Sentient Beings in the Sea of Suffering
Master Tanluan was a sincere, dedicated practitioner. In his Song of Praising Amitabha Buddha, one of the verses reads:
I have been immersed in the three domains since beginningless time
Endlessly tumbling in samsara.
The karma created by every single thought in every single moment is enough for me
To be firmly bound in the six realms and three domains.
The six realms are the realms of hells, ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and the heavens. The three domains are the domain of desire, the domain of form and the domain of formless. “I have been immersed in the three domains since beginningless time”, so says the master.
“...tumbling in samsara.” The three domains are the six realms of samsara, which is false and delusional. However, we are so deceived by it that we believe it to be real, thus trapped in it endlessly to this very day.
“The karma created by every single thought in every single moment is enough for me to be firmly bound in the six realms and three domains.” This means we create karmas in every single thought and moment.
While there are good and evil karmas, Master Tanluan tells us that they are “sufficient [for me] to be firmly bound in the six realms and three domains,” which means he was an ordinary being constantly creating not virtuous karmas, but rather those that trapped him in the three evil realms.
Shakyamuni Buddha tells us that the six realms of samsara are a sea of suffering, bottomless and boundless. We sentient beings are constantly “emerging and submerging” in this sea; even Master Tanluan admits he takes a few breaths each time he emerges from the surface, only to sink right back into the water, spending most of the time in the three evil realms, how much so do we.
When he was in the northern state of the Northern and Southern Dynasties in the 5th and 6th centuries, Master Tanluan was worshiped by the Emperor Wu of Liang in the south, who called him “Luan Bodhisattva '' with great respect. He was also respectfully called “Luan the God' by the Emperor of the Northern Wei Dynasty in the north. Even a person of his stature felt that he was an ordinary being, how much more so the rest of us. Therefore, we can say that without Amitabha Buddha and his eighteenth vow, there is absolutely no opportunity or ability for us to forever leave the six realms.
The Sutra of Bodhisattvas Who Give Pure Deliverance states:
Day by day, everyone has millions and millions of thoughts arising;
the action behind each thought leads to rebirth in the three evil realms.
The phrase, “millions and millions,” is meant not in its numerical sense but as an expression of countlessness. These thoughts are not only inconducive for us to be reborn in the good realms of the heavens or humans, let alone be liberated from samsara, but rather in the three evil realms of hells, hungry ghosts, and animals. It is indeed something frightening to think about.
As stated in The Sutra of the Earth Store Bodhisattva:
Every single act and stirring of thought of the beings in Jambudvipa creates nothing
but karmic offenses.
Which is to say, all our acts, speeches, and thoughts are karmas, to be regarded as transgressions.
The sutra also says:
The power of karma is so enormous that it can rival Mt. Sumeru, being
deeper than the deepest ocean and obstructive to the Dharma path.
The highest and greatest mountain in the universe is Mt. Sumeru, yet our karmic force is higher than the Sumeru and deeper than the deepest ocean. Without Amitabha’s compassionate deliverance, we will forever be ensnared in samsara, which is the three domains or six realms.
How does Master Tanluan describe the “three domains”? He says:
The three domains are fictitious, contaminated, perverse, destructive, and
infinitely revolving in the cycle of birth and death.
That is, all the causes and consequences we created in the three domains are false and untrue, polluted and impure, contradictory and catastrophic, that right becomes wrong and wrong right. Every act and thought constantly changes; nothing is permanent; all swirling endlessly in the cycle of rebirth, in hells, ghosts, or animal worlds, which is terrifying.
The Master further states that the three domains are like a dark house of life and death in which deluded mortals are endlessly reborn and die. He also says,
Sentient beings are born in the evil and deluded realms;
Everyone lives in a perpetuated nightmare, not knowing how to get out of it.
If they have never heard of the Dharma or have heard it but never encountered the deliverance of Amitabha Buddha, such beings will forever be tumbling in the endlessly long dream of samsara, never to be awakened.
(Translated by the Pure Land School Translation Team;
edited by Kevin Orro (Fozhu))
Faith in, and acceptance of, Amitabha’s deliverance
Single-minded recitation of Amitabha’s name
Aspiration to rebirth in Amitabha’s Pure Land
Comprehensive deliverance of all sentient beings