《Hymn Appreciation 2》
Sentient Beings in Pain and Affliction
A few days after finishing a Dharma talk at a temple, I received a card as
Literature does not deceive us, music does not deceive us, art does not deceive us, sport does not deceive us,
but religion, which should not deceive us at all, is deceiving us, isn’t it? Even using a term “Hoben”(a method,
means, device as of saving suffering beings) , it is cheating people tactfully, isn’t it?
Surprised as I was, I sent a brief reply as follows:
“When we reflect on the establishment of the Vow,
We find that the Tathagata, without abandoning sentient beings in pain and affliction,
Has taken the directing of virtue to them as foremost,
Thus fulfilling the mind of great compassion.” ---Hymn of the Dharma-Ages
In this hymn, you can cross out those words which you think are deceptive. Aren’t there any left undeleted?”
I did not get an answer to my question thereafter, but I wondered if he understood the true meaning of my reply. ‘Tathagatha,’ ‘Vow,’ ‘virtue directing,’and ‘great compassion’ may have been crossed out, but how about ‘sentient beings in pain and affliction’? Could he say, “I have never had any pain or affliction in my life”?
Buddhism started with “suffering.” Shakyamuni Buddha, as he was a prince, perceived human afflictions: aging, disease, and death. and decided to seek the way to overcome those afflictions, abandoning his castle. After hard asceticism for six years, he attained enlightenment at the age of 35 and delivered his first Dharma talk to his old practice friends in terms of the Fourfold Noble Truth: kutai or the truth that life is full of suffering, jittai or the truth that the cause of suffering is evil passions, mettai or the truth that Nirvana is the state where all sufferings are extinguished, and dotai or the truth that eightfold holy path leads to Nirvana. Thus Buddhism was clearly initiated with suffering. The utmost suffering is physical death and spiritual affliction, and this suffering has remained unchanged from Shakyamuni Buddha 2,500 years ago until today when science and civilization prevails. Mortal we are, nay, I am. “I used to think it is other people that are to die,” confessed Dokan Ota, a satirical poet, on his death bed, “but now is it really me? Oh, no way!” It is sneaking on us every minute.
“Tired with human relationship” is sometimes heard. Gain or loss, family trouble, jealousy, suspicion, complex, bullying, alienation, solitude, despair, etc. do cause our mind affliction, but when one is in a happy trend, one tends to be beside oneself with joy and never perceive the tide of human suffering hidden at the bottom. This is the actuality of our spiritual darkness or delusion and when recognizing our ignorant plight of struggling in the dark ocean, the Tathagata can never give us up as follows:
Avalokiteśvara, and Mahāsthāmaprāpta
Ride on the ship of the great Vow;
Going out on the ocean of birth-and-death,
They call to beings and bring them on board. ---Hymn of the Dharma-Ages
Saving us like this is the intention of the Eighteenth Vow as follows:
“Encouraging the beings of the ten
quarters with the words,
‘With sincere mind entrust yourselves and aspire for birth,’
Amida established the Vow beyond conceptual understanding
And made it the cause of birth in the true and real fulfilled land.
---Hymn of the Pure Land
The gist is that if you believe in the Tathagata’s sincere mind and say the nembutsu, you will surely be saved by His unconceivable compassionate power, which is beyond the consideration of self-centered human beings. The nembutsu Namuamidabutsu is a real expression or function of His compassionate power. It is by directing and giving Namuamidabutsu to those drowning beings that they can be saved on board. Those who are panting in the waves of agony can never have a second to doubt it, but only be taken on board of the great Vow.
According to a letter from a lady (60 years old), her husband is taking a rehabilitation treatment; she needs to visit her mother often who has been moved into an old people’s home; she had an inheritance trouble with her sister-in-law after the funerals of her parents-in-law. Moreover, her daughter came home with two children after divorce, and she herself is suffering high blood pressure. Quite driven to the wall! One day, however, she found an old letter from her mother: “Whatever may happen, we are in the sahā world (where we suffer and have to bear). Our utmost reliance is the nembutsu only.” Encouraged by this, she has formally entered Buddhism with a Dharma name given, and has been enjoying the nembutsu life while hearing Dharma talks here and there
When the great compassion that never abandons sentient beings in pain and agony reaches the bottom of our heart, the nembutsu will well up and let us overcome the actual plights.