Notes on the Nembutsu
Reflections on the wasan of Shinran

Jodo Wasan 45

The jewel-ponds, formed of seven precious materials, are limpid
And brimming with waters of eight excellent qualities;
The undefiled adornments of the land surpass conceptual
        understanding,
So take refuge in Amida, the treasury of virtues.

Water

One of the three radicals of existence is greed. Greed is so powerful that it very often persists even though we already have more than enough. In our world, and our times, while most people of the world are hungry, a significant number of us are gorging ourselves to death. If there is food to be had, we will have it. The 'pleasure principle' induces us to relive enjoyable experiences. Modern research is also showing that our survival instinct inclines many of us to eat just because food is available, even though we may not really need it.

Occasionally people become aware, however, that 'more is not better'. Some of us realise that acting on greed may overreach a level of satisfaction to the extent that it causes more suffering. The distention and discomfort of overeating, for example, may feel worse than mild hunger pangs. We may readily stop drinking wine just as we begin to feel that we are losing control or recall the discomfort of a hangover.

In a small way restraint based on the unplesantness of over-consumption touches upon what Shakyamuni meant when he said that 'all existence is suffering' - including pleasure. He was reminding us of what most of us already know from experience (but often forget to apply): that craving for what is pleasant can become a snare and imprison us; make us unfree - unable to resist our craving, causing us to lose our sense of control. This is a form of emotional pain, even if it is not physical.

The Buddha Dharma does not reject pleasure or pleasurable experiences but it does warn against uncontrolled seeking for pleasure or magnifying craving to the point of addiction.

The Fire Sermon, which we mentioned before, gives a graphic account of the way in which greed consumes us. Greed is a hot emotion and so is anger for the two are inextricably intertwined. The failure to attain the satisfaction of greed leads to anger, or in seeking to attain the object of our greed we strive to avoid or eliminate whatever we think will thwart it.

The water described in this verse signifies the way in which the realm of nirvana quells the hot and raging fires of greed and anger. It is water with 'eight virtues' and these virtues serve just this ameliorating purpose.

These firey emotions are not quelled in the here and now. We ordinary beings (bombu) live in the world of greed and anger; something of which we become aware as the light of Amida's shinjin enables us - with growing acuity - to see ourselves as we truly are.


1: The eight merits of the water are: good to the stomach, good to the throat, of sweet taste, cool temperature, soft texture, comforting to the senses and pure.

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