Month: January 2018

Dharma Ending Age

This post is an edition of an earlier article on this blog

 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 Dao-Chuo of China earnestly 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 (when He left His flesh body on this earth). 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, which naturally manifest itself, is absolute, everlasting and imperishable; it 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 various practices of The Buddha Dharma.

The sole purpose of The Buddha’s appearance in this world as a human being in mortal flesh more than 2500 years ago, is to teach us about this dreadful, cyclical existence of pain and suffering and how we can 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 fleeting environment firmly attached to greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt – 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 is said to have taught 84,000 paths to enlightenment, always dispensing the appropriate Dharma medicines for those with high spiritual capacities, as well as for the lowly endowed, foolish persons, during His lifetime and for future generations.

In the Right Dharma Age (正 法 時 代) which lasted 500 years from the Buddha’s Parinirvana, the Tathagata’s wonderful presence and powerful Buddha-field, enabled persons of different capacities to use the self-power methods (both meditative and non-meditative), to leverage themselves and obtain emancipation. Even despicable murderers like Augulimala (the crazy terrorist who had already killed 100 people passing through his forest) and Sunita (the illiterate, lowest caste, untouchable night-soil carrier), were able to attain enlightenment by solely taking refuge in the Buddha; practising according to His instructions.

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, they had appeared in the immediate, powerful 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 many practitioners of the Buddha Dharma were resolute in self-power meditations and performance of difficult Buddhist practices. However, most of them, not understanding their own natures and influence of the Dharma Age they were in – being further away from the Buddha’s energetic field – 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 could only practice 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 who counted themselves 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, taking refuge in Amida Buddha and the power of His 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 – both meditative and non-meditative – without any regard for their own innate natures and puny spiritual 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, becoming practically impossible. The time for achieving the enlightenment that extricates us out of samsara through self-centered practices in this life, has already passed in this Dharma Ending Age.

All the Dharma practitioners who engage in self-power practices, aspiring to achieve release from samsara at the end of their lives, are really not aware that these good practices are no longer in accord with the nature of beings in this Age. They should know that, no matter how hard they try or for how long, their egoistic struggles are ineffective and would surely be in vain.

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, illusion, 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 today, 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  relying on their own self-centered 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 and single-heartedly take refuge only in Amida Buddha and His fulfilled Primal Vow. This is a sure way of breaking free from the vicious cycle of samsara at the end of our lives 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 through the power of His Primal Vow, and freeing us from all pain and suffering at the end of our lives, we single-heartedly Say The Name (Namo Amida Butsu 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) endowed with His infinite merits and virtues, for as long as our breaths last.

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

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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Natural Working of The Primal Vow

JINEN HONI

自 然 法 爾

Jinen Honi 1 (FA)

In this stanza from the Gatha of True Faith – Venerable Master Shinran’s wonderful song on the True Pure Land way – he vividly expresses his profound understanding on The Natural working of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow…

“When one deeply remembers Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow
Naturally in that instant, one enters the Stage of Definitely Settled 
And solely Saying the Tathagata’s Name always 
Gratefully respond to Great Compassion’s Universal Pledge and grace”

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Suffering beings like ourselves do not know why we are born here – in a fleeting and impermanent environment firmly attached to greed, hatred, ignorance, arrogance and doubt – 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 conditions to free ourselves forever from samsara – the vicious cycle of birth and death.

Our lives are characterized by perpetual strivings to find happiness and to avoid suffering. Being constantly inundated by the sheer volumn of relative scientific knowledge that greatly enhanced our blind passions, we are pitifully being led astray. We doubt even the true existence of any transcendental reality, let alone accept the ultimate truths pointed out in the Buddha Dharma.

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The Natural working of the Buddha Dharma (自 然 法 爾 – Jinen Honi) in general, is inconceivable and absolutely beyond the ego-centred conceptual understanding of unenlightened sentient beings like us. This is why Buddhist sutras are introduced with the phrase “Thus, have I heard”. “Thus” indicates the natural manifestation of the Buddha Dharma – it’s spontaneous working cannot be created, affected or altered at all, in any way, by the contrivance of sentient beings including the greatest amongst gods and humans.

Habitually clinging tightly to their hardened, self-powered struggle to end suffering, most foolish mundane persons (凡 夫 – bombu), living in this badly defiled Dharma-ending Age, constantly look for rational explanations and proofs even for the natural truths that is definitely beyond their limited sphere of perception. Not realizing that they are in fact spiritually blind, they certainly deprive themselves of the precious opportunities repeatedly given to them to listen deeply and to accept these inconceivable aspects of the Absolute Truth, carefully pointed out in the Buddha Dharma:

.. The Natural Working of Amida Buddha’s Vow-power
.. (願 力 自 然)

.. The Natural Working of Karma
.. (業 道 自 然)

.. Naturalness of the Unconditioned Realm of Nirvana
.. (無 為 自 然)

Shakyamuni Buddha who appeared in this world over 2500 years ago, taught the sublime Dharma for 45 years, using skilful methods – said to have numbered 84,000 and more – to draw all persons to the path of Enlightenment, in accordance with the karmic propensities of individuals or groups. The Dharma, He discovered, which manifests the Truths about suffering and the end of suffering, operates naturally “of itself” (自 然 法 爾 – Jinen Honi) and is completely beyond the intellectual understanding, reasoning and scope of non-Buddhas.

However, The Buddha summarizes His immeasurable treasury of teachings – which are absolutely trustworthy and dependable, as they come from His  great compassion and wisdom – simply with one sentence:

All I teach is about suffering and the end suffering.

For all sentient beings like us, coming to the ultimate end of all suffering, is to become Buddhas, awakened to Truth of all existence. We have been transmigrating endlessly for countless billions of lives, caught in the extensive net of samsara, without an appropriate means to end this treacherous existence of perpetual pain, suffering and strife.

This precious human existence has now brought us the rare opportunity to extricate ourselves from samsara. Yet, we are too busy chasing after the fleeting worldly attractions and distractions that bind us even more tightly to samsara. Therefore, we are certain to continue experiencing this dreadful, cyclical nightmare, as we drift further and further away from the shore of emancipation.

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Amida Buddha’s True and Real Shinjin (真 實 信 心), is His Absolute Confidence that all persons who single-heartedly accept His Primal Vow, will definitely be born, as they wish, in His Land of Peace and Bliss, at the end of their present lives. This Great Compassionate Vow had already been wonderfully fulfilled ten kalpas ago when the Tathagata attained Supreme Buddhahood, after trillions of years, perfectly performing the extremely difficult practices of a Bodhisattva:

“If, When I attain Buddhahood
Sentient Beings of The Ten Quarters
With Sincere Mind, Joyfully entrusting themselves
Aspiring To Be Born in my Land
And Saying My Name perhaps even ten times
Should Not be born there
May I Not Attain The Supreme Enlightenment
Excluded Are Those Who commit the five grave offenses
And Those Who slander The Right Dharma.”

The Primal Vow is clearly the Buddha’s promise to save all beings from the dreadful cycle of samsara. Thus, Saying the Buddha’s Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu), fulfilled in the Primal Vow, is the active cause of our birth in the Pure Land. It is Amida Buddha’s Great Practice of directing His infinite virtues to us for our going forth. By the power of this Universal Vow, we are effectively pulled out from this treacherous world of delusion, at the end of this life.

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The Natural Working of the Primal Vow Jinen Honi (自 然 法 爾) – is the spontaneous act of Great Compassion, manifesting the Absolute Truth (of all phenomenon) in our world. This natural manifestation of the Absolute Truth – which is otherwise completely inconceivable to deluded, egocentric beings – is vividly expounded by Master Shinran in all his wonderful writings :

In the ‘Lamp for the Latter Ages’, he wrote:

Concerning jinen [in the phrase jinen hōni]:

Ji (自) means ‘of itself’ – not through the practiser’s calculation. It signifies being made so. nen (然) means ‘to be made so’ – it is not through the practiser’s calculation; it is through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow.

Concerning ‘Hōni’: Honi (法 爾) signifies being made so through the working of the Tathagata’s Vow. It is the working of the Vow where there is no room for calculation on the part of the practicer. Know, therefore, that in Other Power, no working is true working.

Jinen (自 然) signifies being made so from the very beginning. Amida’s Vow is, from the very beginning, designed to bring each of us to entrust ourselves to it – Saying “Namu-Amida-Butsu” – and to receive us into the Pure Land; none of this is through our calculation. Thus, there is no room for the practicer to be concerned about being good or bad. This is the meaning of jinen as I have been taught.

As the essential purport of the Vow, [Amida] vowed to bring us all to become supreme Buddha. Supreme Buddha is formless, and because of being formless is called jinen. Buddha, when appearing with form, is not called supreme nirvana. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless, the name Amida Buddha is expressly used; so I have been taught. Amida Buddha fulfils the purpose of making us know the significance of jinen.

After we have realized this, we should not be forever talking about jinen. If we continuously discuss jinen that no working is true working will again become a problem of working. It is a matter of inconceivable Buddha-wisdom.

In his “Notes on The Essential of Faith Alone”, he again, carefully explained:

Ji also means of itself. ‘Of itself’ is a synonym for jinen, which means to be made to become so. ‘To be made to become so’ means that without the practiser’s calculating in any way whatsoever, all that practiser’s past, present, and future evil karma is transformed into the highest good, just as all waters, upon entering the great ocean, immediately become ocean water.

We are made to acquire the Tathagata’s virtues through entrusting ourselves to the Vow-power; hence the expression, ‘made to become so.’ Since there is no contriving in any way to gain such virtues, it is called jinen.

Those persons who have attained true and real Shinjin are taken into and protected by this Vow that grasps never to abandon; therefore, they realize the diamond-like mind without any calculation on their own part, and thus dwell in the stage of the truly settled. Because of this, constant mindfulness of the Primal Vow arises in them naturally (by jinen). Even with the arising of this Shinjin, it is written that supreme Shinjin is made to awaken in us through the compassionate guidance of Sakyamuni, the kind father, and Amida, the mother of loving care. Know that this is the benefit of the working of jinen.

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Listening Deeply and repeatedly exposed to the Buddha Dharma (深 聞 佛 法) in general and the True Pure Land teachings on Amida Buddha and the Primal Vow in particular, we will naturally realize that the sublime operation of the Buddha Dharma, is inconceivable to us. The Absolute automatically manifest “of itself”- with the ripening of our good karmic seeds – and needs no working, whatsoever, from spiritually defiled sentient beings like us.

We will also be made to realize that any self-power effort and contrivance on our part – deluded sentient beings filled with blind passions – is utterly useless toward achieving salvation in this precious human life. Let us not struggle in vain and accept the proffered hand of Great Compassion to take us across “the ocean of suffering”.

With the one-thought moment of true entrusting in the Primal Vow, we will naturally realize that we are saved by Amida, at long last. The Natural Working of the Buddha’s Vow-power is simply inconceivable.

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Saying the Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu – 南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛) embodies Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow. Once we single-heartedly entrust ourselves to the Vow – realizing that it surpasses conceptual understanding – and aspiring to be born in His fulfilled Land, we simply say His Name. Unfailingly, our birth in the Land of Peace and bliss is absolutely assured.

Thus, Saying the Buddha’s Name is the act of true settlement for persons of true shinjin (entrusting faith). Joining this Group of the Truly Settled, we are embraced and not forsaken by the compassionate Light of Amida Buddha, who, through the power of the Primal Vow, instantly transfers His entire store of merits and virtues for our going forth to the Pure Land.

The Buddha’s infinite merits and virtues
Are bestowed equally on all beings.
May all accept Amida’s Gift of Shinjin
And obtain birth in His Land of Peace and Bliss.

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Thus, single-heartedly entrusting ourselves to the Natural Working of Amida’s Vow-power, we continue to Say the Buddha’s Name – with no calculation whatsoever on our part – deeply grateful to the Buddha for having saved us. We have, without any doubt, clearly 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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