Great Negative Karma

Sujeewa (Suki): I was wondering if I should say this or not, but I think its better said than not said. The Budda said …”One shall not harm any other living being nor Harm oneself.” It creates great Negative Karma. It was his first precept and a very important one to be put as the very first one too. It only takes one away from the path to Nibbana or Salvation or in becoming a Budda, or Arahanth.

I hope you knew about this.


Hi Suki -

Yes, indeed I did know about the Buddha’s first precept. This comment of yours strikes right to the heart of YOUR existential dilemma as much as mine, and my daughter’s – even though she took her own life, and you have not done such a thing.

Let me explain – because this is exactly the point of Shin Buddhist teaching.

I invite you to sit with me, with open heart and open mind, and look, for a little while, at the depth of our common problem – as Shinran and the great teachers before him, explained it. Perhaps (just perhaps) you will see yourself, as I have come to see myself, in the mirror he holds up in front of ALL our faces.

There is no practice, Suki, in Shin Buddhism, other than listening deeply. So now I invite you to join me. Let us listen deeply together.

our dilemma, in the plainest language: we remain endarkened, rather than enlightened. The roots of our karmic passion, our blind cravings and aversions, go so deep and permeate our lives so completely, that we don’t even know ourselves. We don’t even know what we don’t even know. We are, each and every one of us, living in a terrible maze of confusion and delusion – and the world reflects your confusion and mine – writ large.

The Buddha explained precisely what the root of ALL our suffering is: it is our egotism, pure and simple. It is ALL our cravings, and ALL our aversions, to everything that we love and everything that we hate.

Whatever karmic burden we carry forward from a prior lifetime - our egotism, our endless cravings and aversions, arise in infancy. As soon as the infant develops a sense of being a separate self – and not before – the suffering of separation anxiety arises. As a self-conscious, self-aware being, he craves his mother’s presence, and is entirely averse to her absence. This is universal in our world – and it is the beginning of endlessly multiplied sorrows – as our cravings and aversions become ever more complex over time.

Because of our cravings and aversions our common egotism, we are strapped to the wheel of birth and death, moving from life to life, forgetting from one to the next everything we learned before. Only a true Buddha can see clearly all his prior lives as a non-Buddha. For the rest of us - they are simply hidden from our view.

We may make some progress in one life, and acquire some karmic merit – making a deposit in our karmic bank account. And then in the next life, we may squander it – falling prey to our delusions and confusions – our cravings and aversions once again.

Here’s the SHIN UGLY bad news, in plainest language: In this age of dharma decline – when the power of Buddha’s Energetic Field is so diminished compared to when he walked the earth – not one single solitary person becomes a Buddha.

Consider with me greatest Buddhist teachers in all the Buddhist sects, groups, denominations: whether the old school Theravada Buddhists, or the Buddhists of the various Mahayana sects (Zen, Ch’an, Pure Land or whatever), or the practitioners of the various sects within Tibetan Buddhism.

Even though many of them are ENTIRELY dedicated, 24/7/365, even from childhood, not ONE Buddha has emerged among them all.

No, if you ask the HONEST ones among them, they will admit (as His Holiness the Dalai Lama does, and the Ven. Thich Naht Hanh does) that they are not Buddhas at all. Each of them, in his own way, still struggles with his own attachments – his own cravings and aversions – his own egotism, even as I do – and even as you do as well.

Of course, as a Buddhist who believes in Buddha’s basic ideas of rebirth in higher and lower realms of existence depending on the implacable law of karma, it SEEMS reasonable to say that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

It SEEMS reasonable to teach that we take one step at a time, one day at a time, one session of practice at a time, one decision at a time, to gradually move forward on the path to the EVENTUAL goal of Buddhahood…even if it takes more than a single lifetime to complete that journey.

Only – here’s the problem Suki – your problem as much as mine as much as my daughter’s:

It’s not a journey of a thousand miles to true Buddhahood – it’s more like a journey of a TRILLION miles.

Your progress of 10 steps, or 10 miles, or 10,000 miles or even 10 million miles leaves you – as it leaves me – with such overwhelming karmic debt – such overwhelming egotism – such terrible graspings – such cravings and aversions – such continuing delusions and illusions – that your chances of becoming a true Buddha by end of this lifetime – or any lifetime – by the application of your BEST efforts - are abysmal.

In fact – here is the SHIN UGLY truth out of the mouth of Buddha, as transmitted through the Larger Pure Land Sutra and explained by the Pure Land Masters, culminating with Shinran: you have NO HOPE of becoming a Buddha by your own efforts in this age of dharma decline.

How do I know? Show me even one living Buddhist teacher who has crossed the vast ocean of birth and death and can stand before us – as Shakyamuni did – a TRUE BUDDHA – with his cravings and aversions totally extinguished – in a state of coolness – of nirvana.

Here’s the SHIN UGLY bottom line, Suki: there are, when all is said and done, really only TWO fundamental paths, even though Buddha offered many variants of the first: those paths are the Path of the Sages, and the Path of the Pure Land.

Whether you’re a Theravada Buddhist, a Mahayana Buddhist (of whatever type), or a Tibetan Buddhist, if you’re depending on doing “your thing” - by your effort - whatever that effort is…whether under the guidance of a teacher or a guru…or all by yourself…you’re traveling on the path of the sages. You’re operating on the presumption that sooner or later all this effort will complete the long journey to Buddhahood – the END of suffering at last.

On the other hand - if you’ve finally realized that you don’t have what it takes to actually make that journey (as much as you might WANT to) then you are ready for the OTHER path to Buddhahood.

You are ready, at last, for the single path within all the dharma that is designed for everyday plain people – as well as failed monks like Shinran and his teacher Honen – in which our efforts at practice, keeping precepts, meditation, service and good works are 100% irrelevant - so Shinran taught.

Here’s Shinran’s plain talk on the matter:

Truly we know that the teachings of the Path of Sages were intended for the period when the Buddha was in the world and for the right dharma-age; they are altogether inappropriate for the times and beings of the semblance and last dharma-ages and the age when the dharma has become extinct. Already their time has passed; they are no longer in accord with beings.

The true essence of the Pure Land way compassionately draws all of the innumerable evil, defiled beings to enlightenment without discrimination, whether they be of the period when the Buddha was in the world, of the right, semblance, or last dharma-ages, or of the time when the dharma has become extinct.

It’s completely and utterly humbling – a death blow to our egotism – to admit that we simply can’t get there from here. We just don’t have the capacity for Buddhahood.

Why do I say that, in such a blanket way? Because, my friend, we can do a simple headcount together once again. You can’t point me to even a single Buddha – for all the millions who have been practicing for days, weeks, months, years – for their whole life long.

Each of them – with no disrespect – is born in egotism, and dies in egotism – a non-Buddha till the end – and thus must take birth AGAIN – in a higher or lower realm, depending on the ending balance in their karmic bank account.

Even the Tibetans, who claim (In the Tibetan Book of the Dead) the ability to help a person through the time between death and birth to improve the chances for a good birth in their next life can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear – or a Buddha out of a non-Buddha.

This somber fact – this UNDENIABLE fact – is precisely what motivated the one we call AMIDA Buddha to create his Pure Land – and to make his Primal Vow. So teaches Shakyamuni Buddha, in his final teaching to a world in this day of dharma decline – in his exposition to Ananda and thousands of others on Vulture Mountain.

This Primal Vow, which Amida Buddha made and fulfilled (according to OUR Buddha – the Buddha Shakyamuni) would enable beings like you and me – unable to attain Buddhahood by their own efforts, to end our journeys of ignorance and endarkenment through an entirely different means than the Sage’s many efforts to acquire karmic merit over many lifetimes.

Because we are NOT such sages – because we simply cannot get to Buddhahood through any of those gates of merit acquisition, and because yet we so desire to end our endless lives of suffering in ontological endarkenment – lives lived in delusion – lives ruled by blind karmic passions – Amida Buddha opened the door to ANYONE who would simply entrust him or herself to the Primal Vow he made.

That Vow, as our Buddha explained to Ananda in the Larger Pure Land Sutra, would guarantee anyone of who simply entrusted himself - that his NEXT birth would be in the Pure Land, where Buddhahood would immediately be attained.

This is, I admit, difficult teaching to hear – even though it comes out of the mouth of the one we call the Buddha – the fully enlightened one.

It is difficult to hear, even though the great Buddhist teacher Nagarjuna – often called “the second Buddha”( though he certainly was not a full Buddha like Shakyamuni) – told people plainly that the path of the Pure Land was much to be preferred to the path of the sages for everyone – even for himself.

You see, even Nagarjuna – though he fully understand and precisely expounded the teachings about the emptiness of all phenomena – could not live in the wisdom of those teachings.

He too was a non-Buddha. He too was subject to ineradicable egotism. He too was at the mercy of the endless the push and pull of cravings and aversions – just as we all are.

And that is why even the great Nagarjuna encouraged ALL of us – if we truly wanted to become Buddhas (rather than simply practice a religion called Buddhism) to entrust ourselves to Amida’s Vow – and take the path of the Pure Land to guaranteed Buddhahood at the end of this life.

It is a difficult thing to hear this teaching.

Why? Because, being beings filled with hidden egotism it is hard to admit, once we have committed to the path of the Sages, that we just don’t have “the right stuff”.

How humbling it is to look DEEPLY in the mirror.

How humbling it is to listen DEEPLY to the dharma.

How humbling it is to recognize that we are filled, just as Shinran said, with the “snakes and scorpions” of endless cravings and aversions that effectively BLOCK us from realizing our worthy goal of NIRVANA – CESSATION – of the fires that burn inside you, and me, and yes that burned inside my daughter’s mind as well.

It takes great humility, and not a little courage, and a powerful dose of HONESTY, to admit that the little rafts we are in can not take us across the vast ocean from the near shore of utter sleep, to the far shore of full awakening.

It takes great humility to admit that unless GRACE intervenes, we will die as we have lived, adrift on the sea of egotism – unable to complete our journey – and we will be compelled to begin it once again in a new life, filled with new suffering, and then sickness and death once again.

So the question, friend Suki, in the face of such great negative karma is this: what shall we do, to complete our journey that has already been going on for countless lives? How many offerings is enough? How much chanting is enough? How much meditation is enough? How many moments of pristine awareness are enough? How much effort, over how many lifetimes, is enough?

None of it is enough, my friend, to take any of us –you, me, or my daughter – out of our terrible karmic predicament.

None of it is enough to deliver us from our own endarkenment – whatever form it might take – into the TRUE and COMPLETE enlightenment that was and is the subject of ALL that Shakyamuni Buddha ever taught.

Even though Jessie was a very young women, and had no long and deep acquaintance with the teaching of Buddha, as you so clearly do – she recognized her predicament. In that recognition, a path to Buddhahood opened before her – a simple path for simple people who lack the capacity to take the path of the sages to Buddhahood.

It was not because of her goodness that this path was opened, although I can tell you she was a very good person, as people go.

It was only because of her honesty - her openness - and her willingness to recognize her need – that she listened deeply. This primal act of listening deeply is what led her to trust in this utterly SIMPLE teaching - the FINAL teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha - of Amida Buddha, His Pure Land and His Primal Vow.

She entrusted herself – and just as the Buddha taught in the Larger Pure Land Sutra – and just as Honen and Shinran and Rennyo expounded in their teaching.

That simple entrusting – for even one thought moment – sealed her for for rebirth in her next life. She was, even as Shakyamuni taught - grasped, never to be abandoned. NOTHING could keep her from her karmic destiny: after leaving this body – even though she left by terrible act of self-murder – she was born in the Pure Land created by Amida, according to his Vow. And that’s why she was able to “check in” with her sister, traversing great distances to manifest herself - again, just as Shakyamuni Buddha taught in the Larger Pure Land Sutra.

Amida Buddha created that Pure Land - over a span of countless ages - for people just like her – just like me – and (perhaps) just like you – to complete our endless terrible journeys of endarkenment, and find true enlightenment – true Buddhahood – at last.

Please understand, Suki - that I didn’t start my life as a seeker of enlightenment in this way. Neither did Honen – who spent decades as a fully dedicated monk. Neither did Shinran – who also spent decades the same way.

But what happened to each of us was, in it’s essence, the same: at some point we realized that we just couldn’t DO this – we just didn’t have what it takes to climb the path of the sages to the mountain of enlightenment.

And so each of us, in the karmic circumstances of our own lives, became Buddhist burnouts.

Paradoxically, in the midst of our tears and sorrow (and believe me being a burnout is nothing BUT tears and sorrow) our respective experiences of burnout became the most valuable thing that EVER happened to us.

Why? Because it opened our minds and our hearts as nothing else could to the idea that perhaps GRACE – the free gift of Buddha’s carrying us where we could not walk – would bring us to the goal we all yearned for in our deepest being.

So – if there is one thing that I would wish for you – in all sincerity – and with all kindness – is that you too would become a Buddhist burnout too.

Why? Because if that happens, as you sit with the broken clay pot of your own self-reliance - you will remember in the midst of YOUR tears and sorrow this seed that I am planting in your mind as we sit together.

In the midst of your own INABILTY, you will remember this discussion. You will remember that there is a wide-open door to full Buddhahood for those who know they are unable.

You will remember that the mysterious and infinite power of Amida Buddha is ABLE where you have proven to be unable.

And in that remembering, your weeping will turn to joy - at last.

In that moment, you will be ready – after countless births as a suffering being ensnared by ineradicable egotism – to do the only thing that is needed.

In that moment, you will listen deeply, with all of your being, with your heart and your mind both.

In that moment, because you are listening, you will hear with profound gladness and gratitude of heart that a way to Buddhahood – a GUARANTEED path – has been provided for YOU by this greatest of ALL the Buddhas – as Shakyamuni stated himself in the Larger Pure Land Sutra.

Perhaps – just perhaps – this dialogue is bringing you to THAT moment right now - even as you read my words. Perhaps you are already listening deeply inside.

If so, please know that I remain available to you as a friend on the path to share, to the very best of my ability, this final teaching of the Buddha that has brought my own beloved friend and daughter to True Buddhahood – and will bring me to True Buddhahood as well at the end of this lifetime.

Best wishes on your journey – as we listen deeply together.


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