The Truth of Buddha’s Teaching

In Life there is suffering. This spurs on the unending search for universal truth and meaning. Jodo Shinsu is an answer to this search. The “practice” of Jodo Shinshu is the recitation of the Nembutsu with self-reflection. It involves hearing the call of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Eternal Life and Infinite Light, Compassion and Wisdom, within others’ or ours recitation of the Name. Which calls us to raise our spiritual perspectives beyond immediate ego interests to universal concerns for compassion, justice in the human community and concern for the life of nature. The hole of life is Nembutsu. A life lived in awareness, that we ourselves are the expressions, the manifestations, of interdependence and compassion and dedicated to bringing that reality to others as we have experienced it.

The Nembutsu is a spiritual shrine, which can be transported and reverenced wherever one may be. Time or space does not bind religious practice. Rather, from within the deep recesses of one’s spirit the call of Amida Buddha can be heard, bringing our attention back to the very source of life itself, and evidencing its presence in the very act of living itself.

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Buddhism is one of the world’s great religions. The religion is based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as The Buddha, who lived approximately 557 BC to 477 BC. The word “Buddha” means a Supremely Enlightened One or Fully Awakened One (also a Tathagata) who has won the realization of the True Permanent Absolute Reality, the ultimate truth. Buddhism is built on a framework that consists of the Four Noble Truths, four fundamental principles of nature (Dhamma) that emerged from the Buddha’s honest and penetrating assessment of the human condition and that serve to define the entire scope of Buddhist practice. These truths are not fixed dogmatic principles, but living experiences to be explored individually in the heart of the sincere spiritual seeker:

To each of these Noble Truths the Buddha assigned a specific task, which the practitioner is to carry out. The first Noble Truth is to be comprehended dukkha (suffering, unsatisfactoriness, and stress): life is fundamentally fraught with unsatisfactoriness and disappointment of every description. The second is the cause of dukkha: the cause of this dissatisfaction is tanha (craving) in all its forms. The third is the cessation of dukkha: an end to all that unsatisfactoriness can be found through the relinquishment and abandonment of the cravings. The full realization of the third Noble Truth paves the way for the direct penetration of Nirvana, the transcendent freedom that stands as the final goal of all the Buddha’s teachings. The last of the Noble Truths (the Noble Eight fold Path), contains a prescription for the relief of our unhappiness and for our eventual release once and for all from the painful and wearisome cycle of birth and death (samsara) to which through our own ignorance (avijja) of the Four Noble Truths we have been bound for countless aeons. The Noble Eight fold Path offers a comprehensive practical guide to the development of those wholesome qualities and skills in the human heart that must be cultivated in order to bring the practitioner to the final goal, the supreme freedom and happiness of Nirvana. The eight qualities to be developed are Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

The Quality of Right View is to aspire to attain realization of perfect wisdom, the ultimate true permanent reality. Abstain from all evil acts of thought, to attain the total destruction of all cravings. The Quality Of Right Resolve is to renounce all manifesting, all constructions, all that is “created” make-believe, to develop dispassion, total detachment, absolute renunciation, self-surrender. To bring about the cessation of all “created” realities. To self-realize is the incomparable awakening of self. To win the freedom of mind, the freedom through perfect intuitive wisdom, the sane and immune emancipation of will. Right Speech is to abstain from all lying speech, all perjurious speech, all evil abusive speech and all frivolous speech. To engage in speech and discussion that pertains to and leads to Nirvana, to what’s actually permanent and real. Right Action is to abstain from all killing of all creatures, abstain from all stealing, abstain from all sensual and sexual misconduct, abstain from all evil acts, and abstain from all forms of intoxication. Right Living is to abstain from all evil methods of livelihood. Right Effort is to destroy all evil states of mind that has already arisen. To keep new evil states of mind from arising and to maintain and grow good states of mind that have already arisen. Nurture good states of mind that have not yet arisen, such as loving kindness for all beings, compassion and pity for all creatures, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Right Mindfulness is to contemplate as impermanent, ill and selfless: body, feelings, perception, mind, consciousness, thought, mental states, mental objects and mental activity. To grow revulsion for the world, seeing it for the decaying creation that it is, and to grow dispassion, total detachment, calm, tranquillity, seeing that everything is not itself. To disregard all that is perceived, remaining aloof from both the pleasures as well as the pains. Arising from the creation of senses and sensuality. Right Concentration to be aloof from the world, aloof from evil states, aloof from all sensations from the senses. Dwelling in solitude, seclusion, ardent, diligent, self-resolute, and develop one-pointed-ness of mind through intense meditation and reflection. Progress along the path does not follow a simple linear trajectory. Rather, development of each aspect of the Noble Eight fold Path encourages the refinement and strengthening of the others, leading the practitioner ever forward in an upward spiral of spiritual maturity that culminates in Awakening.

Seen from another point of view, the long journey on the path to Awakening begins in earnest with the first tentative stirrings of right view, the first flickering of wisdom. Therefore, one recognizes both the validity of the first Noble Truth and the inevitability of the law of karma, the universal law of cause and effect. Once one begins to see that harmful actions inevitably bring about harmful results, and wholesome actions ultimately bring about wholesome results, the desire naturally grows to live a skilful, morally upright life, to take seriously the practice of sila. The confidence built from this preliminary understanding inclines the follower to put one’s trust more deeply in the teachings. The follower becomes a “Buddhist” upon expressing an inner resolve to “take refuge” in the Triple Gem: the Buddha (both the historical Buddha and one’s own innate potential for Awakening). The Dhamma (both the teachings of the historical Buddha and the ultimate Truth towards which they point), and the Sangha (both the monastic community that has protected the teachings and put them into practice since the Buddha’s day, and all those who have achieved at least some degree of Awakening). With one’s feet thus firmly planted on the ground by taking refuge, and with the help of an admirable friend (kalyanamitta) to help show the way, one can set out along the Path, confident that one is indeed following in the footsteps left by the Buddha himself.

The Buddha based his teachings on a frank assessment of our plight as humans: there is unsatisfactoriness and suffering in the world. No one can argue this fact. If the Buddha’s teachings were to stop here, we might indeed regard them as pessimistic and life as utterly hopeless. But, like a doctor who prescribes a remedy for an illness, the Buddha offers hope (the third Noble Truth) and a cure (the fourth Noble Truth).

In the Buddha’s later teachings, as reflected in the profound and wonderful Mahayana (Great Vehicle) sutras, Sakyamuni was said to reveal that he was actually an incarnation of the eternal Buddha, whom Shin Buddhists refer to and worship as Amida Buddha. Those sutras also make many references to transcendent Bodhisattvas, or Buddhas-to-be, who act compassionately to relieve suffering in all of its various forms. They are true friends of humankind. To accomplish their goal of eliminating suffering in all sentient beings, and helping all to attain the perfect peace and enlightenment of Buddhahood, Bodhisattvas diligently practice the Six Perfections (or Paramitas): charity, observance of the Buddhist precepts, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom. These are described in inspirational poetic form in The Threefold Lotus Sutra (published by Kosei). The following is a small example:

“For infinite past eons, the World-honored One has practiced all manner of virtues with effort to bring benefit to us human beings. Unsparing of his person as of his possessions, he gave all, his head, eyes, and brain, to people as alms. Keeping the Buddhas’ precepts of purity, he never did any harm, even at the cost of his life. He never became angry, even though beaten with sword and staff, or though cursed and abused. He never became tired, in spite of long exertion. He kept his mind at peace day and night, and was always in meditation. Learning all the Law-ways, with his deep wisdom he has seen into the capacity of living beings.”

Within the Mahayana tradition, an extraordinary Bodhisattva named Dharmakara, who was intensely aware that most people would have an impossible time consistently adhering to the Buddhist precepts. Dharmakara Bodhisattva therefore created an easy path to enlightenment, thus becoming Amida Buddha, the Universal Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Life. (Light refers to his wisdom, and his eternal life refers to his infinite compassion for all sentient beings. These are the two primary attributes of Buddhahood: wisdom and compassion.) Dharmakara Bodhisattva felt great compassion for those of us unable to fulfill the practices necessary to achieve enlightenment on our own. He therefore resolved that he would give up his own attainment of Buddhahood unless, when he became a Buddha, he could establish a land free of all suffering, where anyone with faith in him could be reborn. Then he backed up this Great Universal Vow with the massive power of innumerable virtues and good deeds, which he performed over many eons of time. Dharmakara successfully fulfilled his Great Vow, and became Amida Buddha. In the Larger Pure Land Sutra, which Shinran referred to in his masterwork, the Kyogyoshinsho, as the True Teaching, Sakyamuni describes in detail the wondrous world in the western part of the universe which Amida created, a world free from defilement and pain. Amida says to us, in essence, “You who rely on the saving power of my embrace, rather than on your own self-efforts toward spiritual perfection, will assuredly gain birth in my paradise when your earthly life ends. You will immediately, at that time, attain Buddhahood!”

To enter in, and then transcend, eight higher states of consciousness that lead to increasing intuitive wisdom, insight and direct super-knowledge, and to destroying the addictions and cravings, and to realizing true reality, effectively piercing the shell of ignorance and delusion. As one attains the higher states of mind, consciousness, the true nature of how things really are can be seen clearly, both intuitively and with supreme effort, by direct super-knowledge, true reality unfolding, and self enlightenment of self by self.

Surrounded by myriad phenomena, we live and die, do good and evil deeds. But what is our status in this universe after all? There are two relationships that exist in this universe, that is the relationship between the creative God and the human and that with all his creatures. The God empowers the human to rule and control the other creatures by authority of God of the creation. Thus, in front of God, the position of the human is utterly dependent. However, in comparison to the other creatures, we are full of authority and pompous presumption. If we exclude the God, the concept of this religion becomes entirely devoid of meaning.

Buddhists believe the myriad beings created everything in this universe. The Law of Cause and Effect stipulates that whatever deed an individual performs, the result of that deed goes to him or her alone. Whatever deeds a group or persons perform, the group will bear the result. Such a doctrine is diametrically opposite to theistic teachings. Therefore, all Buddha-dharma practitioners should understand two things:

1. All the chaos and suffering in this world are the results of evil deeds performed by the human in the past. In order to make this world a pure and stately place to live in, the only hope lies in our refraining from evil and doing all that is good. Individually speaking if some one should suffer from being uneducated lives in poor family circumstances, or chronic illness, then these are the influences of my past or present karmic forces. Therefore if we wish to live in peace and happiness, then all of must strive very hard to perform good acts. If humans were the Creation, we would have no power of our own. Instead we would have to follow the decision and will made by the creator. Buddhism believes that all events that take place are due to reverberations of our own karmic forces. Thus we are capable of changing ourselves, even to the extent of changing the world, or community around them.

2. After we are convinced of the Buddhist doctrine of karmic conditional causation, that whether the world is foul or pure, whether our careers are a success or failure, these are the results of our bygone karmic forces; then we will not then blame the unfavorable situation on heaven or others. We can change and improve our karma. If we start toward the direction performing wholesome acts from this very moment, then our future will be full of brightness. This is the basic way of life taught by Buddhism.

The Buddhist doctrines “I create this world”, and “all of us create this world’, is a view of life based of freedom and self-determination. The Buddhist human relationship is neither one of master-slave, nor that of father-and-son. Those who awaken first and advance the farthest on the path to enlightenment are the teachers. Those who are late in awaking are the students. Thus, a socio-cultral structure built on the Buddha-dharma must necessarily be one of teacher-friend relationship, and is most consistent with the spirit of freedom and democracy.

When Buddhism states that “I” can make the world, it is different from the creation of the world by God. When the Creator creates the human being and other myriad creatures, he creates them from nothing. This is in contradiction to moral-causation law of creation. Buddhism holds that it is our karmic forces of mental activities and thoughts that create the world. If we perform good deeds, then we are capable of realizing a pure and idealistic world.

In practicing Buddhism from establishing faith and to experiencing enlightenment, there are stages of understanding and practice. The terms practice and understanding and self-explanatory. But there are infinite numbers and boundless ways of understanding and practicing Buddhism. I will expound only the two most essential points: continuity of birth and death, and mutual accretion of all entities.

Continuity of birth and death explains that the life is impermanent and continuos. This is consistent with the truth that all phenomena are impermanent. From childhood to old age, life is continuously changing. Although it is constantly changing, the state in the future is different to the present, the life forms of the present and future are forever inter-connecting, thus life maintains its seemingly identical and continuos individuality.

In a broad sense, death in this life marks the beginning of the next new life. Death is not the end of all existence. For example, when we go to bed tonight, we will wake up tomorrow morning again. Having understood this truth, then we can deeply believe in the Law of Conservation of Karmic Fruit (conditions of rebirth depending on previous karmic conduct). In terms of present time, the success or failure of our undertakings will depend on whether we receive proper upbringing and schooling. In addition, if we do not make an effort at young age to learn and master a skill, or we are not hard at work, then we will have no means to make a living at older age.

Extending this simple principle, it shows that if we do not behave well and fail to cultivate blessed-rewards in this life, then we will face unfavorable living conditions in our future rebirths. In other words, we have to behave well this life so that in future rebirths we will be better off, more intelligent and happy. This fact of continuity of birth and death, and the truth that every phenomenon is impermanent will help us to make an effort to uplift ourselves.

Now we come to mutual accretion of all entities. Here accretion means strengthening or growth through mutual dependence. No person can live independently in a society, as there must be mutual dependence and support among individuals. For example, young children depend on their parents for upbringing and guidance and when the parents grow old, they in turn, will need the support and care from their children. By the same token, all branched of activities in the society, such as agriculture, industry, commerce, politics, depend on the other for its growth.

According to Buddhism, in the universe we have an intimate relationship with all sentient being residing in all dharma-realms (forms of existence). It is possible that other sentient beings have been our parents, brothers, and sisters in the infinite past. Due to the influence of Karma, our living existence and circumstances now differ to that of the past, therefore we do not recognize each other. When we gain an understanding of mutual accretion, then we can cultivate the virtue of helping and love each other.. This in turn will lead us to a harmonious and happy co-existence wit others.

Next we can talk a little about altruistic acts. According to the principle of mutual accretion, an individual cannot exist away from the masses. In order to find happiness and security for ourselves, we must first seek security and happiness for the masses. In terms of a family, you are one of its members, and in respect to a society, again you are one of its members. Only when the family is happy and secure can you find happiness and security for yourself. If everyone in society is peaceful and happy, then you will have a real peace and happiness. The aim of practising the Dharma of course is to be released from samsara. But the emphasis should be of benefitting others as well as oneself. The release from samsara achieved by practitioners who emphasise self-emancipation only is not final. It is like a pedestrian who runs a short distance and hastens to rest by the roadside. This attitude of hurrying towards a goal can actually result in slower progress. Even as the turtle and the rabbit raced in the well-known fable, the rabbit runs fast, but is too anxious to rest and sleep and he is left behind in the end. Similarly, if we are too anxious to be released from samsara and suffering to secure happiness only for ourselves, the path we follow will prove to be a tortuous one.

Those who sincerely develop the mind of Bodhi and make the effort to practise the perfection of the Bodhisattva, must equip themselves towards certain aspects. The essentials are: faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion, and wisdom. Without the foundation of Bodhisattva teachings, one’s faith and determination will be similar to benevolence and knowledge in Confucianism; one’s loving kindness and compassion will resemble the faith and wisdom of the Sravakas; and one’s wisdom will be equivalent to faith and love in Christianity. The only practice that can fully convey the Truth of Buddha’s teaching, and can become the supreme way of practice for human beings, in the practice of the Bodhisattva-the unification of faith and determination, loving kindness and compassion and wisdom. These three themes supplement each other and lead one to the attainment of perfection.

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The Truth of Buddha’s Teaching. (2018, Jun 08). Retrieved from