courage to seek the Other-power help directly and only from a person who had attained Supreme Enlightenment – the Buddha and not anyone else. Receiving the Compassionate Light of Shinjin from Shakyamuni Buddha healed him in body and mind. Thus, he received the inconceivable Gift of Salvation while still living out his remaining life as a mundane foolish person filled with blind passions.
Maturing of our good karma, accumulated from the distant past – though unconscious to us, due to our deep-rooted ignorance – has brought us these extremely rare encounters, awakening to the untiring presence of Amida Buddha, the greatest of all the Buddhas. We are now freely given, this inconceivable awareness of the omnipresent, Compassionate Light of Salvation of Amida Buddha who has pledged to save us, no matter who we are or how heavy the enormous evil karmic baggage we are now carrying.
May all wretched icchantikas – common mortals like ourselves, Ajatasatru and Master Shinran – not squander away this precious human birth by playing the self-power games on the Path of sages. Let us listen deeply to the incomparable Pure Land teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha on Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow that clearly show us the only available escape route out of samsara, in this Dharma Ending Age.
The very moment we take heed of the exhortations of the Buddhas and are able to accept without any doubt Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow, we will receive His inconceivable Gift of Shinjin, The Entrusting Faith that guarantees our birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss at the end of this life. We are thus embraced and not forsaken by the Light of Great Compassion, in this present life.
Gratefully taking refuge and entrusting our karmic destiny entirely to Amida Buddha and His Primal Vow, we Say His Name (Namo Amida Butsu – 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) endowed with infinite virtues and glorified by all the Buddhas throughout the ten directions. We know without any doubt that this is our last life as deluded beings in the dreadful cycle of pain and suffering, at long last.
Thus, we have clearly and truly heard:
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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