Hindrance of doubt
疑 情 為 所 止
In his Shoshinge – Gatha of True Faith (正 信 偈), Master Shinran clearly tells us that the Hindrance of Doubt persistently obscures our path to The Pure Land of Ultimate Happiness…
“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.”
Hindrance of Doubt is the main fetter that keeps us strongly imprisoned inside the dreadful realms of samsara – the vicious cycle of birth and death marked by impermanence, relentless pain and suffering – which has been our perpetual home for countless billions of lives. We have transmigrated endlessly within the six realms – gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry spirits and hell-beings – without an effective condition that could put an end to this treacherous cycle of painful existence.
Suffering beings like ourselves do not know why we are born here – in a perishing 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 now brought us the right condition to free ourselves from samsara.
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 the strong hindrance of doubt, we are unable to fathom the inconceivable Compassion and Wisdom of The Buddhas. Thus, we continue to drift in the ocean of pain and suffering. Doubt is an extremely stubborn hindrance that comes to the forefront, persistently discouraging us, whenever we try to seek for a way out of this unsatisfactory existence.
The persistence of Doubt is a 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 sphere of knowledge of us humans. This self-centered ego, solidly hardened through trillions of existences of self-preservation, takes as real the relative knowledge of science, technology and the huge overload of materialistic information. These are the illusive fetters that further strengthen, the sense of our own intelligence and arrogance that certainly, cause us to be spiritually blind.
Strongly self-powered by the massive habitual tendencies accumulated over countless trillions of previous experiences, we are strongly attached to this realm of painful existence, our familiar home of complete illusion. Therefore, we are naturally reluctant to leave this world of pain and suffering, even though many of us have already met Buddhas and the Buddha Dharma in our previous lives that had given us the right opportunities to extricate ourselves from samsara.
Thus, we lack the aspiration to escape from samsara through the only True Path of Salvation available to us now. How sad and lamentable this is, that we would simply squander away again, this extremely rare human life which has now given us this wonderful opportunity, to free ourselves forever, from this perpetual cycle of pain and suffering. Our continued transmigration within samsara is sadly inevitable.
Doubts regarding Shakyamuni Buddha hinder most of us from ‘Listening Deeply’ to what He has taught. Many doubt His teachings on Impermanence, laws of karma (cause and effect), dependent origination and rebirth, the truths about suffering, the cause of suffering, the ending of suffering and the appropriate means that could put a permanent end to our suffering – the attainment of the state of absolute freedom (Nirvana). They unreasonably ask for scientific proofs of these teachings of absolute truths, which are clearly beyond the limited scope of our puny mental capacities and outside the conventional realms of material measurements.
These persons of doubt have no trust in The Buddha Dharma and therefore, exclude themselves from the Buddhas’ Teachings on the true path to Salvation. Yet, being foolish beings with deep blind passions, we must accept that the darkness of doubt cannot be completely eliminated by our own self-power. It is only through ‘Listening Deeply’ to the Buddha Dharma that full entrusting in the wonderful teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha can occur, thereby causing doubt to simply dissipate in our hearts, with the spontaneous presence of the Light of Wisdom.
Doubts regarding Amida Buddha hinders many of us from Listening Deeply to the only teaching of salvation available to mundane foolish persons – in this Dharma Ending Age during which beings are absolutely unable to perform difficult spiritual practices – to receive permanent freedom from samsara at the end of their present fleeting lives. They doubt the True and Real existence of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land as taught by Shakyamuni Buddha in the three Pure Land Sutras, particularly The Larger Sutra of Infinite Life.
The Absolute Confidence (信 心 – Shinjin) of Amida Buddha in saving all beings from samsara, had caused the appearance of Sukhavati – His fulfilled Land of Peace and Bliss – trillions of years ago, ever-ready to receive all sentient beings who aspire to escape to a conducive environment for attainment of Buddhahood. It is the Buddha’s Boundless Compassion that affords, ignorant persons with stubborn mental defilements, the easy path that would unfailingly save them from the vicious cycle of samsara at long last.
However, the hindrance of doubt strongly prevails in our minds both intellectually and emotionally. We are constantly assailed by self-doubts and doubts regarding the true and real existence of Amida Buddha and His Aspiration to save us. Doubt is deep-rooted and is a natural part of being human. Yet, if we give ourselves the chance by temporarily putting aside our preconceive ideas and are opened to the Amida Dharma by ‘Listening Deeply’, these doubts will disappear with the one-thought moment of entrusting in Amida Buddha and His Vow of Boundless Compassion.
Doubts regarding Amida’s Primal Vow hinders us from ‘Listening Deeply’ to the Other-power teaching of complete reliance on The Primal Vow that embodies the Saying of the Buddha’s Name (Nembutsu 念 佛), as clearly explained by Master Shinran in his expositions on The True Pure Land Way. In order that our present human births are not regrettably wasted, we must aspire to be free from all suffering, by easily securing our births, directly in the fulfilled Pure Land of Amida Buddha.
We should know that the stumping blocks, created by the persistent intellectual and emotional doubts in our minds, for trillions of lives until now, had made the “easy” path to the the Pure Land by Amida’s Primal Vow, “the most difficult of all difficulties”:
“if in this lifetime still you are entangled in a net of doubt, then unavoidably you must pass once more in the stream of birth-and-death through myriads of kalpas”.
Further, he clearly tells us – again in his Gatha of True Faith – that the real reason for Shakyamuni Buddha’s appearance in this world is solely to teach The Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. Foolish persons like ourselves should single-heartedly rely on it for our deliverance from samsara:
“The reason for the Tathagata’s appearance in this world
Is solely to teach the ocean-like Primal Vow of Amida
The multitudes of beings in this evil Age of the Five Defilements
Should entrust themselves to the absolute true words of the Tathagata.”
Earnestly, he exhorts all mundane foolish persons like us, to abandon all self-power meditative and non-meditative 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, emotional defilements, social status or living environments – would cause us to be born in the ‘borderland’ or ‘womb-palace’ which are unfavorable environments for immediate transformation to Buddhahood.
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“
This Hindrance of doubt is mysteriously resolved with the one-thought-moment of True Entrusting (Shinjin -信 心) in The Primal Vow. It is like the darkness, in a room closed and dark for a thousand years, disappearing by itself when Light suddenly enters the room. As we are strongly bound by the darkness of blind passions, karmic evil and false wisdom, we have been dishonest and deceitful. Completely lacking the mind of truth and reality, we have been tainted and overwhelmed by the hindrance of doubt. The natural process by which the Light of true entrusting is spontaneously manifested in our hearts, occurs when the repeated exposure to the Buddha Dharma in the past, is now nurtured and enhanced by ‘Listening Deeply’ to the Dharma again and 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 become aware of the Tathagata’s true and real Sincere Mind of benefitting others. This Mind of True Entrusting (Shinjin) which is completely untainted by the hindrance of doubt, is the Light of Wisdom freely given to us for our going forth to the Pure Land.
True Entrusting (信 心 – Shinjin) is the faith-mind consciousness, naturally received by us 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. This wonderful moment will only occur, when we are prepared to let go of all our self-power practices and inclinations, allowing ourselves to be carried by the natural working of The Primal Vow. Single-heartedly, we would then, Say the Buddha’s Name (南 無 阿 彌 陀 佛 – Namo Amida Butsu), deeply grateful to The Buddha for having saved us.
Thus, embraced and not forsaken by the Light of Boundless Compassion, we KNOW without any doubt, we are assured of Buddhahood at the end of this deluded life. Amida Buddha has bestowed on us, here and now, His infinite merits and virtues for our going forth to The Land of Peace and Ultimate Happiness.
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.
May, those who are brought here due to the ripening of good karma from the past are altogether free of the hindrance of doubt, as they listen deeply and clearly ‘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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