In Japan, people will often refer to “the paradise of the Pure Land,” leading to the belief that paradise and the Pure Land are one and the same, but I don’t think this is the case.

The Pure Land is not paradise. Rather, paradise and hell – its opposite – refer to this world in which we pass our daily lives. In Tannisho (Lamenting heresies), Shinran uttered a famous phrase: “Hell is inevitable” (jigoku wa ichijo). Many read this as�In Japan, people will often refer to “the paradise of the Pure Land,” leading to the belief that paradise and the Pure Land are one and the same, but I don’t think this is the case.

The Pure Land is not paradise. Rather, paradise and hell – its opposite – refer to this world in which we pass our daily lives. In Tannisho (Lamenting heresies), Shinran uttered a famous phrase: “Hell is inevitable” (jigoku wa ichijo). Many read this as a statement that when we die we are all without exception bound for hell, but I do not choose to read it this way.

I read “inevitable,” or ichijo, as “now,” “the reality that is inevitably here before us.” I am not afraid of going to hell after death because I have already been there. A self driven by desires, one that harms the planet and other people, tells lie after lie, and is deeply bound by all sorts of foolhardy attachments, is something we all have in common.

This foolish self that has so little chance of salvation, is so incapable of resisting burning desire and attachment – those undeniably real days and nights, lived under the constant torment of monstrous delusions- – such is hell.With our anxieties about death and illness, our discriminating selves and the pain of being discriminated against, our rampant anger and envy, we are all residents of hell. But according to Shinran, religion is a ray of light that illuminates hell. Religious faith exists to succor the suffering spirit. That is why all those who live in hell will eventually return to the Pure Land. In our daily lives, there are moments when we can believe this. That is paradise. But paradise almost never endures for long. In a moment the joy of paradise passes, and the jagged peaks of hell loom again.

Life is a constant passage back and forth between these two states of hell and paradise.

“Birth in the Pure Land” means accepting the great story of life. No matter what kind of life you have led, after death we all return as drops of water to the great river, and eventually rise to the heavens.

This excerpt is from Hiroyuki Itsuki’s Tariki: Embracing Despair, Discovering Peace to be published by Kodansha International in April 2001.

 

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