When I first started studying life my focus was on understanding Fear. It was the one threat to my existence that did not have to physically touch me, yet could kill me. I was about ten years old and influenced by horror movies and stories at the time. The Edgar Allen Poe story of being buried alive scared me. I wanted to understand how to avoid being a victim of Fear.
In today’s world the news of the day seems to be filled with story after story of violence, hatred, and now disease. The reason why Terrorism is so frightening is that terrorists have no particular agenda, they cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be bargained with, or negotiated with, as they only seek to create fear. Their demands are extreme and absolute. Death seems the only end they seek.
Yet, even in the most devastated areas of the world, where such terrorist attacks are happening everyday, people still carry on their daily lives. Have you every wondered how they can do that? Would you be able to go out of your house, if you knew that just a simple trip to the grocery store might lead to your death, either by a random shooting or an IED (improvised explosive device)?
Life is dangerous, whether or not we are aware of it. To be ‘alive’ is to be vulnerable to many the ways that can ultimately lead also to our ‘death.’ I’m sure that this realization was also present during the time of the Shakyamuni Buddha and Shinran Shonin. The fragility and impermanence of the phenomena we experience as Life is a fact. Impermanence is a key concept to understanding the value of the Buddha’s teachings. Shakyamuni set out to find a way to live his life knowing that Age, Illness, and Death, accompanied him at all times. Shinran Shonin, too, was desperate when he set out to practice at Rokakudo, because he knew that the traditional Tendai practices were beyond his capabilities and to die unenlightened was frightening. This is why ‘desire’ especially the desire behind wanting things to not be impermanent must be quieted. How does one do that?
First, it is important to recognize the real causes of such a desire. The teaching of the Three Poisons, tells us that Greed, Anger and Delusion, or Ignorance, are the basis from which all ‘dukha’ (suffering and dissatisfaction) comes from. Broadly speaking, we wrongly assume that if we can ‘satisfy’ our Greed or Anger we will be able to overcome the desires that come from them. This is Ignorance in action, as there is no end to trying to satisfy one’s Greed or Anger. Instead of calming down after satisfying such a desire, the desire itself becomes even more strong and more demanding. Picture the blood feuds that are behind the centuries of violence in the Middle East. There is no end to killing for vengeance. The Three Poisons are ultimately incapable of being satisfied because they are basically Addictions that grow stronger and more deeply rooted in us each time we try to satisfy them. The Buddha recognized this and that is part of the reason why the Sangha members needed to withdraw from contact with their family and their social interactions in the early stages of practicing the Dharma. Gradually, as they came to be able to control the desires, through controlling the Mind, they could once again mix with society, free from addictive pull of Greed, Anger, or Ignorance. This activity is under the prescribed practice of purifying ones Mind.
The Dharma’s purpose is practical because it is a means for clarifying and overcoming that which brings FEAR into our lives. Shinran’s discovery was that it was even easier if he could learn absolute trust and faith in the enlightenment promise of the Amida Buddha, and trust that the Name (namo amida butsu) insures that we are embraced in the brilliant enlightenment light.
We are impermanent in body, that cannot be changed, but we are also embraced completely and absolutely within the Light and Life of the Amida Buddha through Namo Amida Butsu.
The Anraku Shu says: “I will gather the true words so that they may help others to practice the way for Birth. My wish is that those who have attained Birth may lead those who come after them and those who aspire for Birth may follow their predecessors, thus following one after another endlessly and uninterruptedly until the boundless sea of Birth-and-Death is exhausted.”
— from Kyo Gyo Shin-Sho, p. 212,