The Praises of Amida/Chapter 1
|←Introduction||The Praises of Amida by , translated by Arthur Lloyd
|Idols and Religious Symbols→|
There is no rest in the three worlds. They are like a burning house. They are full of all manner of Confusion, Tain, and Suffering. Life and Cld Ago, Sickness, and Death, are ever in them, and these things burn like a fire which nothing can quench.
The Tathagata has left the Conflagration of the Three Worlds, and is (i welling at peace in the tranquility of his Forest Abode (Paradise). "All the three Worlds," suith He, "are my possession. Ail the Living Beings t ^at are in them are piy Children. r \ he World is full of much tribulation, but I, by Myself, will work out salvation."
I. Suppose I were staying at an Inn, and should turn to one of my fellow guests, and ask him where he came from and whither he was going, and suppose the man should reply that he had not the slightest idea, and could not tell. Should we not all hold up our hands at the folly of the man ? And yet is it not an even more astonishing thought that we, the majority of the men that live in the world should be guilty of similar follv ?
IO The Praises of Amida.
2. We read in the Holy Books that "the fool is so ignorant that he thinketh himself wise, and that he knoweth neither where he came from at birth, nor whither he will go after death." The text is not one to be applied to others, it applies to ourselves ; for it is we our selves that do not know with regard to our selves, whence we came to take up our abode in this human life, nor whither we shall go after we have left this hostelry.
To be sure, we do know that our bodies came forth from our mother s wombs, and that they will be resolved into dust in the grave. But the body is not the self; and it is of this real self that we know not whence it came nor whither it goeth. The past through which we have come is dark, the future in front of us is dark too. And we, who live in this hostelry and enjoy its protection, know not when we shall leave it to plunge into the thick darkness of our further journey. Darkness is always the parent of fear : this darkness is standing waiting for us with jaws widely opened, ready to swal-
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low us up. When we think of it our weak hearts fail us, and we tremble for terror.
3. It is not only about the past and the fu ture that we are absolutely ignorant : we know nothing even of the present. Day by day we get up, we go to bed, we move about, we take our rest. And then we die. No one lives the same life over again, and we do not know why we live it at all. Some hold that the end of existence is happiness, others that it is progress. Can it, however, be said that there is such a things as true happiness in the world ? In the midst of joy we are overwhelmed with sorrow : behind pleasure you always find some lurking pain, and the shifting breezes of Impermanency, sweeping over this world, shrivel up the fair flowers of happiness, as the Morning Glory shrivels under the Rising Sun.
Or, perhaps, you will say that progress is the end of existence, and that its ultimate aim is something that is above us. When clouds drift over the sky, they really move neither backwards nor forwards. And we, whose Future is all
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darkness, how can \ve have a definite aim before us, and how, lacking that aim, can we think of making progress towards a goal ?
It follows, therefore, that happiness and pro gress are, both of them, empty expressions in capable of realization, and that we ourselves are vainly trying to realize thirgs that cannot be realized. Why is that? We cannot tell.
4. Again, you will sometimes find people who will tell you that it is impossible to dis cover the rciison d etre of life by looking only at the individual self. The individual, they say, is a portion of the State or of Society, and apart from these he is nothing. If, however, we look upon the individual as a constituent member of the whole body, we shall see that the end which the individual must aim at is the happiness or the progress of the Slate or of Society.
A man born blind can know nothing of the word outsiJe and cannot therefore become a leader of others. How is it possible then that the man, who does not know wherein lies his own happiness or advancement, can understand the
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secrets of the welfare and progress of the State or of Society ? Or how can the man, who has no aim or object for his own life, set before his country, or before society in general, a definite object after which to strive ?
Or, again, can it be said that the life of a State or of Society, as contrasted with that of an individual, is eternal ? Has the world ever seen a State that has lasted for ten thousand years ? And cannot even the life of this Earth on which we dwell be summed up by a short row of figures? It will not be long ere things return to their primeval chaos in the course of mun dane revolutions. Why then should we offer ourselves or sacrifice our lives for that which bears in it the seeds of decay ? We cannot tell.
5. Seeing, then, that we do not understand the raison d etre even of the State or of Society, it follows that we cannot comprehend the mean ing cither of human life or of the Universe as a whole, Heaven stretches high above us: Earth is at our feet: the birds sing, the flowers bloom. But why ? We cannot tell. We can only think
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of them as the shadows of an obscure vision, which we cannot understand, and which will presently vanish. Husband, v/ife these are but shadows in the vision. Parents, children, these too, are but shadows. So are rank and fame, wealth and achievement. And we ourselves are but shadows moving through the vision in the midst of other shadows of similar hue, and know- ir.g not when we shall vanish away. We are standing upon shadows, we know not when the shadows will shift and the vision be broken. " The laws governing motion and rest through out the Universe are all phenomena significative of destruction and discontent." How can we help the feeling of loneliness, fear, and pain ? " The three worlds* have no rest : they are like a burning house." And we are dwelling in the burning house of pain.
6. Yet, strange, to say, the majority of us forget that we dwell in a burning house, and give ourselves up to pleasure and enjoyment, as
- i.e. the material world, the \v<r d of form, and the ab
solute world which transcends human thought.
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though there were no danger at all. But shut our eyes to the danger as we will, the fact re mains that a house on fire is a house that is being burned ; we cannot rest easily in it, and our life is always full of discontent. I, you everybody, we are always desiring something that is outside of us and beyond our reach, and yet, when we get it, it is rarely quite what we thought it would be. And even when the re alization meets our expectations, it is of no real use to us, for it is but a shadow in our Vision. Hence it comes that each one of us has his own cause of discontent, and is troubled by care, despondency, anger, hatred, or envy, that he cannot agree with others, nor avoid being dis tressed by bickerings and strife. Thus, though men shut their eyes to the fact that they live in a burning house, yet the pains of the con flagration make them writhe and quail. In spite of all this, we go on insisting that we are not in error : we flatter ourselves that things are right, we boast that our views are the Truth, and our doctrines the Way. Can we avoid the
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sharp reproof of the Tathagata,* who said that " the fool is so ignorant that he deems himself to be wise ?"
7. It is quite true that the Three Worlds are full of pain, whether we like to think so or no. The pale, lightless, flames of suffering are at this moment around us on every side. From time to time we may, it is true, enjoy some transient feeling of pleasure, but it is the pleasure of an untrue vision, the precursor of fresh pain, and when it has vanished, nothing is left but the flames of suffering.
Furthermore, flame kindles flame, and the fire burns on for ever : suffering brings forth suffer ing, in endless succession. Yesterday was full of pain, so is to-day, so will be to-morrow. With cries of pain and tears we came into this
- I have frequently noticed a tendency amongst Shinshu
writers to limit the word Tathagata (Jap. Nyorai). Such writers use the expression Shakuson to denote Sakyamuni, whilst Nyorai, used absolutely, almost always refers to Amida, the Tathagata par excellence, the Being greater than Sakyamu ni. This is not absolutely the case, because one sometimes finds the term also used of Sakyamuni, but in this sermon Nyorai seems to the consistently used of Amida.
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world, with the same we shall again go hence to meet the unknown sorrows of the life to come. This is true not only of ourselves : the same flames of suffering envelope our parents, our wives and children, our brothers and sisters, our friends and acquaintances. The whole hu man race stands surrounded by a conflagration of suffering and pain, the flames are quite near to us, they take hold of our sleeves, they touch our faces. We can hear around us the cries and groans of suffering humanity. How can we help seeking for some way of salvation. ?
8. At such a time, Learning and Philosophy, which are the Ways of the World, can give us no help, try as they may. For why ? They are unable to go a single foot s length beyond the confines of this world. They are themselves in the midst of the conflagration, how can they save men from it ? There arc also many forms of religion which arc able to give men no cer tain grounds of hope. For why ? Some of them tell us, poor feeble men that dwell in the midst of Pain, to save ourseves from Pain by our own
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inefficient efforts ; and how can we, that are choked and blinded by the smoke and dust of the fire, find our own way out from the Flames of Suffering? Other forms of religion, again, exhort us to forsake our sins, and follow after virtue, a thing, alas! beyond the power of most of us, seeing that we are exhausted by the sufferings which Error has brought in its train, and have no strength to leap over the surround ing wall of flame that envelopes the house. How can we of ourselves forsake our sins, fol low after virtue, and break through the Flames of Suffering ? It is impossible for us to put our trust in Learning or Philosophy, or even in the great majority of religious systems, and if we cannot find some more certain means of Salva tion we must remain where we are, hopelessly surrounded by the roaring flames of Suffering that has no end.
9. But what is that glad sound? It is the name of the Buddha of Endless Light and Life, to whom we ascribe all glory. Surrounded by the flames of Suffering, above, below, and on
every hand, we hear the Holy Name of the Buddha of Boundless Light and Life. Three thousand years in the past, three thousand years in the future, can make absolutely no difference to this Name. It has precisely the same virtue, whether in distant India or in near Japan. Nor is it a matter of three thousand years only, nor of India and Japan only. At all times, and in all places, it is the same. This One Name stands revealed in the midst of a world of Shadow and Vision, and it alone is neither Shadow nor Vision. It is revealed in the World, but it belongs not to this world. It is Light. It is the Way. It is Life. It is Power. This name alone has come down from Heaven, the Ab solute and Invisible, to Earth, the Finite and the Visible. It alone is the rope which can draw us out from the burning fire of pain, and land us safely in a place of pure and eternal bliss.
10. Iron is iron, however much you polish it : but the ancients had a tale about the philo sopher s stone which could change iron into
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gold. The grove of iraii* has a poisonous smell, which exhales far and wide, and cannot be approached. Yet let but one bud of sendan* open, and lo ! the whole grove is filled with the sweetest odour. So runs the tale.
We are the iron. This world is the grove of iran. The Holy Name is the Philosopher s Stone, and the one bud of sendan. Let Visions be Visions ; but when once we have put our trust in this Name, which is no Vision, then our hearts, which have hitherto only formed a part of a fleeting dream, enter into the realms of Reality, of True Light and Life. And when, with this changed heart, we take a wide view of the world, the world itself ceases to be a Vi sion, and comes to be a part of the Kingdom of Light and Life.
ii. If there is a way of Salvation, we cannot doubt that there is also a Land where that Sal vation can be fully realized and accomplished. That country we can see even now, in the Fu ture. The Future which was once all darkness
- Iran and Sendan are the name of Indian plants
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is now bright with a streak of light. Thanks to the rope of salvation which has been thrown to us, hope has come bubbling up in our hearts, and we have entered into a rest which is beyond description. This happiness can be obtained even now, at the present moment. The Present, which was once so full of dangers, is now se cure from peril.
But Present and Future are impossible with out a Past : and our Past, we can see, has been the staircase by which we have mounted to the happiness of the Present and the Future. The Past which once was so meaningless has now come to be full of most precious signi ficance. In a word, this human life, and this whole Universe, have become transfigured with glory all through the merits of that One Name only.
12. And now we can for the first time begin to make true progress. " The Tathagata has left the burning mansion of the world and has entered into rest in the peaceful abode of his forest home " (i.e., the Paradise which is our
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true goal). This Tathagata,* who has entered into the rest of his Paradise (for that is the true and literal meaning of the " Forest House "), we turn to Him and advance day by day in His foot-steps. This is, indeed, true progress in which there is no danger of falling back, and the hap piness resulting from which can never change. It is a happiness which reaches into the future, which has no bounds, and is a true happiness. We can behold that true happiness, now, in the present.
13. Thus we see that there is now a line of light running through and threading to gether our lives, past, present, and future, which hitherto seemed to be but the confused visions of a dream. Our human life, which was but a waking dream, is one no longer: it is the gate which leads us to the precious Land of the Tathagata. We ourselves, who were but a dream, are so no longer : we are the Saved, the Sons of Buddha. We stand at the gate of the Happy Land, which we have received as a gift more precious than our bodies, and we
- i.e. Amida.
labour henceforth only to show our gratitude for this great gift. If now our motive-power be gratitude, we must labour our utmost to show it, though we should perish in tlie at tempt, though our country, or the world, should come to naught. The rainbow is a fleeting, perishing thing, yet it receives the light of the sun, and, receiving it, does its best to let it shine. So we, whose life may fail at any moment, have received the glory of the Divine Name, and, having received it, it becomes our duty, with thankful hearts, to labour that the glory may shine forth through us.
14. But again, this showing forth of grati tude, which is our duty, is not done by our own stregnth only. These lips which pronounce the Divine Name, these hands which laboriously perform our duty, are all parts of the body derived from our parents. We have a country which protects us, homes in which we have been brought up, we have wives and children, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends, all of whom stand
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round and encourage us, and it is with their help that \ve are able to discharge this duty of ours.
But behold, these persons are no longer the shadows of a dream. They are now the valuable helpers that enable us to discharge this sacred duty of showing gratitude. Nor are they the only ones that do so. Our foes, here ditary and personal, who can tell how mightily they act as encouragements? Sakyamuni said that Devadatta was his religious teacher: my enemy has become my teacher. A few moments ago we were surrounded by pain, so we said ; now we are surrounded by mercies. But a little while ago we were involved in shadows and dreams, now \ve are enveloped in light and glory. Human life has become a mass of mercy : the world an abode of brightness. Is not that a happy thing ?
1 6. The teachings of Buddhism are extreme ly wide : the way of man, the laws of thought, all are comprised within it. But it contains nothing greater than the doctrine w r hich admo-
nishes us, which draws our attention to our own miseries and those of human life, which cuts down to the root of Suffering, and places us mercifully in the Kingdom of Light. The Doc trine of the World either purposely refuses to see the miseries of human life, or tries to for get them, or else labours to suppress what it cannot forget. Buddhism is quite the reverse of that. It looks Suffering in the face, it under stands it, it defends us from it, it is the Way by which we can cut Misery to the root and be rid of it. Men will try to say that they see no Suffering, they have to see it : they try to forget it, but it forces itself upon their notice : they try to suppress it, it comes constantly cropping up. But cut Misery at the root, and it cannot grow again : it can only wither and die. Sakya- muni was extremely sharp at cutting the roots of Misery and delivering men from it. And he has put the axe ready into our hands. That Axe is the One Sacred Name of our Salvation. 1 6. "A sharp sword truly is the Name of Amida." It is our glory to hold that sharp
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sword now in our own hands. " It cutteth all the dark places of ignorance." " It cutteth off all the branches of suffering." The glory of this sword we spread through all the word : else shall we remain in the house that burneth for ever.
17. " The three worlds," said the Tathagata of himself, " are all mine own, and all the men that are therein are my sons." Now He stands at the gate of the burning house, and calls to us : " Come ye out quickly."
" I alone will make salvation," saith He, and for our sakes hath He given us this One Vehicle of Salvation the Blessed Name, and hath de livered us from the Burning House. Let us not delay to follow this teaching and order ourselves in accordance with the meaning of the Sacred Name. Let us mount " the Vehicle of Grateful Trust/ which may speedily bring us to that most blessed thing of all, the " Vehicle of the Law Observed."