Finding Refuge Amidst Anxiety, Lots of Anxiety

This tweet from the awesome Sententiae Antiquae blog had me thinking lately:

When life feels overwhelming, I tend to think about a Buddhist text called the Immeasurable Life Sutra1 which is a highly influential in Mahayana Buddhism. It is one of my personal favorites. The first half of the sutra is the most extensive introduction to Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, in the Buddhist canon, but the second half tends to be a repackaging of general Buddhist teachings at the time. The second half often gets overshadowed by the story of Amitabha Buddha, but is worth a read.

In one section, the Buddha paints a rather dim picture of life in the mundane world:

“The poor and the underprivileged are constantly destitute. If, for example, they have no fields, they are unhappy and want them. If they have no houses, they are unhappy and want them. If they have none of the six kinds of domestic animals, such as cows and horses, or if they have no male and female servants, or lack money, wealth, clothes, food, or furnishings, they are unhappy and want those as well. If they possess some of them, others may be lacking. If they have this, they do not have that, and so they wish to possess all. But, even if by some chance they come to possess everything, it will soon be destroyed or lost. Then, dejected and sorrowful, they strive to obtain such things again, but it may be impossible. Brooding over this is to no avail. Exhausted in mind and body, they become restless in all their doings, and anxieties follow on their heels….Since they have not done any good in particular, nor followed the Way, nor acted virtuously, when they die, they will depart alone to an inferior world. Although they are destined to different states of existence, none of them understands the law of karma that sends them there.

translation by Hisao Inagaki

…then reiterates that this is par for the course because all is impermanent anyway:

“The reality of birth-and-death is such that the sorrow of parting is mutually felt by all generations. A father cries over the death of his children; children cry over the death of their father. Brothers, sisters, husbands and wives mourn each other’s death. According to the basic law of impermanence, whether death will occur in order of seniority or in the reverse is unpredictable. All things must pass. Nothing stays forever. Few believe this, even if someone teaches and exhorts them. And so the stream of birth-and-death continues everlastingly.

translation by Hisao Inagaki

The Buddha then uses this to remind readers that one should pursue the Buddhist path while they are still healthy and lucid:

“Why do they not abandon all worldly involvements and strive, while they are strong and healthy, to pursue the good and diligently seek deliverance from Samsara? If they do, they will be able to attain infinite life. Why do they not seek the Way? What is there in this world that should be longed for? What pleasure is there that ought to be sought after?

translation by Hisao Inagaki

“Infinite life” here, I would contend, isn’t the kind of immortality that we might associate with the Olympian Gods, but more like something you see in the Heart Sutra:

This is because in emptiness there is no form, sensation, conception, synthesis, or discrimination….There is no ignorance nor elimination of ignorance, even up to and including no old age and death, nor elimination of old age and death. There is no suffering, its accumulation, its elimination, or a path. There is no understanding and no attaining….Because there is no attainment, bodhisattvas rely on Prajñāpāramitā [the perfection of wisdom], and their minds have no obstructions. Since there are no obstructions, they have no fears.

Translation by Lapis Lazuli Texts, retrieved here:

In any case, the Buddha is pointing out that one shouldn’t get caught up in the big Cosmic Rat Race and maintain a healthy perspective.

1 Nerd moment: copies of this sutra have been found composed in the Karoshthi script in China.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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