The animated movie WHY LIVE: Master Rennyo and the Fire at Yoshizaki was opened to the public in cinemas across Japan on the 21st of May 2016. Many people went to see it and one after another, many cinemas extended its running period or began to show it anew. Thanks to the teachings of Master Shinran, the life of Ryoken, who is the main character, changed dramatically. This moved many people. Let us learn the teachings of Master Shinran through this movie.
Ryoken, who is the main character, lost the strength to
go on living after losing his wife and child. Then he
encountered true Buddhism and he was changed drastically.
Ryoken Was a Ruffian. Whom Did He Represent?
In the movie WHY LIVE: Master Rennyo and the Fire at Yoshizaki, Ryoken, who is the main character, lost his hope for living and sunk into agony and desperation. However, he then attained true happiness through Master Rennyo’s lectures. Some people who watched this movie asked questions like the following:
“Why did Ryoken change so dramatically through listening to Master Rennyo’s lectures?”
“Will everyone be able to change as much as Ryoken if they listen to the teachings of Master Shinran?”
Indeed, Ryoken changed so much that anyone would be surprised. In the movie, Master Rennyo taught, “When by Amida's great compassion we are taken aboard the Vow-ship, in the same instant our life of suffering is completely transformed to a life of happiness.” Let us look back on the life of main character Ryoken through the story shown in the movie.
Before Ryoken started to listen to Buddhism, he was an unruly boor—so much so that one viewer said on a postcard, “Ryoken was so rowdy that I wanted to beat him.” In the scene where Ryoken had a showdown with the heir to a powerful clan, Ryoken defeated his opponent by hitting his leg to break his balance. Even after winning, Ryoken continued to beat his opponent, who had already fallen to the ground. He spat out, “A victory by any means is still a victory!” Perhaps he was irritated at his life, which he was spending doing nothing but working in fields and caring for horses. That frustration and anger showed through on his constantly glowering face.
When he came home, he aggressively flung the door open and angrily shouted at his wife, Chiyo, because she had been singing the Song of Praise for Amida's Grace, which she had learned at the temple. Having hated everything about priests since he was a child, he even took out his spite on Chiyo’s singing. Buddhism teaches of ten bad deeds, called the “ten evils”, and anger is one of these. The other nine include desire, which makes us think up all sorts of terrible things in order to fulfil our self-centered whims; envy, which makes us begrudge a person their talents and good looks and rejoice in their misfortune; and lying, killing, stealing, etc. However, Ryoken committed a more terrible sin than these ten evils.
Five Deadly Evils――Slandering Parents
That was his words and behavior toward his ailing mother. As soon as he arrived home, Ryoken glared at his elderly mother, who was even unable to move by herself, and said these harrowing words to her: “Sure is depressing with an invalid in the house.” His wife gasped, “How can you say that to your mother?” but her words only served to irritate him, and he kicked the basket at his feet. He also said, “She'd be better off dead anyway, out of her misery.” What he must have really been thinking, though, was that he would be free from the burden of nursing and could take it easy if his mother died.
In Buddhism, it is taught that this means committing the sin of the five deadly evils. It is taught that the five deadly evils are karma that make us fall into Avici Hell, in which one experiences the harshest suffering of all hells. The first two of these are killing one’s father and killing one’s mother—the deadly sin of parricide. In Lamp for the Latter Age, Master Shinran said the following:
“Those who slander their parents are guilty of the five deadly evils.”
He taught that not only physically killing one’s parents, but also slandering one’s parents means committing a sin amongst the five deadly evils.
An infant cannot live even a day without its parents. A mother gives milk to her baby and changes its diapers. She earnestly takes care of her baby, who cries for its mother night and day, even though it exhausts her.
When we fell ill, our parents paid for our treatment without regard to cost and sat up with us. In this way, they shorten their lives for us. Ryoken’s father died in his childhood and his mother raised him by herself. Even so, Ryoken spat at his mother, “Die sooner!” and treated her as a nuisance. Indeed, he is the most terrible sinner of the five deadly evils.
However, Ryoken was also committing even more dreadful sins.
The Evil of Slandering Buddhism is More Terrible than the Five Deadly Evils
Ryoken came to dislike priests in his childhood after being angered by the money-grabbing ways of the priests that he encountered. Consequently, out of ignorance and without having once listened to Master Rennyo’s lectures, he ended up slandering Buddhism by telling his wife to “stay away from the temple” and preventing her from going there to listen. That constitutes the evil of slandering Buddhism, which is more dreadful than the five deadly evils. Master Shinran taught about this as follows:
Those who consider lightly a true master of Buddhism and slander their master are guilty of the sin of slandering Buddhism. ――Lamp for the Latter Age
A “true master of Buddhism” and “their master” refers to a teacher who shares true Buddhism. Master Shinran says that considering lightly a true master of Buddhism constitutes the evil of slandering Buddhism. Buddhist teachings make all people attain everlasting absolute happiness――to be happy in living and happy in dying――here and now. Considering lightly and slandering a true master of Buddhism, who conveys that true Buddhism, is a deadly, grave sin.
Evils Taught in Buddhism
・Five deadly evils
・Evil of slandering Buddhism
There is a ‘Ryoken’ in All of Us
However, is it only Ryoken who commits such a terrible evil? Even if we don’t physically or verbally commit this evil, what about our inner thoughts? Buddhism places the greatest importance on the mind.
It is taught, “The mere contemplation of murder is no less evil than its commission.” Almost no-one questions what we think, believing it to be a non-issue. However, Buddhism teaches that bad things that we think in our minds are more dreadful than sins of the body or sins of the mouth.
That is because the mind is what makes the mouth and the body do evil things.
What we don’t think will never manifest as deeds of the body or the mouth.
What if our elderly parents fell ill and became bedridden? In Japan in recent years, it is common to hear of cases in which someone murders a bedridden family member. Here is a typical story that may help us imagine what it would be like to be in a carer’s shoes:
An old woman was injured in a fall while she was walking around with her stick, so her son and his wife had to take time off from work to care for their old mother. Due to their time off from work, their income decreased and they began to struggle financially, which made them feel disgruntled.
Soon her injury healed, but she started to spend all her time sleeping in her bed for fear of getting hurt while walking. Since she was so lonely, she would keep the TV and radio on all day, but they didn’t help her at all.
The old woman’s children grew frustrated at her reluctance to do anything, including going through rehabilitation, and the atmosphere of their house became uncomfortable.
Before long their elderly mother became afflicted with dementia and started looking in the fridge for food in the middle of the night. A doctor told her children not to allow her to eat freely because it might lead to diabetes. As the children had to keep watch over their mother even through the night, they became really worn out both mentally and physically. “I’m not living to take care of you!” They slashed their mother with the sword of their tongue in spite of themselves, thereby committing the five deadly evils. Even if they did not say it out loud, in their minds, they killed their mother by thinking, “She is in our way. I wish she would die sooner.” Horrified by the demons within their minds, which they wouldn’t have noticed before they began to take care of their mother, they may gasp, “I never used to be this way!”
When You Listen to the Teachings of Buddhism, You Will Know the True Meaning of Life for the First Time
Ryoken, who was like a mass of the ten evils, the five deadly evils, and the sin of slandering Buddhism, transformed so drastically after he began diligently attending Master Rennyo’s lectures that it was as if he became another person. If all we do in our lives is follow an unvarying routine and get old without knowing the meaning of life, we won’t be able to find true joy in our hearts. We may eat delicious foods, go travelling, and even completely let loose, but none of these work. That is because we don’t know the point of life itself. One can hardly bear to see that we are moving closer to death with each second, committing sins all the while. In order to avert their eyes from their fear of death, people mask it with all kinds of pursuits and immerse themselves in those. Even work, education, and sports are masks against their fear. However, almost all people fail to realize that their activities are all just diversions, and that death will destroy all such things.
Ryoken was made to think about “why we live” for the first time thanks to Master Rennyo’s lecture. At first, he seemed not to accept the teachings. However, he became aware that what he believed in would betray him and that he would be torn from all he held dear. His intuition told him that that is the source of his irritation and fear. Thus, he was strongly drawn to the true sermons. Then he finally knew the answer to the question of “Why do we live?” He came to know of the rock-solid existence of the Vow-ship of great compassion and that the true purpose of living is to be taken aboard this great ship. He came to know that there was great meaning and value to his life. He came to know that he would be sure to attain happiness if he moved forward on that path. His profound delight made his gaze so gentle that even passers-by were surprised. His joy beamed from his entire being.
The Vow of Amida Buddha Will Save All People
The Vow-ship of great compassion refers to the Vow of Amida Buddha.
The Vow of Amida Buddha is a promise made by a buddha called Amida, who is the master of all buddhas in the universe. Amida Buddha made a promise to all people: “I will save all people into absolute happiness without fail.” There are countless buddhas in the universe, but only Amida Buddha can make such a great promise, which saves all people without discrimination into absolute happiness. Shakyamuni Buddha taught that that is why all buddhas praise Amida Buddha as their master and leader.
Life’s Sea of Ceaseless Suffering
Amida Buddha made a great ship in order to take all people, who are sinking in the sea of suffering, aboard his ship and bear them to the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss. We are taken aboard this ship now and enter into absolute, unchanging happiness. Master Shinran calls this “heizei gojo” ―― completion of life's purpose now, in life. Honko-bo (Ryoken) became a disciple of Master Rennyo and became a person of heizei gojo ―― completion of life's purpose now, in life. And thus, he said the following with tears of gratitude toward his mother: “Only when I was taken aboard the Vow-ship did I see how much I owed her.” "It's because she gave birth to me and raised me that the Vow-ship took me aboard and I could know of Amida's vast grace." His gratitude was not only toward his mother.
The grace of Amida's great compassion
I must repay, though I wear myself to bits.
The grace of the teachers who led me
I must repay, though I work myself to the bone.
――Song of Praise for Amida's Grace
As in the song, he gave his life in order to protect Buddhist teachings in the end.
What Will Become of “the Worst, the Most Ungrateful Child There Ever Was” After Being Taken Aboard the
Vow-ship of Great Compassion?
Seeing Ryoken change so drastically, many people may think, “Perhaps Ryoken’s worldly passions such as desire, anger, envy, and jealousy decreased or weakened.” “He was ungrateful before, but he became grateful. He is no more an ungrateful child.” “He slandered Buddhism before, but he came to praise Buddhism, so he is no longer one who slanders Buddhism.” However, that’s not the case. When a Shinran Follower asked him, “But Honko-bo (Ryoken), surely you were never an ungrateful child?” he replied, “I am, I am―the worst, the most ungrateful child there ever was. And yet, extremely evil as I am, Amida Buddha has taken me aboard the Vow-ship unconditionally!"
He didn’t say “I WAS, I WAS”. He didn’t talk in the past tense. Instead, he confessed that now, too, he was the most evil sinner of the five deadly evils: “I am, I am―the worst, the most ungrateful child there ever was.” At the same time, he rejoiced and said, “And yet, extremely evil as I am, Amida Buddha has taken me aboard the Vow-ship unconditionally!” Those who are “extremely evil” refers to human beings, who are constantly committing the five deadly evils, the evil of slandering Buddhism, and the ten evils. Master Shinran proclaimed this true nature of human beings in the following quote:
All humans are overflowing with passions, full of desire, our minds cauldrons of anger and envy; for as long as we live, this condition never stops, never vanishes, never comes to an end for even a moment.
―Concerning Single Invocation and Many Invocations
In other words, we human beings are passion incarnate, without a particle free from desire, and we will never be rid of the blind passions in this life.
Zenkoji Temple in Nagano Prefecture in Japan has a history of 1,400 years. In 2016, the head priest of the temple was accused of sexual harassment and discriminatory remarks. People demanded that priest resign. The head priest denied that accusation as groundless abuse, which led the antagonism between the head priest and neighboring temples and believers to intensify. Even one who is called “noble” or a “living Buddha” cannot help being at the mercy of worldly passions such as desire, anger, hatred, and envy.
Under the right conditions, I, Shinran, would do anything.
――Lamenting the Deviations
Here, Master Shinran says that we humans would do anything if the conditions were only present. It is impossible for ethics, morals, or the practice of glossing things over to save us. We are filled with worldly passions and are continuously committing evils. Amida Buddha, knowing this, tells us he has made the Vow-ship of great compassion to take us on board as we are and deliver us without fail to his Pure Land. That is why even after having been taken aboard the Vow-ship of great compassion, those who are extremely evil beings who commit the five deadly evils and the evil of slandering Buddhism will never change at all. Here is Master Shinran’s testimony:
Once we hear the world-transcending Vow of compassion
no longer are we foolish beings [trapped in the cycle] of birth-and-death.
Though the defiled body leaking blind passions is unchanged,
the mind is at play in the Pure Land.
To paraphrase: After having been taken aboard the Vow-ship of great compassion, we are no longer trapped in the cycle of transmigration. We are still made of blind passions, such as desire, anger, envy, and jealousy, yet we have happiness now; we are satisfied today. We are enabled to live feeling as if we were frolicking in the Pure Land.
“Masses of Blind Passions” Will Never Change Until Death
It is taught that those who are masses of blind passions―extremely evil and engulfed in desire, anger, hatred, and envy―will be saved as they are. What does this mean? Think of a 100-ton rock, which will sink into the water without fail. What should we do in order to make the huge rock float on the water? Do you think that is impossible? Well actually, there is a way to make it happen. If we put it aboard a ship that is capable of carrying a huge 100-ton rock, we can make the rock float on the water without changing its weight. The great ship made by Amida Buddha has limitless Vow-power, which saves precisely those who are deeply stained with evil. And so we will be taken aboard the great ship heading towards the Pure Land of Utmost Bliss without any change to our worldly passions; we will remain masses of the ten evils, the five deadly evils, and the evil of slandering Buddhism.
Amida Buddha doesn’t say, “Come, after having reduced your desire,” or, “Come, after having eliminated your anger,” or, “Come, after having done something with your envy and jealousy.” Amida’s Vow is not a promise to save us only if we turn from bad people into good people. Amida’s salvation is completely unconditional. Amida Buddha says, “Entrust yourself to me as you are. I will save you without fail.” We masses of blind passions are taken aboard the Vow-ship of great compassion in a split second of ichinen as we are. In that instant, we gain certainty that we will go to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land of Utmost Bliss whenever we should die. Because of this, Master Rennyo said in The Letters, “Oh, how easy it is to attain faith! And oh, how easy it is to go to the Pure Land!” He was struck with admiration at Amida’s great ship, which saves the vilest sinner unconditionally.
In the last scene of the movie, the Vow-ship of great compassion begins to move and rushes toward us, plowing raging waves, as if it were saying, “I came here to save you, and you alone.” Even though the waves of worldly passions are raging, that will do nothing to stop Amida’s great ship.
The movie Why Live consistently depicts the rock-solid existence of the steadfast Vow-ship of great compassion. The real “ending” of this movie is when you are taken aboard Amida’s Vow-ship. In Lamenting the Deviations, Master Shinran said the following with tears of gratitude: “Pondering the Vow of Amida, which rose from five kalpas of contemplation, I realize it was entirely for me, Shinran alone.”
Let us listen to Buddhism intently until we come to know, “The Vow-ship of great compassion was entirely for me, and me alone!” and dance with joy just as Master Shinran did.
*Lamp for the Latter Age: a collection of Master Shinran's letters and sayings
*Concerning Single Invocation and Many Invocations: A book by Master Shinran
* Lamenting the Deviations: one of the best known of the Japanese classics, in which the words of Master Shinran are recorded
* The world-transcending Vow of compassion: Amida Buddha’s Vow
*ichinen: The utmost speed of the onset of faith.
*The Letters: A collection of letters written by Master Rennyo, consisting of eighty letters in five fascicles.