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Buddha Speaks of Amitabha Sutra – Part 4

舍利弗,彼土何故名为极乐?其国众生,无有众苦,但受诸乐,故名极乐。

[Buddha says to Shariputra:] “Why is this land called Ultimate Bliss”? It is called “Ultimate Bliss” because the sentient beings in this land are free from the myriad sufferings, and only know every kind of joy. 

Shakyamuni Buddha asked Shariputra, “Why is the world of Amitabha named Ultimate Bliss?” He then explained that it is because the pure land of Amita Buddha does not have any sufferings but contains all forms of joy.

If we interpret the definitions of sufferings and joys according to traditional Buddhist approach, it simply means enlightenment. Nirvana is the Ultimate Bliss.

Unfortunately, this interpretation is not really relatable to most people. We do not have any idea about enlightenment. For a beginner, suffering means experiencing objectionable sensory inputs. Therefore we blame our surrounding environment for our unhappiness.

In ancient times and even today, people experience suffering because of their unsatisfactory living conditions. For example, lack of food, potable water, clothing, clean environment, houses and etc. For people living in rich countries, sufferings can be due to insufficient spending power, dissatisfaction with their jobs, house , car and even the lack of entertainment. For a kid, unhappiness can be caused by not having the latest toy or iphone.

Telling these people that their unhappiness is caused by an unenlightened mind isn’t going to be meaningful. Consequently, they will not have any motivation to practice.

What about the opposite of suffering? Happiness means different things for different people. Most people cannot relate to happiness as being an absence of craving, hatred and delusion. That is simply too abstract. Nobody would listen.

In this sutra, much is left to one’s imagination with this brief sentence. “this land is free from the myriad sufferings, and only know every kind of joy. “

This leave a space for personal interpretations, providing us room for imagination and that becomes a sugar coated medicine for us. For example, I would imagine that Buddha’s Pure land has free and limitless supply of wonderfully flavored ice cream that doesn’t make you fat? Or super shopping mall with cinema; and you have an infinite spending power there? SHOPPING! Or endless opportunity for vacation in exotic places? We have different desires and due to ignorance we believe that satisfying our desires means happiness.

In short, traditional Buddhist education may not strike a chord with most people. This sutra provides room for imagination and by doing so, it creates a platform where beginners may launch their first Buddhist practice.

Following that, comes our Buddhist education; bit by bit.

WHAT IS SUFFERING?

okay, here starts our Buddhist education. We need to learn about sufferings so that we know what is troubling us. Otherwise, we only know there is a “nagging emptiness in our heart” or “unknown dissatisfaction in our mind”

The word suffering is a translation of a Buddhist term Dukkha. Dukkha also means non-satisfactoriness, frustrations, unease, stress, and etc. In short, sufferings refer to both mental and physical pains.

We experience sufferings with our human life, starting with birth. Then we experience sickness and old age. This ultimately leads to death. These experiences in life creates both mental and physical pains.

Throughout our lifetime, we also encounter unpleasant situations that cause us pain. (Encountering the undesirables) Although there are mundane happiness in life; unfortunately they are never permanent. (losing the desirables) That creates sufferings too..

When we examine our existence, we realize that there isn’t any concrete substance to it. Life seems fleeting like a dream. This is because all things arises when the right conditions are present. They then disappear when the conditions are absent. One moment it is there and the next moment, only emptiness. Thus, we feel bewildered and stressed by the transient nature of life. Those who experience it intensely began to ask, “What is the purpose of life?”

Thus the first lesson in our Buddhist education is to bravely recognize the inherent nature of sufferings in life. Being oblivious to these sufferings is ignorance. That ignorance is just like a child engrossed with playing in his room while the kitchen catches fire. It doesn’t lead to ultimate happiness.

May all be well and happy.

Translated text in English is from http://www.buddhasutra.com/files/amidasutra.htm

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