As we come to the end of this extraordinary school year, my family and I are looking forward to celebrating what we hope will be the conclusion of our misadventure with pandemic homeschooling. With much of our sons’ learning having taken place on the computer during this past school year, one of our greatest challenges has been staying on task with so many tempting distractions just a click away on the internet.
In my complaints about this website or that YouTube Channel that I catch my sons looking at while they are supposed to be working on their online math programs, I find myself saying things like, “What is this junk you’re watching?” Listening to myself speak, I hear echoes of my father’s comments on my own television viewing choices when I was in elementary school and he came home from work to find me camped out in front of the television during my daily latchkey kid binge on afterschool sitcom reruns.
It seems that as each generation matures, it finds itself criticizing the distractions of the younger generation. It feels to me like we live in a uniquely distracted time at the present, with various devices and internet sites vying for our attention from moment to moment throughout the day.
However, reading The Sutra on the Buddha of Immeasurable Life, I am reminded that people of this world have been distracted from the most essential matters of life since at least the time of the Buddha. Spoken over 2,000 years ago, the words of Buddha to ring true to me today:
“ . . . people in the world are so shallow and vulgar as to quarrel among themselves over matters of no urgency. In the midst of grave wickedness and extreme afflictions of the world, they busy themselves in leading their lives.”
(The Three Pure Land Sutras, Volume II, pg. 68)
I often find myself caught up in trivial matters and neglect to direct my mind to the great matter of liberation from suffering. Those who sincerely direct their minds to awakening are rare to encounter. Thus, in speaking of the world of awakening that we call the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, the Buddha said, “To go there is easy and yet no one is born there.” (pg. 67)
The Buddha offered this frank assessment of human nature because he wished for us to wake up and break free from suffering in the cycle of death and rebirth. Our kind teacher shows us the true state of our minds, and encourages us to take seriously the great matter of our path to awakening, asking, “Why then do you not abandon worldly matters and make efforts to seek the virtue of the Way?” It is difficult to turn our minds away from worldly concerns, such as the possessions, status and entertainments we cherish. If we trust that lasting peace of mind is realized not in these ephemeral things, but in turning our minds to the Buddha’s teachings, we discover that with the support of the Buddha, it is not difficult to enjoy a life of kindness and understanding for others.
As a child, my father’s frank words were difficult to accept, but hearing them from my father, who I respected and looked up to as a guide, I ultimately took them to heart, trusting that they were grounded in his kind wishes for me to live a meaningful life. Looking back on it now, I see how the guidance he shared with me has shaped my values and the direction of my life. The Buddha has the deep concern of a loving parent for all of us. If we are able to open our hearts to the Dharma he taught, the essential matters that require our full attention in this life become perfectly clear.
Namo Amida Butsu