Dharma Ending Age

 TEXT IN KYO-GYO-SHIN-SHO

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 earnestly wrote….

“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.”

This is indeed an extremely bold statement regarding The Dharma Ending Age in which we now live. Yet, it is absolutely true, when we would honestly look into ourselves and see the pitiful states we are painfully trapped in – our real natures, puny spiritual aptitudes and the extremely adverse living environments we have to face every day.

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Dharma Ages in general, 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 manifests of 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 human 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, called samsara and how we can put a permanent end to this unsatisfactory, relentless torture we have been experiencing, 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 extremely rare human birth which has brought us the right conditions to free ourselves from samsara.

We should know that the Buddha Dharma is the only True Teaching in this world of absolute delusion, that gives us a chance and means of escaping from samsara. Yet, painfully ignorant of this fact, the majority of us are led to become agnostics or to simply follow other widely touted, false spiritual teachings, which firmly keep us, mercilessly strapped to the treacherous wheel of samsara.

With Boundless Compassion for the suffering multitudes, Shakyamuni Buddha tirelessly taught the Dharma 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 leading to enlightenment and 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.

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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 Angulimala (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, as they both practiced strictly in accordance with His direct 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. Therefore, 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.

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The Semblance Dharma Age (像 法 時 代), that followed after the Right Dharma Age, 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 defiled natures and the adverse influence of the Dharma Age they were in – being further away from the Buddha’s direct 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.

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The Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代 – ‘Mappo’ in Japanese), quickly 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 minuscule 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 actual nature of beings in this Age. They should know that, no matter how hard they try or for how long, their egoistic struggles, to get out of samsara, are now completely ineffective and would surely be in vain.

On the other hand, another extremely obvious behaviour we would observe in almost ALL the suffering human beings in this Dharma Ending Age today, is that, they are resolutely attached to this life and to future existences in samsara. All of us would naturally struggle in vain to find happiness and to avoid suffering in this life, although many understand about the temporary nature of our lives. Those who are spiritually inclined, would pray for a better future life in another realm in samsara. It is therefore, abundantly clear that the majority of people in this last Dharma Age, have really no aspiration at all to leave this vicious cycle of birth and death.

The persistence of doubt overwhelmed our minds and hearts in this defiled world. Yet, doubt itself, is just a natural mechanism and manifestation of the ego. It is our arrogant, 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. Unaware that our strong attachment to samsaric life, has been solidly hardened through countless trillions of previous experiences in our past lives, we automatically accept 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 to the presence of the Great Compassion of the Buddhas.

Master Shinran has confirmed in his Kyo-Gyo-Shin-Sho, that we are now deep in The Dharma Ending Age, in a world consumed by the five defilements of greed, hatred, illusion, jealousy and arrogance. His intention in specifically highlighting this Dharma Ending Age (末 法 時 代 – ‘Mappo’ in Japanese) or Last Dharma Age, is clearly to differentiate it from the earlier Dharma Ages which had been in steady decline since Shakyamuni Buddha’s Parinirvana. However, many followers today, not understanding the true significance and connotation of the term ‘Mappo’, have incorrectly translated it into English as ‘Age of Dharma Decline’ – an obvious case in which the actual meaning of this important term, is truly lost in translation.

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 Dharma Ending Age, is the period in which no human 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 that 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 and aptitude 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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Listening Deeply to what the Buddhas have taught and 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 truthfully acknowledging our persistent shortcomings and accordingly rely solely on Amida Buddha and The Primal Vow.

Knowing that our karmic destiny is now fully settled, we would be deeply grateful to Amida Buddha for having saved us through the power of His Primal Vow, and for our assured births in The Land of Absolute Happiness at the end of our suffering lives. Single-heartedly, we would Say The Buddha’s Name (Namo Amida Butsu 南 无 阿 彌 陀 佛) which is 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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