Ice Melts Into Water, Obstructions Melt Into Virtues

As temperatures warm and we prepare to welcome the arrival of Spring with our Ohigan Service on March 19, I am reminded of the following verse from Shinran Shonin’s Hymns of the Pure Land Masters:

Obstructions of karmic evil turn into virtues;
It is like the relation of ice and water:
The more the ice, the more the water;
The more the obstructions, the more the virtues.

(From Shinran Shonin’s Hymns of the Pure Land Masters, Hymn 40)

In the verse above, Shinran Shonin describes how, just as the warm spring temperatures melt ice into water, the warm light of the Buddha’s wisdom melts the hard obstructions in our minds into the flowing virtues of awakening.  Greed turns into Generosity.  Indulgence turns into Self-control.  Anger turns into Patience.  Laziness turns into Dedication.  Distraction turns into Concentration.  Delusion turns into Wisdom

Growing up in Minnesota, the springtimes of my childhood were filled with joy and wonder, as I experienced the warm sunlight melting away ice and snow, making way for blades of green grass to sprout up on the lawn.  During the long winter, the cold of the snow and ice had turned the grass brown.  The water of the melted snow and the warmth of the sun brought new life to the grass.

The light of the Buddha’s wisdom melts the ice of our obstructions, turning them into the nourishing waters of virtue.  When greed melts, it becomes generosity.  Greed arises from ideas of “mine,” such as my possessions, my time, or my attention.  The root of greed is awareness for what I have and what I lack.  When I feel that I have little and lack much, I think that I don’t have enough to share. However, when my perspective shifts, and I awaken awareness of abundance, greed melts into generosity.  When I am satisfied with what I have, I feel grateful for how much I have.  Like greed, the root of generosity is also awareness of what I have and what I lack.  However, when realizing that I have much and lack little, it becomes clear that I have enough to share.

When anger melts, it becomes compassion and patience.  The root of anger is awareness of other people, specifically what they are doing, or not doing.  People do things that bother me, so I get angry.  People don’t do things that I think they should, so I get angry.  The root of patience is also awareness of other people.  The shift in perspective that turns anger into compassion and patience comes when I pay attention to how other people are doing, as opposed to what they are doing.  When I awaken concern for how the people in my life are doing, I come to recognize that their behaviors that irritate me likely have a deeper cause outside of that specific situation.  It may be that the upsetting things they do are the result of larger difficulties they are dealing with at that moment.

Delusion melts to become wisdom.  The root of delusion is my view of my own knowledge.  When I am sure of my own knowledge, I am unwilling to listen to others.  Even when I’m wrong, I think, “I already know, so don’t try to tell me about it.”  The root of wisdom is awareness of the limits of one’s own knowledge.  When I understand that I need to learn more, I take interest in what others have to say and listen carefully to the information they share with me.  With an open mind, there is no limit to the understanding that I can receive.

In the words “Namo Amida Butsu,” the Buddha’s compassionate voice calls to us moment to moment, urging us to open our hearts and minds to welcome the light of wisdom to melt the ice of greed into the water of generosity, melt the ice of anger into the water of patience, and melt the ice of delusion into the water of wisdom.

Namo Amida Butsu