February is the month in which we observe our Nirvana Day Service at the San Mateo Buddhist Temple in commemoration of Sakyamuni Buddha’s realization of the great tranquility of parinirvana approximately 2,500 years ago at Kushinagar in northern India. Having attained the wisdom of enlightenment, when his time in this world drew to a close Sakyamuni Buddha met the end of his human life with a peaceful mind as he passed into the state of final Nirvana. When those who live in the nembutsu with deep entrusting in Amida Buddha reach the end of life in this world, they are immediately born in the Pure Land where they realize the same enlightenment that brought Sakyamuni Buddha enduring peace of mind. That said, we would expect there to be many people eagerly looking forward to birth in the Pure Land. Are you one of them?
In a recent conversation, a Sangha member raised an interesting question, “I understand that in the Jodo Shinshu teaching the goal is to be born in the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, but honestly speaking, I don’t have a feeling of wanting to be born in the Pure Land. Should I be concerned about that?”
Shinran Shonin himself was asked a similar question, and offered the following reply:
. . . having no thought of wanting to go to the Pure Land quickly, we think forlornly that we may die even when we become slightly ill; this is the action of blind passions. It is hard for us to abandon this old home of pain, where we have been transmigrating for innumerable kalpas down to the present, and we feel no longing for the Pure Land of peace, where we have yet to be born. Truly, how powerful our blind passions are! But though we feel reluctant to part from this world, at the moment our karmic bonds to this saha world run out and helplessly we die, we shall go to that land. Amida pities especially the person who has no thought of wanting to go to the Pure Land quickly. Reflecting on this, we feel the great Vow of great compassion to be all the more trustworthy and realize that our birth is settled.
If we had the feeling of dancing with joy and wishing to go to the Pure Land quickly, we might wonder if we weren’t free of blind passions.
(A Record in Lament of Divergences (Tannisho), Chapter 9)
Reflecting upon my own life, I find that I too have many blind passions and have never danced with joy at the prospect of being born in the Pure Land. Not only do I have beloved family and friends who I do not wish to part from, I do not wish to abandon the life I worked so hard to establish for myself. I enjoy sitting in my comfortable chair to read a book or watch an interesting TV program. I love to visit beautiful places with my family and eat delicious meals with friends at my favorite restaurants. I don’t feel like giving up all those pleasures to quickly be born in the Pure Land.
Clinging to the pleasures of this world is called attachment or greed. When I lose something that is important to me, the unpleasant feelings of disappointment and anger arise in my mind. I try to avoid all unpleasant feelings and shy away from the things that frighten me. Sakyamuni Buddha clearly taught the truth that all who are born into this human life will one day pass away in death. While I try to avoid the unpleasant and frightening truth that my life in this world will come to an end, the reality of death cannot be avoided forever. Simply ignoring unpleasant truths is to live in delusion. Greed, anger, and delusion are the blind passions that cloud our minds and impede our joy.
Amida Buddha made his compassionate vow in order to liberate people like me who are mired in blind passions, and unable to face the reality of death with a peaceful mind in the manner of Sakyamuni Buddha reclining in the sala grove of Kushinagar. When I realize how difficult it is for me to abandon this world of delusion, I feel all the more assured that entrusting Amida Buddha’s compassionate vow is my true path to liberation from suffering.
Namo Amida Butsu