It has already been over one year since we encountered the COVID-19 pandemic. During this pandemic, various ethical, social, economic, and political issues have been raised.
As I reflect upon those various issues, I am brought to appreciate this saying of Shinran Shonin:
“With a foolish being full of blind passions, in this fleeting world — this burning house — all matters without exception are empty and false, totally without truth and sincerity. The Nembutsu alone is true and real.”
Due to the different views and perspectives on the issues raised during this pandemic, countless tragedies are occurring in our daily lives.
We are burning with our selfishness and repeating our foolish actions over and over. We are all afraid of COVID-19, but in fact, we need to remind ourselves that we have a more dangerous virus in our minds called the three poisons, which are greed, anger, and ignorance. Because of these three poisons, we are capable of doing anything, even causing harm, when certain causes and conditions arise within us.
Sakyamuni Buddha teaches us that hatred is not overcome by hatred. Hatred is overcome by love. Anger creates just anger. Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge. The Buddha also teaches us that we are not noble because of the family into which we were born. Rather, we become noble as a result of our actions. The Buddha negated the classification of people by birth or faith. We should remind ourselves that all people deserve to be respected and treated equally under the law of Dharma. Furthermore, Shinran Shonin teaches us that the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha makes no distinction between people young and old, good and evil. From Buddha’s Enlightened Eyes, all beings are the same and equal.
As I consider the various issues occurring during this pandemic, the first matter that comes to my mind is to hear the Teaching of Amida Buddha’s Primal Vow to remind myself how I am selfish and a small-minded being compared to the Buddha’s Great Compassionate Mind. When I am made aware of my self-centered perspectives on the various issues, I truly understand why Dharmakara Bodhisattva established the Primal Vow for me to be free from afflictions, pain, and suffering.
Shinran Shonin, by hearing the Teaching of Primal Vow from his teacher, Honen Shonin, realized that the object of Amida Buddha’s Compassion is first directed to the self-centered beings who suffer from full of blind passions. When we encounter the Buddha-Dharma, our greed, anger, and ignorance caused by our self-centered nature are revealed. The Light of Wisdom of the Buddha always shines upon our ego that is deep within our minds.
Shinran Shonin, by realizing his self-centered nature, truly appreciated the saying of Honen Shonin, “Persons of the Pure Land tradition attain birth in the Pure Land by becoming their foolish selves.” Shinran Shonin could clearly see his foolish self by hearing the Teaching of the Primal Vow and realized that his foolish nature is always sustained by the Buddha’s Great Compassionate Mind.
We can learn about our foolishness from COVID-19. There are many viruses in this world and COVID-19 is one of them. As we can learn from the daily news, a new virus, such as our ego in our defiled minds, is discovered one after another, causing us to suffer. Even though the world and our society are trying to end our suffering by continuously producing a new vaccine one by one, our foolishness — which originates from our mind of greed, anger, and ignorance — will continue to be the greater challenge.
Let us turn our self-centered minds to the Buddha’s Great Compassionate Mind to hear how we should control our ceaseless desires to pursue all in our convenient way and how we should become aware of our incapability and imperfectness to solve any issues perfectly.
I believe COVID-19 is a great teacher, providing precious opportunities for us to carefully hear the reason why Amida Buddha established the Primal Vow for those of us who are suffering with our own virus in this life. Let us become mindful of the intention and fulfillment of the Primal Vow established by Amida Buddha for all beings, especially at this difficult time, and appreciate that our foolish selves are constantly embraced by the Great Compassionate Mind of Amida Buddha.