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Perspective of Heaven and Hell

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Yoichi Kawada, Director, Institute of Oriental Philosophy,

Soka Gakkai International

Published in World Order for a New Millennium by St. Martin’s Press, New York

The Flames of Delusion

The purpose of this chapter is to offer a Buddhist perspective on the question of peace. I would like to discuss three dimensions of peace and the contributions a Buddhist understanding may make to their achievement. These are inner peace; peace in the community of humankind; and ecological peace or peace with Earth. First, we have to understand what the root causes of the absence and the presence of peace are.

In a sermon given by Shakyamuni, he conveyed his essential outlook on the nature and cause of suffering. On this occasion, Shakyamuni ascended a mountain summit together with his recently converted disciples. Gazing at the view below, Shakyamuni began to expound: “Indeed, this world is burning with many and various fires. There are fires of greed fires of hatred fires of foolishness, fires of infatuation and egoism, fires of decrepitude, sickness and death, fires of sorrow, lamentation, suffering and agony.”

What he was trying to convey was his understanding that the phenomenal world that we inhabit is engulfed in the “fires” of suffering originating in deluded impulses. These fires of greed, hatred and ignorance, raging fiercely in the hearts of people, are the basic cause of the suffering of human existence. Therefore, Shakyamuni urges us first and foremost to come to a clear understanding of the root cause of suffering.

Here, the deluded impulse of “greed” indicates uncontrolled desire for, and attachment to, material comforts, for wealth, power or fame. Desires of this kind grow and multiply without cease, and since their fulfillment cannot bring true and lasting happiness, a person in their grip is condemned to endless torment and frustration.

The deluded impulse of “hatred” describes emotions such as resentment, rage and envy, that are triggered when our egocentric desires are not fulfilled. Unless controlled, these escalate into various forms of destruction and violence. Simply put, the deluded impulse of hatred is the violence that grows from an egocentric view of life.

“Ignorance” refers to willful ignorance of reality, or the true nature of life and the cosmos. Thus it is this deluded impulse that generates discord and rebellion against the principles that govern the functioning of the cosmos. The wisdom that illuminates and reveals the true nature of the cosmos is referred to as “enlightenment,” while this kind of willful ignorance is referred to as “fundamental darkness” because it clouds and obscures the light by which we might see things in their true nature. Of all the deluded impulses, Buddhism considers ignorance the most fundamental.

Buddhism views these impulses--greed, hatred and ignorance--as poisons inherent in life; together they are sometimes referred to as the “three poisons.” What Shakyamuni sought to teach his disciples in his sermon is that the flames of the three poisons and of all deluded impulses originate in, and spew forth from, the inner lives of individuals to engulf families, ethnic groups, nations and eventually the whole of humanity.

We see this in the world today, where the impact of uncontrolled greed goes far beyond the individual level; it creates economic disparities among racial and ethnic groups, and between countries on a global scale. The avarice of the industrialized nations has deprived people in developing countries of the conditions by which their basic needs can be met. And the greed of the human race is undermining the right of other living beings to exist.

Violence is commonly found within families, in schools and in local communities. Deep hatreds that trace back to distant historical events give rise to intractable ethnic and racial conflicts. In some cases, such historical hatred is bound up with religious causes or identities, and finds expression in terror and random killing.

Willful ignorance of the true nature of existence signifies a state of rebellion against, and denial of, the basic principles of life and the cosmos. As such, it distorts all aspects of life, from individual lifestyles to family, ethnic and national values. In other words, this kind of willful ignorance can be found in all value systems, ways of life, and views of nature that put one into rebellious conflict with the very principles that support one’s own existence, the principles that, ultimately, govern the functioning of the living cosmos.

By sharing his enlightened understanding with others, Shakyamuni sought to help people minimize the destructive effects of these deluded impulses and in fact to transform them into the impetus for happiness.

A Tranquil Heart

In India, the equivalent of “peace” is “shanti,” which means the state of inner tranquillity. It also means the enlightened condition attained by Shakyamuni sometimes referred to as “nirvana.” With respect to the state of inner peace, a Buddhist text describes this as follows: “Tranquillity of mind comes from having successfully transcended greed, hatred and ignorance.” As this passage makes clear, the Buddhist approach to peace starts from the fundamental act of surmounting these deluded impulses or inner poisons. The state of having brought these impulses under control, however, is not a static and private inner peace. Rather, it is limitlessly dynamic, expansive and evolutionary in its nature.

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I have a book called, Daily Meditations Fron The Heart. It offers daily advice from The Dalai Lama. He also refers to the "three poisons" as a result of suffering but in the way of the criminal mind or those that would seek to hurt others.

I have a hard time agreeing that the three poisons are always involved in suffering. Perhpas sometimes indirectly they are as a result of soldiers who suffer tramas from war or people who were raped and so on...these sufferings were caused by other's poisons.

However if the mind suffers from the loss of a child that could not be prevented and was no one's fault this is not a suffering that was caused directly or indirectly from the three poisons.

For Buddhists suffering takes different levels and there are many factors but I think in a large part suffering is all about our mindset. Some things we cannot stop from happening to us but we can change how we react to them. I like this quote and thought I would share it.

"We need to recognize that suffering is part of life or, in Buddhist terms, of Samsara, the cyce of conditioned existence. If we regard suffering as negative and abnormal, and consider ourselves victims, then life becomes misery. Our attitude is the problem. happiness is possible only when what we call suffering no longer causes us distress."

The Dalai Lama

Thank you for the post. Something to think on.

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