What stops us from following and practicing Buddhist teachings?

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

At treeoflifeisrael.com

In our previous article for this column, we looked at how Master Shandao states at the beginning of Pratyutpanna Praise:

I humbly say to all Pure Land aspirants: you should feel deep shame and remorse! Shakyamuni Buddha is actually your kind and compassionate parent who provides you with various useful teachings to arouse your unrivaled faith.

He further says:

Furthermore, he speaks of various timely teachings, not just one, because ordinary beings have inverted visions. However, if we can follow any of his teachings and practice accordingly, he will be able to see the Buddha and be born in the Land of Bliss.

What prevents us from following and practicing any of Shakyamuni's 84 useful teachings discussed in the sutras? What prevents us from seeing the Buddha, being reborn in the Land of Bliss, or arousing unparalleled faith?

We live in a conditioned realm of birth and death

Shakyamuni Buddha states in the Nirvana Sutra that a Buddha dwells in an unconditioned realm of nirvana. Nirvana has four virtues: permanence, joy, self and purity, known as the “Four Virtues of Nirvana”. Nirvana is a Sanskrit word that literally means "extinction" and implies "neither birth nor death."

Nirvana is an abstract concept for all of us in this world because we live in a conditioned realm of birth and death. This means that all phenomena in the world arise when the appropriate conditions come together and dissipate when the same conditions cease or disperse.

In Buddhism, the first Universal Truth states: All phenomena are ephemeral. All phenomena change depending on conditions, as mentioned above. They are interdependent and exist in a constant state of flux. The Second Universal Truth states: There is no Self. This means that there is no independent “self” as the essential, unchanging core of identity. The ego is as ephemeral and subject to conditional change as all other phenomena in the world.

In our world, birth and death, also called “impermanence,” are the causes of suffering, and our attachment to the concept of “self” is perhaps the greatest of all sufferings. The conditions that lead to suffering are so deeply ingrained in us that people arbitrarily give names in their language to the shapes they see and the concepts they think.

People also create a framework of space and time with the “self” as the central reference point. It is an attempt to find existential security within a coherent story, however tragic or depressing. In this way, people view impermanence as permanence, suffering as joy, non-self as self, and purity as impurity.

These are the four inverted views that prevent us from seeing our original nature, called self-nature. It is also called Buddha nature, because a Buddha is an enlightened being who eliminates all obstructions with wisdom and abides in the calm of his own nature (in the state of nirvana).

The third universal truth states: Calm is nirvana. Nirvana is the state of eternal perfection that all Buddhists seek to end suffering and achieve ultimate joy or liberation. In fact, nirvana is not limited to Buddhism but represents the deepest aspiration of all humanity. Pursuing happiness by ending suffering is the intrinsic nature of all human beings.

The four virtues of Nirvana

The four virtues of Nirvana are permanence, joy, self and purity.

“Permanence” is a timeless state of being that is eternal and transcends all temporal and spatial concepts. “Joy” refers to the great joy of nirvana, which is different from any conditional joy occurring in relative opposition to suffering. The “Self” is an independent and free state of existence, unconditioned and natural. “Purity” is uncontaminated, without attachment, without ignorance, without discriminating thoughts, and without notions of self, others, sentient beings, and birth or death (occurring and ceasing). Purity is fundamental in Buddhism. Only a Buddha is truly pure in terms of mind, body and the land where he dwells.

After examining the Four Virtues of Nirvana, we know that it is almost impossible for ordinary beings to understand and practice these virtues through deep meditation and intensive cultivation in daily life. Achieving them is absolutely beyond us, especially without the guidance of a fully enlightened Buddha!

Our wish to avoid suffering and seek happiness in the ordinary world is false.

We strive to avoid suffering and seek happiness, but unfortunately we jump from one suffering to another. Indeed, the “happiness” that we seek is obtained from the “suffering” of others. Thus, we commit more karmic offenses and suffer more.

Our wish to avoid suffering and seek happiness is wrong in the ordinary world because our views are wrong. Shakyamuni Buddha is so compassionate that he takes pity on us. He exhorts us to take refuge with the active, omniscient and compassionate Buddha called Amitabha, and to seek rebirth in his Pure Land.

Amitabha's land of bliss is an unconditioned realm of nirvana. Because the earth and the body of a Buddha are manifestations of the Buddha's mind, the earth and the body are pure because the Buddha's mind is pure. Similarly, if Amitabha's Land of Bliss (circumstantial reward) is pure, the mind and body (direct reward) of all living beings are equally pure.

By being reborn on this earth, all living beings are imbued with the Four Virtues of Nirvana. As Shakyamuni Buddha stated, they enjoy great peace and joy with infinite life, just like Amitabha Buddha. Anyone who wishes to be reborn in this land need only practice exclusive recitation of Amitabha's Name for the rest of his life.

It should therefore be known that rebirth in the Pure Land is not an expedient means or a stepping stone to enter nirvana, but is the end of all suffering, especially the suffering of reincarnation, forever. There one attains ultimate liberation and eternal happiness.

Master Shandao said: “As said in the Great Sutra:

By resorting to the great power of Amitabha's karmic wish as the cause of augmentation, all ordinary beings, good and bad, can be reborn in the Land of Bliss and see the Buddha.

They will be received and welcomed by Amitabha Buddha and a multitude of sacred beings at the end of life.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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