Accumulating Merit at a Young Age Improves the Quality of Life
Question: Hello, Master! I am now in my thirties, and I am very pessimistic about life. As my health deteriorates and my parents become older and frailer, impermanence is manifesting itself in me. My life is only going to get worse and worse, and death will inevitably arrive one day. What should I do?
Answer: What do you do? Let Buddha deal with it!
The Saha world is full of vexations, and all joys will turn into misery and suffering due to the karmic force of impermanence. There is no place to hide, and we cannot resist. It is like a super crusher, smashing all our worldly hopes and our pathetic and meager happiness. No sensitive mind should be indifferent in the face of this ferocious force that swallows everything. You are lucky that you are sensitive enough. Many are insensitive and choose to ignore and avoid impermanence. The Infinite Life Sutra reads:
The people of the secular world, weak in virtue, compete with each other in their desires, and fight over trivial and insignificant things. In the midst of abject evil and extreme hardship, they work tirelessly to make a living.
Shallow and vulgar, human beings struggle for trivial things while ignoring the urgent issue of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In a world of wickedness and affliction, they work hard all day long to satisfy themselves and their small family’s needs.
It is not easy for people to make a better living against the backdrop of impermanence. It is like a small flame turning into a roaring blaze that eventually extinguishes itself when the firewood runs out. A person’s life probably follows such a trajectory.
Even if you excel in many ways, and your name goes down in history, praised by everyone, it will all end like a mirage. We will grow old, we will get sick, and we will die. Even if we are healthy our entire life and die naturally, things will not go as we wish. After all, we live in a secular world that is a mixture of pleasure and pain.
In “A Dream of Red Mansions (also called The Story of the Stone),” the stone spirit, after listening to a monk and a Daoist talk about earthly matters, expressed his desire to come down to earth and enjoy the glory of the mortal world. The monk and the Daoist advised him: “Although there are happy things in the human world, they do not last. Moreover, ‘a blemish always exists in an otherwise perfect thing,’ and ‘the road to happiness is strewn with setbacks.’ Besides, ‘extreme joy begets sorrow’ in an instant. And things will not turn out the way you expected them to, nor will the people be as you expect. In the end, it is nothing but a dream. It is best not to go.”
Then again, one may live a relatively good life. One’s physique and their surroundings are only some aspects that determine a person’s sense of happiness, but they're not the most important. The determinant core aspect is still the mind, the mood, and the person’s perspective. Even though good karma is invisible, it presents itself in the forms of happiness and sorrow.
The fortunes and karmic rewards cultivated in past lives are definite and vary from person to person. We should not compare our fortunes with each other as this will hurt our feelings; it is better to compare our own. Therefore, let us focus on cultivating merits and virtues in our youth to improve our lives; when we grow old, we will feel peace and happiness. Otherwise, excessive profligacy and squandering our fortune when we are young will make our lives increasingly miserable in old age. In severe cases, even in our prime, we can fall into the abyss of misery in life, even die prematurely.
Where do our meritorious rewards come from? They come from altruism. The greater, purer, and more enduring the altruism is, the more extensive and the greater the rewards. When altruism is pure to a certain extent, the rewards become virtues, and virtues bring joy to one’s heart. On another level, more lasting and profound than those virtues themselves, it is a sense of liberation and freedom.
To a certain extent, merit and virtue can withstand the crushing force of impermanence. As Confucius said, “One forgets to eat when working diligently and forgets to worry when enjoying the pleasure of success. He is thus unmindful of the approaching of old age.” This is probably the Confucian way of using merits and virtues to counteract the torrent of karma, a vivid expression of feeling at ease physically and mentally.
But, Buddha reciters are different. As the Buddha tells Maitreya Bodhisattva, “If a person is able to hear this Buddha’s name, leaps with joy, and recites this Buddha’s name down to even once, you should know that this person is to receive great benefit and be endowed with unsurpassed merit and virtue.” Whether this reciter knows it or not, he has already possessed supreme merit and virtue (not earned by his own effort, but bestowed by the Buddha), enabling him to leave the six-realm samsara and become a Buddha. What is “supreme merit”? It is like a giant “crusher” that completely shatters impermanence and blocks the flood of karma, thus producing a special effect, regardless of whether the reciter feels better or not. The objective reality is that he is getting better and better, heading towards liberation, towards the Land of Ultimate Bliss.
When the fire of life is extinguished, it is the time for meritorious reward, merit, virtue, wisdom, and happiness to come.
(Translated and edited by the Pure Land School Translation Team)
- Recitation of Amitabha’s name, relying on his Fundamental Vow (the 18th)
- Rebirth of ordinary beings in the Pure Land’s Realm of Rewards
- Rebirth assured in the present lifetime
- Non-retrogression achieved in this lifetime
The 18th Vow of Amitabha Buddha
If, when I achieve Buddhahood, sentient beings of the ten directions who sincerely and joyfully entrust themselves to me, wish to be reborn in my land and recite my name, even ten times, should fail to be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excepted are those who commit the five gravest transgressions or slander the correct Dharma.
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