(9) THE WORLDLY PASSIONS

Every human consists of 108 worldly passions. Of these, desire, anger, and hatred are three major passions. When bitten by a bee or by a centipede, it takes five to seven days to heal. However, when one is poisoned by worldly passions, the wound never heals. Its victim carries this wound throughout his life. Instead of healing, the wound becomes gangrenous with hatred.

During the Meiji era, there was a noble Zen priest called Hara Tanzan. He was on a pilgrimage with another priest. One day, they found a young lady in trouble as they approached a small river. After a heavy rain, the river had overflowed its banks, and the lady couldn’t cross it. Tanzan felt sorry for her and said: “Let me help you.” He took her in his arms and carried her to the other side of the river. The young lady was embarrassed but safe on the other bank.

Everything was fine, except that Tanzan’s companion disapproved of his behavior. He kept silent, though he was angry.

At dusk, Tanzan told his friend: “Let’s find some place to spend the night.” The other priest frowned: “I don’t want to spend the night with a monk so depraved that he would hold a woman.” With a loud and cheerful laugh, Tanzan answered: “Why are you still holding that woman? I left her when I put her down on the bank.” The other priest was so embarrassed that he couldn’t reply. This story illustrates that the deeds of our minds are the most significant.

Buddha taught that we always have evil thoughts and they arise because of the 108 worldly passions.

There are five basic types of desire: the desire for food, for possessions, for sensual pleasures, for fame, and for sleeping. When we don’t have things, we want them; when we do have them, we want more and more. Greed, like an ocean, seems to be bottomless.

When hunger cannot be satiated, and when it cannot be controlled, humans become savages and do unthinkable things.

The following is a true story told by survivors of the Japanese war against the Philippines. “Hey, be careful no to be devoured.” This became a popular phrase among the Japanese soldiers toward the end of the war. Being dragged to the edge of starvation, they had turned into savages. First, they started eating the flesh of those who died in battle. Later, when there were no more dead soldiers, they slaughtered their peers in order to survive.

Before pointing our fingers at them and criticizing their acts, we need to reflect upon our own deeds. How would we behave in a similar situation? Is there anyone among us that would have chosen to die instead of to survive? Under the right conditions, one might be capable of anything.

Sakyamuni Buddha taught that if we fix our eyes on ourselves, we will discover that we always have licentious thoughts, and sensual desires. Our worldly passions never cease. Like waves, they keep coming, over and over again. We never find real peace of mind. Seeking gratification, we commit countless evil acts.

The history of humanity is a record of disputes. We want to be superior to others. Our parents and teachers have taught us to win, to defeat others. We have been admonished not to be losers. Thus, when we defeat our adversaries, we are praised; when we lose, we are criticized. Hence, our combative instincts are intense as we struggle to survive. Instead of working honestly, we try to drag others down into failure.

When we look deep into our minds, we find a demon that is looking for fame and prestige. We strive for them, even if this means toppling others from their positions, or killing them.

Many years ago, in India, an astrologer became impatient for recognition. One day, he spread rumors that his son would die in seven days. Nobody believed it. On the 7th day, he strangled his son, but made it appear as if it were an accident. People were astonished. They gathered around him and lauded him as a great fortune-teller.

The following tale also depicts our greed.

Long ago, three robbers stole a great amount of money and ran away to the top of a mountain. While discussing how to divide the money, one of the robbers got greedy. He wanted all the money for himself. Thus, he told his companions: “Hey, why don’t we get something to eat before we divide the money? Wait for me while I go to the village and buy some cakes.” Hungry as they were, the other two agreed. The first robber ate his fill of cakes. Then, he injected poison in the rest of the cakes and took them to his friends. His plan was to murder his friends and keep all of the money.

On the mountain, the two other robbers were hungry as well as impatient. Their companion was very late. While they were waiting, they hatched a plan. One of them began to talk: “Isn’t there a way to get rid of him and split the money between the two of us?”

Not suspecting his friends, the first robber came back to the mountain and told his companions: “Help yourself. I was so hungry that I ate my part.” Saying this, he stood up by the cliff to urinate. The two were waiting for an opportunity to kill him. They pushed him off the cliff. Now that they had all the money, they decided to eat the cakes before splitting it. They ate the poisoned cakes and died. The money was left on the top of the mountain.

This tale realistically depicts the end for humans who have become slaves to their own greed.

A Japanese writer, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, wrote a novel called The Spider’s Thread, about greed. The story is as follows:

One day, Sakyamuni Buddha was walking around a lotus pond in the Pure Land. Suddenly, he looked into the pond, and saw the bloody waters of hell. Many criminals were suffering, some floating on the surface and others sinking in the bloody waters of hell. Among them, there was a man that was suffering much more than the others. He was a terrible robber named Kandatta. As his suffering was so great, Sakyamuni Buddha felt pity and compassion for him. He checked Kandatta’s history trying to find something that could lead Kandatta to his salvation. However, his life was filled with crimes. Sakyamuni Buddha found only one good act that Kandatta had practiced.

One day, while walking in the mountains, Kandatta saw a spider crossing his path. Usually, he would have killed the spider. However, that day, Kandatta stepped over the spider and didn’t kill it.

Sakyamuni Buddha smiled and took a spider’s thread from a web on the lotus plant. Slowly, he hung the thread down toward Kandatta. With a silver shine, the thread came down close to Kandatta’s head. Kandatta looked at it and thought: “This spider’s thread is too thin to save me.” However, as a proverb says, “a drowning man will reach out to a straw,” Kandatta couldn’t help but to grab the thread. The thread from the Pure Land was very strong.

Kandatta thought: “I’ve got it!” He started climbing the thread. Having been a robber, Kandatta was a very skilled climber. He went very fast. After a while though, Kandatta got tired. He stopped and rested for a while, still hanging on to the thread.

When he looked down, he was astonished. Dozens, hundreds, of criminals were climbing the thread, following Kandatta. He became frightened and thought: “This thread can barely hold me. All those people hanging on to this thread will surely break it. If that happens, I’ll fall back into hell. I must do something.” He grabbed the thread between his toes and yelled: “Hey! Who told you you could climb this thread? This thread is mine! Get off it! Get off it!” All the criminals below fell with a shivering scream. They were swallowed by the bloody waters of hell. At the same time, the spider’s thread broke. He, too, sank in the bloody waters of hell.

Sakyamuni Buddha was watching at the whole thing. With a deep and compassionate sigh, he said: “Kandatta wanted to be saved, but he didn’t care about others. Because of his cruelty and selfishness he fell back to hell. He has no chance of being saved.”

Let’s think about ourselves. If we were in Kandatta’s place, what would our attitude be? Don’t we have demonic minds that think that it’s all right for us to be saved, but not others? What kind of thought arises when we take a jam-packed bus? Don’t we push others aside to get into the bus? Kandatta’s mind is like ours. We have lots of Kandattas within ourselves. Thus, we practice evil continuously.

When we are unable to satisfy our greed, our anger rises. Also, when things do not go as we like, and when we think that somebody else is responsible, we get angry. In Buddhism, anger is represented by a red demon because we turn red when we are angry. We burn everything that we have gained through education and knowledge. We lose sight of what’s around us, and act out of anger. In this way, we waste our entire lives.

A hippopotamus at the Ueno Zoo got pregnant. People in the zoo were looking forward to having a healthy baby hippopotamus. However, the mother hippopotamus had to be moved. For some reason, she became very upset. Unfortunately, the baby hippopotamus was born dead. After examining the corpse, a veterinarian determined that the baby had died because of its mother’s trauma.

We read in newspapers that people have heart attacks and die just when they are about to start a fight.

Anger against our superiors turns into grudges and hatred. Anger against our subordinates explodes. The flames of anger burn not only others but also ourselves. It impels some of us to kill parents, brothers, spouses, and children.

The worldly passion called “ignorance” refers to ignorance of the law of cause and effect. We are unaware of the seeds that we have sown, so when the harvest is bad, we don’t accept it. We are dissatisfied and hate the world. A heart filled with anger and hatred doesn’t know gratitude. While we point our fingers at others for our misfortunes, we have no room for gratitude in our hearts. In Buddhism, this is called “ignorance.” Hatred, envy and jealousy arise because we ignore the law of cause and effect.

When we hear about a tragedy that struck in a faraway place, our curiosity is aroused. We put ourselves in the victim’s position and feel sorry for him. Still, there is something within us, that enjoys listening to the details of others’ misfortune. When we know about our peers’ successes, we smile and congratulate them. However, at the same time, jealousy hides within our hearts.

When we see someone caught in a sudden rain, we are amused. When somebody is upset because a dog barked at him, we secretly smile. We are entertained when we see a beautiful lady slip and fall in the mud. For the victim, it’s a terrible disaster. Yet, we enjoy others’ misfortune. Seeing people’s misfortune, we smile coldly. We are jealous of our friends’ successes and hate those who are more privileged than we are. We betray others and yet, we always want to be praised. This is the sad nature of our worldly passions.

Jealousy poisons our hearts not only against strangers. It hurts friends, relatives, and parents, too. Miyamoto Musashi was a master fencer of Japan. His father, Munisai, was jealous of his son’s fencing skills and was always trying to kill him.

In the history of Buddhism, the tragedy of Osha Castle shows how horrible the consequences of one man’s jealousy can be. Daiba, a cousin of Sakyamuni Buddha, devoted 20 years of his life to reading the dharma. He was one of the principal disciples of the group led by Buddha and was known for his intellect. In a jealous frenzy, Daiba planned Buddha’s murder, and even tried to carry it out three different times. He ultimately led Ajase to murder his father, King Bimbashara, and confine his mother, Queen Idaike, in a dungeon. Later, Daiba was killed poisoned, and Ajase suffered, repented for his crimes and embraced Buddhism. This tragedy was nothing but the consequence of Daiba’s ignorance of the law of cause and effect.

A Chinese Buddhist patriarch, Shan-tao, taught: “In a single day, my mind changes and has countless thoughts. All of them are the deeds that lead me to the world of suffering.” The truth of human beings is the complete absence of truth.

Happiness and misfortune are the results of one’s deeds. Hatred, envy, and jealousy arise because we are unable to accept the veracity of the law of cause and effect.

Hatred is due to ignorance of the law of cause and effect. Once, everyone understands and fully accepts that happiness and suffering are the results of one’s own deeds, then hate crimes and wars will disappear, and peace will be established.

<<previous chapter | next chapter>>