This is kind of an impromptu post. I spent the night watching videos on Youtube. Of course, you can’t just watch one video on Youtube, you start seeing related videos, links etc. So, by the end of the night, I watched, among other things, a Girls’ Generation concert in Japan from earlier this year, and I saw the raw video footage of Qaddafi’s capture and death. When you think about it, it’s really amazing that both things can exist in the same world.
But in a way, it’s not. Shakyamuni Buddha taught that this is the world we live in: there are things that make us very happy, give us joy, or are entertaining, while there are also things that are very scary, vulgar or disturbing.
We’d like to live in a world where we only have one and not the other. But we can’t. The wonderful things in life come with the cost of having to endure the terrible things in life. On the other hand, the terrible things in this world are only one part of life and have to end some time.
The Buddha was neither positive, nor pessimistic. He saw the whole picture. He taught people that the only lasting peace was to go beyond these two extremes, and this later become known as the Middle Way.
The painting above illustrates a treatise by Shan-dao, a 7th century Buddhist monk in China who was a famous advocate of the Pure Land path in Buddhism. He uses the analogy of two rivers: a river of fire and a river of water. Between the two rivers is a narrow, white path. A voice on this shore encourages him to cross or he will die, while on the other shore is another voice encouraging him to come.
The river of fire was anger, while the river of water is greed, according to Shan-dao. The encouraging voice on this shore is Shakyamuni Buddha, while the voice at the other shore is Amitabha Buddha calling from the Pure Land. I admit I see the river of water also as joy, pleasure and all the things we like. We can immerse ourselves so much in the pleasures of life, we may eventually drown. Likewise, the river of fire is all the things we hate about this world, and it too can consume us with anger, revulsion and pessimism.
Either way, the best course is to follow the white path and go beyond the two.
Namu Amida Butsu
P.S. I don’t like repeating myself of course, but it happens sometimes. I wrote something similar a year ago, but tonight it seems to take on additional meaning.
P.P.S. It’s late and I am really sleepy now. :p