Friday, August 25, 2017

3. Karma - the law of cause and effect

“Not in the heaven, not in the middle of the ocean, not in the mountain caves: there is no place in this world were you can hide from the consequences of your deeds.”[1]

            I will divide this section in two: a) general teaching on karma; b) karma and the salvation offered by Amida Buddha

            a) General teaching on karma
Karma is the law of cause and effect. The term “karma” comes from the Sanskrit word “karman” which means action - acting with thought, deed and word. There are three types of karma: 1) the karma of thought, 2) karma of speech and 3) karma of action or body. All that we think, speak or do will affect our personal history. What we are now is the result of what we thought, said or did in the past, in another lifetime or in the present life; and what we think, speak and do in the present will create us in the future. We are the result of our own karma.  The Buddha said:

"The joys and sorrows of beings
All come from their actions,
The diversity of actions
Creates the diversity of beings
And impels their diverse wanderings.
Vast indeed is this net of actions!"

In the moment of death, our personal karma determines the form and the vehicle, that is, the body which the mind-stream will have in the next birth. Our desires need a vehicle to follow them and fulfill them in another life. The environment where we are now, and where we'll be born in another life or the form (body) we have and we'll have, depend on the karma:
In the Sutra of Instructions to the King, it is said:

"When the moment comes to leave, O King,
Neither possesions, friends nor family can follow.
But wherever beings come from, wherever they go,
Their actions follow them like their own shadow".

The doctrine of karma teaches us that we are completely responsible of what we are and of what we'll become. Nobody besides us, be it a god, human or any other being, can be held responsible. We deserve what happens to us, even if it is hard to accept that:

"Beings are owners of karmas, heirs of karmas, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karmas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority".[2]

Also, in the Atthasalini commentary, by Buddhagosha, it is said:

"Depending on the  difference in karma, appears the differences in the birth of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in karma, appears the difference in the individual features of beings as beautiful and ugly, high-born or low born, well-built or deformed. Depending on the difference in karma, appears the difference in worldly conditions of beings, such as gain and loss, and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery."

 By contemplating deeply the teaching on karma we come to understand birth, life and death in accordance with cause and effect. Everything that exist has a cause, and any cause will have an effect. In every second of our lives we reap the fruits of our thoughts, words and actions, and we plant new seeds by what we think, say or do. This is the true way of looking at what happens to us and the world arround. Trully, instead of "Mother Nature" we should say "Mother Karma". We are born and reborn from our karma, that is, our own actions. Even outside nature is a reflection of our collective karma. Our world, our plane of existence as well as all other planes of existence arise from karma[3].

Not only that the teaching on karma explains how things work in the world, why we are what we are, why we have this form (body), but it also assures us of our free will. We are what we think (karma of thinking), what we say (karma of speech) and what we do (karma of action or body) and we can always change this karma and thus create a more peaceful and pleasant way of life.

The karma can be positive, negative and neutral. Actions, thoughts and words that generate positive karma lead to our own happiness and the happiness of others. If the intention is to benefit others, and we act, speak and think accordingly, then we create positive karma. But if we are motivated by our minds poisons, we will automatically create negative karma:

"I declare, o monks, that volition (intention) is karma. Having willed one acts by body, speech, and thought." [4]

Actions, thoughts and words which are not motivated by harmfull or good intentions create neutral karma. However, because such a neutral karma does not have a positive effect on ourselves and others it is also considered non-virtuous, and so, the Buddhist disciples are encouraged to focus themselves on creating positive karma only.

There are many classifications of positive or negative actions in the Buddhist teachings, like for example, the ten transgressions and their reverse - the ten virtuous actions, the five gravest offenses[5], the ten kinds of karmic actions that cause sentient beings to attain shortened lives, etc. There are also various precepts to detter us from evil actions and encourage us to do what is good, like the five precepts for lay people, the ten main Bodhisattva precepts, the  227 precepts for monks and 311 for nuns, etc.

The ten transgressions are: 1) to destroy life, 2) to steal, 3) to practice sexual misconduct, 4) to lie, 5) to use harsh words and language, 6) to speak ill of others, 7) idle talk, 8) greed, 9) anger, 10) to support and spread wrong views.

A fully negative action has four parts. For example, killing means to identify the being to be killed, having the intention to kill, commiting the act of killing, and the resulting death of the victim. If all these four parts are met, then we generate the complete negative karma of killing. The same applies to stealing, commiting sexual misconduct, lying, etc. If we only have the intention of killing someone, stealing, or practice sexual misconduct with him or her, and we contemplate that in our mind but don't carry on with the act, we still generate half of the negative karma associated with that specific offense by fulfiling the two parts out of the four above. Thus, our mind streams are already affected by contemplating and enjoying the possibility of doing various harmful actions or by being happy when we see others doing them. Mental problems of various kinds, or inner disorders can thus appear as the effect of such distorted thinking. Just ask yourself, how many times did you wish the death of somebody, looked with greed and envy to his possesions, or desired his wife or her husband? Also how many times you agreed with and felt pleasure in your mind when you saw evil deeds done by others, or even argued in their support? Only by doing that in your mind you can be sure that you no longer possess the seeds of being born again in a human or higher realm. How much more if you actually fulfilled the above transgressions!

To kill is extremely evil because all beings identify themselves with their bodies, but to encourage others to kill, praise killing or being a cause for killing[6] is worse than that. If you do that you would cause not only your own downfall, but of others, too. Encouraging or promoting killing influences the minds of many who will further transmit the idea that killing is good, which might lead to many deaths and the creation of hell on earth.

Shakyamuni Buddha said:

"All tremble at violence;
Life is dear for all.
Seeing other as being like yourself,
Do not kill or cause others to kill."[7]

He also said:

"A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantations or deviant mantras. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionaly kill any living creature[8].
As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to nurture a mind of compassion and filial piety, always devising expedient means to rescue and protect all beings".[9]

The World Honored One mentioned in the Suka Sutra ten kinds of karmic actions that cause sentient beings to attain shortened lives and they are all related with killing:

"There are ten kinds of karmic actions that enable sentient beings to attain shortened lives as retribution: first, is to personally do the killing of beings; second, is to encourage others to enable killing;  third, is to praise killing's method[s];  fourth, is to see killing and accordingly rejoice; fifth, is, from evil hatred thus, desire enabling of death and destruction; sixth, is, seeing the resented destroyed already, the mind giving rise to joy; seventh, is to harm others' fetus in the womb (abortion); eighth, is to teach others to destroy and harm;  ninth, is to build and erect 'heavenly' temples, for slaughtering sentient beings as sacrificial 'offerings';  tenth, is to teach others to have war and fight, to injure and kill each other. These are the ten karmic actions that attain shortened lives as retribution."[10]

To eat meat, including the meat  of animals that were not specifically killed for you, although its a lesser transgression than killing, it maintains the karma of killing because without a request or expectation from the public, there would be no one to kill beings and offer their flesh for sale.  But even if we don't eat meat, the vegetables or the tea and cofee we drink were produced by killing many insects when planting, taking care of the plants and harvesting them, so one can hardly find any activity which does not involve in a smaller or larger way the harming of other beings. Simply stated, there is no being arround us, in this world, or in other worlds, to whom we can say that we don't have any karmic debts to pay. Contemplating on that and the above, we can understand more deeply the urgency to escape samsara and attain Buddhahood for our sake and others.

To steal, which is defined as taking what was not given, is extremely grave too, because beings have great attachements to their possesions, and sometimes to take one's money or property might be the equivalent to killing him. Just imagine you would steal the entire monthly income of a poor mother who has three kids to feed. Those children can die from lack of medicine or food, and the mother can get ill and die too, because of grief. Just like killing, the effect of such an act can easily send one to rebirth in the lower realms.

Shakyamuni Buddha said:

"A disciple of the Buddha must not himself steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. No valuables or possesions, even those belonging to ghosts and spirits or thieves and robbers, be they as small as a needle or blade of grass, may be stolen.
As a Buddha’s disciple, he ought to have a mind of mercy, compassion, and filial piety – always helping people earn merits and achieve happiness."[11]

The sexual energy is extremely powerful, but if one does not keep it under control or does not sublimate it, then it will constitute an immense obstacle against liberation from samsara. There are many types of sexual misconduct mentioned in the sutras and treatises of various Masters, like for example, not being faithful to one's wife or husband, having sex with another's partner, with those who are under age, with non-humans, with someone of the same sex, with one's parents or blood relatives, a nun or a monk who took the precept of abstinence, to have sex in the wrong places (temples, outside of one's room), wrong time (during daytime), in the wrong orifices (anus or mouth) which are not made for sexual intercourse, sexual relations that are harmfull, etc. Here are a few quotes on sexual misconduct and its consequences, from Shakyamuni Buddha:

“If one has sex at an inappropriate time or place, with someone who is not one’s wife, or not a woman, one is guilty of sexual misconduct. [...]

If one has sex with oneself or someone by the road, beside a pagoda or temple, or in an assembly, one is guilty of sexual misconduct. If one has sex with someone who, though under the protection of the king, or parents or brothers, has kept a tryst or accepted one’s invitation or payment, one is guilty of sexual misconduct. If one has sex beside a holy statue or painting, or a corpse, one is guilty of sexual misconduct.  One is guilty of sexual misconduct if, while having sex with one’s wife, one thinks of her as another woman; or if, while having sex with another’s wife, one thinks of her as one’s own wife. Sexual misconduct can be grave or minor. If it is driven by strong afflictions, it is grave; if it is driven by weak afflictions, it is minor.”[12]

 "Likewise, endless varieties of punishments in a future life are described for the wrong deed of sexual intercourse between two men. 
The one who commits misconduct with boys sees boys being swept away in the Acid River who cry out to him, and owing to the suffering and pain born of his deep affection for them, plunges in after them."[14]

"Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dharma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man."[15]

"A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. Indeed, he must not engage in improper sexual conduct with anyone.
A Buddha’s disciple ought to have a mind of filial piety – rescuing all sentient beings and instructing them in the Dharma of purity and chastity. If instead, he lacks compassion and encourages others to engage in sexual relations promiscuously, including with animals and even their mothers, daughters, sisters, or other close relatives, he commits a Parajika (major) offense."[16]

No matter if some modern people disagree, the sutras, that is, Shakyamuni Buddha's own words, but also the words of many Buddhist masters like for example Genshin [16b], the 6th Patriarch of our school, are very clear on what it means to engage in sexual misconduct and the karmic results of such an act. As in all Dharma matters, what Buddha said weights more than the opinions of unenlightened beings of various times.

To lie, to use harsh words and language, to speak ill of others and engage in idle talk are the four non-virtuous karma of speech. Among lying, the worst is to lie about one's spiritual realisations, but any other lie creates delusion and distrust among family, friends and other people. By using harsh words one can hurt others almost like beating or killing them, while by speaking ill, friends, families and even sanghas can be separated or slandered.  Also by engaging in idle talk one spends his energy in useless speech and gossip that wastes one's own and other's time.

Shakyamuni Buddha said:

"A disciple of the Buddha must not himself use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie, nor lie by expedient means. He should not involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that he has seen what he he has not seen or vice-versa, or lying implicitly through physical or mental means."[17]

"A disciple of the Buddha shall not praise himself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of praising himself and disparaging others. As a disciple of the Buddha, he should be willing to stand in for all sentient beings and endure humiliation and slander – accepting blame and letting sentient beings have all the glory. If instead, he displays his own virtues and conceals the good points of others, thus causing them to suffer slander, he commits a Parajika (major) offense".[18]

To be greedy or stingy makes one experience even from this life some degree of the suffering of pretas (hungry ghosts) and is a cause for birth there after death. The greedy person lives only for himself and suffers from a mental hunger that is never satisfied.
Shakyamuni said:

"A disciple of the Buddha must not be stingy or encourage others to be stingy. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stinginess. As a Bodhisattva, whenever a destitute person comes for help, he should give that person what he needs. If instead, out of anger and resentment[19], he denies all assistance – refusing to help with even a penny, a needle, a blade of grass, even a single sentence or verse or a phrase of Dharma, but instead scolds and abuses that person – he commits a Parajika (major) offense."[20]

It is also said that one moment of powerful anger destroys the good one has accumulated over many years of serious practice. This can also lead to killing or hurting others, as no one knows what one can be capable of when one plunges in deep anger.

Shakyamuni Buddha said:

"A disciple of the Buddha shall not harbor anger or encourage others to be angry. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of anger.
As a disciple of the Buddha, he ought to be compassionate and filial, helping all sentient beings develop the good roots of non-contention. If instead, he insults and abuses sentient beings, or even transformation beings [such as deitis and spirits], with harsh words, hitting them with his fists or feet, or attacking them with a knife or club – or harbors grudges even when the victim confesses his mistakes and humbly seeks forgiveness in a soft, conciliatory voice – the disciple commits a Parajika (major) offense."[21]

"Do not speak harshly to anyone. Those who are harshly spoken to might retaliate against you. Angry words hurt other's feelings, even blows may overtake you in return."[22]

To slander and abuse the Buddha Dharma is the most evil deed because by destroying the Dharma one does something worse than killing the body of beings - he actually takes away their chances of freedom from all births and deaths. To slander and destroy the Dharma is like killing all beings over and over again, ad infinitum.

Shakyamuni Buddha said:

"A Buddha’s disciple shall not himself speak ill of the Triple Jewel or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods or karma of slander. If a disciple hears but a single word of slander against the Buddha from externalists[23] or evil beings, he experiences a pain similar to that of three hundred spears piercing his heart. How then could he possibly slander the Triple Jewel himself?
Hence, if a disciple lacks faith and filial piety towards the Triple Jewel, and even assists evil persons or those of aberrant views to slander the Triple Jewel, he commits a Parajika (major) offense."[24]

Master T'an-luan said:

“If one says ‚ there is no Buddha’, ‘there is no Buddha Dharma’, ‘there is no Bodhisattva’ and ‘there is no Dharma for Bodhisattvas’, such views held firmly in the mind by one’s own reasoning or by listening to other’s teaching, are called, 'abusing the right Dharma.’”

“He who has committed the transgression of abusing the right Dharma will not be able to attain birth in the Pure Land, even though he has not committed any other evils. For what reason? The Mahaprajnaparamita sutra says:

[…] Those who have abused the right Dharma will also fall into the Great Avici hell. When the period of one kalpa comes to an end, they will be sent to the Great Avici hell of another world. In this way, such evildoers will consecutively pass through a hundred thousand Great Avici hells.’

The Buddha thus did not mention the time of their release from the Avici hell. This is because the transgression of abusing the right Dharma is extremely grave.
Further, the right Dharma refers to the Buddha Dharma. Such ignorant persons have abused it; therefore, it does not stand to reason that they should seek birth in a Buddha-land, does it?”[25]

            Each negative actions causes four types of karmic effects. These are: 1) the fully ripened effect, 2) the effect simmilar to the cause, 3) the conditioning effect and 4) the proliferating effect.

1) The fully ripened effect
To do any one of the above ten transgressions while motivated by hate causes one to be born in the hells, to do any of them while motivated by desire causes rebirth as a preta (hungry spirit) and while motivated by ignorance leads to rebirth in animal formAlso, virtuous actions stained by all the mind's poisons, with no particular poison predominating cause birth in the human realm, virtuous actions stained by jealousy and rivalry, by doing something good only to prove one's superior qualities are causes to be born in the asura (demigods) realm, and virtues stained by pride causes rebirth among the gods in the world of desire.

If we do any of the ten transgressions for a long and constant period of time, while motivated by a very strong intention, like extreme desire, anger or ignorance, we end up in hells. If the intention is not so strong and the period of doing any of the transgression is not long, then we are reborn as pretas, and if its not so strong but is done continually, for a long period of time, it causes rebirth in animal form.

2) The effect similar to the cause
When those who were born in one of the lower realms, due to the fully ripened effect of their karma, are reborn again in human form, they experience the effects similar to the cause. Also, even in the lower realms there are various sufferings that come from particular causes.
The effects similar to the cause are of two kinds: actions similar to the cause and experience similar to the cause.

The first means the inclination to do actions that were the cause of the previous rebirth in one of the lower realms. For example, if we killed, we still have the inclination to kill, if we stole, we have the tendency to steal, if we practiced sexual misconduct, we continue to feel attracted to such a behavior, etc. This explains why even from early childhood some enjoy killing animals or insects, steal others belongings, or feel the urge to do any of the ten transgressions. Innate tendencies usually shows us what we used to do constantly in previous lives.

The experiences simmilar to the cause mean that because we did one or many of the ten  transgressions in a previous life, we are now receiving some specific misfortunes related to them.
For example, if we killed in a past life, the present life will be short or plagued by frequent or constant disease. Thus, some die as infants due to their karma of killing, while others live sickly lives until death.
If, in a previous life we took what was not given, we now experience poverty or we suffer from robbery and various misfortunes which result in never having enough or losing what we gained with hard work.
If we practiced sexual misconduct we will experience unbalanced relationships with lots of fighting, arguing and various other difficulties.
If we lied, we are now lied by others, we are criticized, belittled,  not taken serious or falsely accused.
If we used harsh words and language we are now hit back with offensive and insulting words, and whatever we say will be a cause for problems in our lives.
If we spoke ill of others and sowed the seeds of discord  we are now in difficulty to get along with friends, associates or people with whom we try to have various social or work relations. Also, our employees or people under our leadership do not get along well, do not listen to what they are told, are argumentative and recalcitrant, etc.
If we engaged in iddle talk, our words in this life will carry no weight and we will not be believed when we speak the truth. Also, we'll have difficulties when speaking in front of large crowds and we'll lack self-confidence.
If we were greedy and full of avarice in a past life we will continue to feel an unsatisfyed hunger for possesions and we'll meet various adverse circumstaces that will cause us trouble in fulfilling such desires.
If we were angry and wished harm on others we will live in fear and suffer various harm many times in our present lives.
If we supported wrong views in a past life, and after spending some time in the lower realms, we will continue to be influenced by false beliefs and we'll be easily deceived in spiritual matters or disturbed by various misconceptions.

3) The conditioning effect
Due to our former engagement in the ten transgressions, we appear in bad environments and places.
For example, if we killed, we are born in places with mortal dangers. If we took what was not given, we are born in places affected by famine, where crops are destroyed by nature elements. If we engaged in sexual misconduct we are born in muddy, repulsive or squalor places. Lying causes rebirth in places where we experience mental panic and material insecurity. If we spoke ill of others and saw discord we will be born in places that are difficult to cross due to wild landscape. If we used harsh speech we are born in desolate places lacking vegetation and exposed to the elements. If we engaged in iddle talk we are born in infertile land with untimely and unpredictable seasons. If we were greedy we are born in inhospitable lands with poor harvests and various adverse circumstances related with such places. If we were angry and wished harm on others we are born in lands where we experience constant fear and many adverse conditions. If we supported wrong views we are born in bad places where we have no refuge and protectors.

4) The proliferating effect.
This reffers to the fact that whichever one of the ten transgressions, or evil act we did before, we have the tendency to repeat it again and again. Thus, our evil deeds and the evil causes we plant tend to multiply and diversify, makig us drowning even more in samsara.

            b) Karma and the salvation offered by Amida Buddha
            The reason I insisted on the above explanations and passages in the section a) - general teaching on karma, is to help us realize the gravity of our daily thoughts, actions and deeds. If a honest person contemplates the above, he would naturaly feel overwhelmed by the realisation of his tendency to do evil. Indeed, how many times did we wish the death of somebody or even killed various beings (killing non-human beings like insects or animals is also an act that generates evil karma) or look with envy at what one has? How many times we got angry, use harsh language, did sexual misconduct, lied, or acted dominated by greed, etc? Perhaps some of us even spread wrong views  that run contrary to the Dharma!
We must ask ourselves those questions and after realizing our incapacity to lead a life of constant virtuous actions, we should immediately take refuge in Amida Buddha, say His Name in faith and wish to be born in His Pure Land after death.

We must take refuge in Amida Buddha with the attitude of somebody who is about to die now, in this very moment, without having any more time left, nor the power to purify one's actions. Indeed, there is NO time for the so called, "spritual evolution", and the consequences of our evil karma will manifest without fail. If we already did some of the above ten transgressions (who haven't done any of them in this life or former lives and continue to do them?) it will be impossible for us, ordinary people, to purify them by our own power while we are still living our busy lives in this samsaric environment. We really have no guarantee that we can reach a moment in this life, which may end anytime, when we'll have no attachements, blind passions and delusions. The clock of impermanence is ticking, and the mind deposit of heavy karma is already filled to the brim.

            Apparently, by saying that sentient beings cannot free themselves from birth and death by their own power, it seems that Jodo Shinshu misinterprets or does not totally accept the doctrine of karma. However, Jodo Shinshu accepts fully the teaching of karma, just that it sheds light on a very important aspect that many usually tend to forget.
Yes, generally speaking, we can change our karma and thus decide to act in such and such a way, influencing our own destiny, but do we really always act as we wish? Suppose a person who drinks a lot since childhood and has now 40 years of alcoholism, can he give up alcohol just like that, by a simple act of will? Or someone who smokes since early childhood, can he really give up smoking over night? We see from experience that many smokers, alcoholics or drug abusers cannot give up their bad habits so easily, some of them even ending their lives without being able to stop their harmful behavior. How much more is the influence of the past habitual karma!

This habitual past karma is not what we did in a habitual manner in a single lifetime, but what we did and were concentrated on in many lifetimes. If it is hard to put an end to the habitual karma of smoking which lasts only for twenty or thirty years, how much harder or even impossible would be to stop the various bad karmic tendencies of many lifetimes! Also, as I explained at the proliferating effect of karma, we have the automatic tendency to repeat again and again the evil acts we did before, thus drowning even more in samsara.

So, Jodo Shinshu doesn’t deny free will in changing karma, but it insists on the truth that this will is so much weakened by the habitual karma of past lives that it becomes almost incapable of really changing something.

When we have became accustomed for many eons and long kalpas with living in ignorance, hate, greed, jealousy, attachments, how could we not be influenced by this habitual evil karma also in this life and how could we end all these perpetual miseries just by force of will? We all know that a long time of drug abuse leads to dependency, a state in which the personal will of change is extremely limited and one needs immediate help from a specialist. But we took the drugs of delusion for many lifetimes since the beginingless past!

Jodo Shinshu teaching and method doesn’t start by staring at the ideal: we all have Buddha-nature and we can all become Buddhas, or at least do pure deeds and gain merits, but from the state of mind in which we dwell in the present moment. Thus, entering the Jodo Shinshu path is like saying: “Hello, I am Josho Adrian and I am an alcoholic”. The Jodo Shinshu Buddhist doesn’t say: “Hello, I am Josho and I have Buddha-nature”, but “Hello, my name is Josho and I am ignorant and full of blind passions, incapable to heal myself (attain Nirvana)”.

So, first in Jodo Shinshu we recognize our own incapacities and then we accept the medicine, which is the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha. We understand that we are so sick that we can no longer rely on ourselves and we agree to apply the only treatment that works in dependency cases like ourselves.

Someone who says, “I can become a Buddha in this lifetime because my true nature is Buddhahood itself” is someone who “fails to understand the influence of good and evil karma of past lives” and “that every evil act done - even as slight as a particle on the tip of a strand of rabbit’s fur or sheep’s wool - has its cause in past karma.”, as Shinran said in the thirteenth chapter of Tannisho.

In the same way as someone who abused drugs for many years thinks that he can give up immediately his dependency, and after a few tries he ends up taking a super dose, also “a person may not wish to harm anyone and yet end up killing a hundred or a thousand people”. This is the heavy influence of karma from past lives. And this is exactly why we need Amida’s salvation.

This salvation, as promised in His Primal Vow, doesn’t depend on our own will, which is influenced by our good or bad karma from past lives, but it depends solely on Amida’s Power of curing our illnesses and transforming us into Buddhas: “it is by the inconceivable working of the Vow that we are saved”.[26]

By contemplating on the teaching of karma and realizing our incapacity to always have pure thoughts, actions and words, we decide to turn our minds toward Amida Dharma and take advantage of the salvation Amida Buddha is offering to us, ordinary beings, who cannot escape birth and death by ourselves[27]. If we do that, the roots of our karma are cut, and although we continue to experience the results of past karma and to act as a being full of illusions and blind passions until the moment of our death, our karma cannot plant further seeds into another life.

            To explain how Amida's salvation works in the field of cause and effect, we must also understand the teaching on the transference of merit.

Usually, in the practices based on personal power the practitioner “earns” virtues or merits which he transfers for his own Enlightenment. But in the case of  Other Power (Pure Land) way, the transference of merits takes place from Amida Buddha to those who entrust to Him (to His Primal Vow). This transference of merit (eko) carries the follower to the Pure Land where he attains Nirvana or perfect Enlightenment.
Shinran Shonin says in a hymn:

"When sentient beings of this evil world of the five defilements
Entrust themselves to the selected Primal Vow,
Virtues indescribable, inexplicable, and inconceivable
Fill those practicers".[28]

Shinran explained the merit transference from Amida to the practitioner as having two aspects: 

1) the merit transference of going forth (Oso-Eko) and
2) the merit transference of returning to this world (Genso-Eko)

"When I humbly contemplate the true essence of the Pure Land Way, I realize that Amida’s merit transference has two aspects: one is the aspect of going forth, and the other that of returning".[29]

The first refers to the fact that through Amida's transference of merit we go to His Pure Land where we become Buddhas, while the second one means that after we become Buddhas in the Pure Land by sharing the same Enlightenment as Amida, we return to the various samsaric realms and universes, to save all beings:

"Through the benefit of the directing of virtue for going forth,
We enter the directing of virtue for returning to this world.

Through great love, which is Amida's directing of virtue for our going forth,
We attain great compassion, which is Amida's directing of virtue for our return;
If not for the Buddha's directing of virtue,
How could we realize Enlightenment in the Pure Land?"[30]

Also 'merit transference' means that after we have been born in that land we awaken great compassion, with which we turn toward and enter the cycle of birth and death to teach and guide sentient beings. This is also called 'merit transference.'”[31]

How do we receive the infinite and all powerful merits of Amida Buddha? By entrusting ourselves to Him, saying His Name in faith (Nembutsu) and wishing to be born in His Pure Land. These three items, faith, the Nembutsu of faith (the true Nembutsu is the expression of faith) and wish to be born in the Pure Land are what Amida Buddha asked us to do in His Primal Vow. Simply stated, He said that if we want to escape the endless cycle of samsara, we should have faith in Him, say His Name and aspire to be born in His Pure Land:

"If, when I attain Buddhahood, the sentient beings of the ten quarters, with sincere mind entrusting themselves, aspiring to be born in my land, and saying my Name perhaps even ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain the supreme Enlightenment".

Faith, nembutsu and wish (aspiration) to be born are all three aspects of faith, because if we trully have faith in Amida, then we automatically say His Name and wish to be born in His Enlightened Realm.

To better understand the merit transference from Amida Buddha to us, we can compare it with a blood transfusion, or an organ transplant. When a sick person receives healthy blood or a healthy vital organ he can continue to live, even if until then he was supposed to die. Thus, the blood or the organ he received becomes part of his own body and will function as if it has always been there.

In the same way, we who deserve to be born in the lower realms if we are left at the mercy of our unenlightened karma, by entrusting ourselves to Amida Buddha we receive His enlightened karmic merits which imbues our mind stream and leads us securely to His Pure Land. Even if we continue to have delusions and blind passions until we die and we are actually born in the Pure Land, we become united with Amida Buddha from this very life (we enter the stage of non-retrogression), as His own blood or enlightened karma circulates now through our veins.

It is impossible for us, ordinary people to enter the stage from which we do not retrogress from spiritual achievements, but if we rely on Amida, we are assured of escaping samsara at the end of our physical bodies.
Just imagine you want to reach by foot a certain place situated at a distance of bilions of kilometers away. You may think that if you are serious enough and you are persistent, you can reach the destination, but are you sure that you are capable of enduring the hardships of the road, the wild beasts, the winds, icy storms and tornadoes that will come in your way? What if you get sick and die before finishing the journey? If you rely on yourself, there will be no point in your journey when you could say for certain that you are assured of safely reaching the destination. Now imagine that somebody comes to you and offers himself to to take you by his plane. If you accept, you just enter the plane and are taken to the destination safely and in short time. The pilot is Amida Buddha, and the plane or vehicle is His Primal Vow. Accepting to enter the plane is faith (shinjin) and the Nembutsu of faith. Being on such a safe plane, with such a good pilot, means that you are assured of reaching the destination, or in Dharma words, you are assured of birth in the Pure Land and of subsequent attainment of Buddhahood there.

Amida Buddha’s salvation takes place within the law of cause of effect. Simply stated, He offers His help to you, and you have two choices, you either accept it, or refuse it. This helping hand of Amida and the fact that you accept it, is the cause, and the effect is that you are saved and brought to safety by it, which means that you are assured of birth in the Pure Land.

Amida Buddha wishes to save us all, but He doesn’t take us to His Pure Land by force, so if we do not wish to go there or we do not accept the existence of that enlightened realm or the existence of Amida as He was described in the Larger Sutra, then we’ll not go there. Nobody can go to a place which he thinks it doesn’t exist and can’t be saved by someone whom he considers being an imaginary person. 

Unlike this world in which we live now, the Pure Land is not the karmic result of our own actions and thoughts, but the manifestation of Amida’s Perfect Enlightenment. We did not create that place, we do not control it, and we cannot go there through our own power. This is why we say Namo Amida Bu, which means “I entrust/I take refuge in Amida Buddha”. By saying the Nembutsu of faith we are assured of birth in the Pure Land by the same Power and Buddha who created it.

            Along the path of personal power, repentance is a very important method of destroying the negative karma. However, true repentance is not just a simple confession of mistakes, but a deep awareness which penetrates one's body and mind. Thus, Master Shan-tao explained that there are three types of genuine repentance:

"The high grade of repentance is to shed blood from the pores of one’s body and also to shed blood from one’s eyes.
The middle grade of repentance is to shed hot sweat from the pores of one’s whole body and also to shed blood from one’s eyes.
The low grade of repentance is to feel feverish all over the body and also to shed tears from one’s eyes".[32]

Answering the question whether repentance is necessary in Pure Land Buddhism, Master Shan-tao says in the same book (Liturgy for Birth), that if the follower has faith in the salvation offered by Amida Buddha he reaches the same result as in the case of repentance:

"Even though one is unable to shed tears and blood, one will get the same result described above if one thoroughly attains the true faith (shinjin)".[33]

Shinran also said in the Hymns of the Pure Land Masters:

"Persons who have thoroughly realized the true mind of shinjin (faith),
Because it is the diamondlike mind,
Are equal to those who accomplish
The three grades of repentance; thus Shan-tao teaches."

and in Notes on the Inscription of Sacred Scrolls:

"To say Namo Amida Butsu is to repent all the karmic evil one has committed since the beginningless past."[35]

In chapter III of his Kyogyoshinsho Shinran presents a very important dialogue[36]. Somebody asked how can the evil karma of the five grave offenses and the ten transgressions, which would cause one to be born into the lower realms for many kalpas, is annihilated by the nembutsu of faith, thus making one to be reborn in the Pure Land? How this situation can be explained "in the light of the law of karma according to which a heavier karma pulls one down? Furthermore, from the beginningless past, sentient beings have been given to acts of various defilements, and so they are tied to the three worlds. If, as you say, they can attain liberation from the three worlds by mere mindfulness of Amida Buddha with ten repetitions of His Name, what will become of the bondage of karma?".[37]

The answer is wonderful:

"Suppose there is a room that has been dark for a thousand years. If a light is cast into the room even for only a short while, the room will instantly become bright. How could the darkness refuse to leave because it has been there for a thousand years?"[38]

Darkness may seem deep and strong when we live surrounded by it for many kalpas, but it disapears as if it never existed when it meets the Light of Amida Buddha. We can compare the various evils and blind passions among each other and say that some are heavier or darker than others, but with what can we compare the Enlightenment and Light of  Amida Buddha?
Also, if we speak in terms of weak versus strong, some beings are more powerful than others, but who in this world is more powerful than a Buddha? Even the most superior gods who live for eons cannot compare themselves with a Buddha in wisdom, powers, purity and the capacity to save all beings. 

In order to escape the black hole of samsaric existence, we need the infinitely powerful energy of Amida Buddha. Only that can pull us out from the repeated births and deaths.
We cannot build anything equally powerful through our own actions. Our repentance is simply not enough to eliminate the evil karma of innumerable eons in which we piled mountain after mountain of greed, anger and ignorance.

The karma which binds us to samsara is too strong for people like us, filled with delusion and blind passions, but for somebody who is already free from samsara, like Amida Buddha, nothing which belongs to samsara has any power over Him or the salvation He offers:

"The ten repetitions of the Name are stronger than the five grave offenses or the ten evil acts[39] and so this 'stronger' karma prevails, enabling the evildoer to escape from the three painful states of existence."[40]

Only a few repetitions of the Name of Amida Buddha, and even one saying which is done by relying on Amida Buddha's Power to save (the Nembutsu of faith), is able to destroy the roots of all our evil karma since the beginingless past. And is not just because we say it, but because the Name we say is the Name of Amida Buddha in which He manifested all His enlightened karmic energy and virtues:

"The ten repetitions of the Name arise from the unsurpassed faith by taking as object the Name of Amida Tathagata of a glorious body of skillful means that comprises immeasurable merits that are true and pure".[41]

Thus, if one entrusts oneself to Amida Buddha and says His Name in faith, it is like putting a sumo wrestler on the same scale with a feather. Which one is heavier and pulls the other one down? Trully, the whole of samsara with all its worlds and universes, with the realms of various beings, from hell dwellers up to the most powerful gods, weights less than a feather in comparison with the Name of Amida Buddha.  

By deeply understanding this, let our minds turn towards Amida's Primal Vow and be grateful for His undiscriminative Compassion:

"If we had not encountered
Amida's directing of virtue for going forth and returning,
Our transmigration in birth-and-death would have no end;
What could we do then, sinking in this sea of pain? [...]

Casting off the pain of birth-and-death since the beginningless past,
We are certain of attaining supreme Nirvana.
This is through Amida's directing of virtue for going forth and returning;
Our gratitude for the Buddha's benevolence is truly hard to fulfill".[42]

[1] Shakyamuni Buddha, Dharmapada.
[2] Shakyamuni Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya 135: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma
[3] See the chapter, "Some Buddhist explanations on the origin and existence of the universe" from my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.31
[4] Shakyamuni Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya
[5] Shinran Shonin wrote about the five grave offenses in his Kyogyoshinsho:
"There are two traditions concerning the five grave offenses.
One is the five grave offenses of the three vehicles: 1) intentionally killing one's father; 2) intentionally killing one's mother; 3) intentionally killing an arhat; 4) disrupting the harmony of the sangha through one's inverted views; and 5) maliciously causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha.

These acts are termed grave offenses because they go against the field of benevolence and run athwart the field of merits. Those who give themselves to these grave offenses, when they deteriorate in body and die, unfailingly plunge into Avici ('uninterrupted') hell, where for one great kalpa they undergo pain without interruption; hence, these offenses are termed 'acts resulting in uninterrupted pain.'

The Abhidharmakosa lists five acts of uninterrupted pain similar to those above. A verse states:
Violating one's mother or a nun of the stage of nonlearning [equivalent to the karmic evil of killing one's mother]
Killing a bodhisattva who abides in meditation [equivalent to the karmic evil of killing one's father]
Or a sage of the stage of learning or nonlearning [equivalent to killing an arhat]
Destroying the cause of happiness in the sangha [equivalent to the karmic evil of disrupting the sangha],
And smashing stupas [equivalent to causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha].

The second tradition is the five grave offenses of the Mahayana. The Sutra Taught to Nigranthas states:
1) Destroying stupas, burning sutra repositories, or plundering the belongings of the Three Treasures. 
2) Speaking evil of the teaching of the three vehicles, saying they are not the sacred teachings, obstructing and censuring it, or attempting to hide and obscure it. 
3) Beating those who have abandoned homelife, whether they observe precepts, have not received precepts, or break precepts; persecuting them, enumerating their faults, confining them, forcing them to return to lay life, putting them to menial labor, exacting taxes from them, or depriving them of life. 
4) Killing one's father, harming one's mother, causing blood to flow from the body of the Buddha, disrupting the harmony of the sangha, or killing an arhat. 
5) Speaking evil by saying there is no cause and effect and constantly performing the ten transgressions throughout the long night of ignorance.

The Ten Wheel Sutra states:
1) Killing a Pratyekabuddha out of evil intentions; this is destroying life. 
2) Violating a nun who has attained arhatship; this is an act of lust. 
3) Stealing or destroying what has been offered to the Three Treasures; this is taking what has not been given one. 
4) Disrupting the harmony of the sangha with inverted views; this is speaking falsely."
[6] Like for example, to ask somebody to kill another being in your name.
[7] Dhammapada, 130
[8] The mind is the key factor in all Bodhisattva precepts. “Killing by expedient means”: refers to the means employed to facilitate the killing of a sentient being, such as pointing out the whereabouts of a chiken to others, cornering it, binding its feet, forcing its head onto the butcher block, etc.
[9] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[10] The Sūtra In Which The Buddha For The Elder Śuka Spoke Of Karmic Retribution's Differences (Suka Sutra), passage translated at my request by Shen Shi'an, webmaster of
[11] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[12] Sūtra of the Upāsaka Precepts (Upasaka sila Sutra), fascicle 6, Chapter 24a
[14]  Saddharma-smrtyupasthana Sutra. Shantideva also quoted that passage from the Saddharma-smrtyupasthana Sutra in his work Śikṣāsamuccaya (Compendium of Training or Compendium of Precepts)
[15] "Uposatha Sila: The Eight-Precept Observance", compiled and written by Somdet Phra Buddhaghosacariya (Ñanavara Thera), translated from the Thai by Bhikkhu Kantasilo. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 17 December 2013, .
[16] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[16b] Describing the neighbouring hells, Master Genshin comes to the so called Place of Much Suffering where “are doomed to suffer such men as are guilty of sodomy. Here the victim, seeing the man he lusted with, embraces him with a passion like a hot flame which completely consumes his body. After he has died he comes to life again and runs away in great terror but only to fall over a terrible precipice where he is devoured by crows with flaming beaks and by foxes with mouths of flames”.
Genshin said he quoted that passage in his Ojoyoshu from Mindfulness of the Right Dharma Sutra (Saddharmasm tyupasthana Sutra in Skr, Shobonenjogyo in Jpn). See, Ojoyoshu, in The Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, second series, volume VII, 1930, translated from Japanese by A.K. Reischauer,
[17] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[18] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[19] The Buddhist disciple becomes angry and loses his temper because the other party keeps asking for help.
[20] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[21] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[22] Dhammapada, 133
[23] "Externalists" are non-Buddhists.
[24] Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra (Bommo Kyo), also known as Brahma Net Sutra.
[25] Please read the chapters "The grave karmic consequence of denying the transcendent reality of Amida Buddha and His Pure Land" from my book, The True Teaching on Amida Buddha and His Pure Land, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2015, p.109, "The 'exclusion' in the 18th Vow" from Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teachings, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2012, p.168, "Those who deny the existence of Amida don't have shinjin - some simple explanations" from Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Teachings, Dharma Lion Publications, Craiova, 2012, p.186. and the article The 'Western mind' Excuse for Slandering the Amida Dharma 
[26] Shinran Shonin, Tannisho.
[27] However, Amida Dharma is not an instrument to justify blind passions nor institutionalize them as normal behavior. Indeed, in its saving activity Amida Buddha makes no distinction between virtuous and non-virtuous people. But making no distinction, out of Great Compassion, between them, it does not mean that it supports or encourages evil. Please do not confuse being saved as you are with the idea that your actions are worthy and good. Instead of praising or justifying your blind passions, be ashamed of them and grateful to Amida’s helping hand.
[28] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.406
[29] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 5
[30] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages (Shozomatsu Wasan) in  The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.411
[31] Shinran Shonin, Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 98
[32] Quoted by Shinran in his Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 247
[33] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 247
[34] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.380
[35] The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.504
[36] This dialogue was taken by Shinran from Commentary on Vasubandhu's Discourse on the Pure Land by Master T'an-luan.
[37] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 162
[38] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 162
[39] The ten transgressions.
[40] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 164
[41] Kyogyoshinsho – On Teaching, Practice, Faith, and Enlightenment, translated by Hisao Inagaki, Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research, Kyoto, 2003, p. 163
[42] Shinran Shonin, Hymns of the Dharma Ages (Shozomatsu Wasan) in The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.410

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