The Dilemma Of Living As Spiritual ‘Hermits’

As summarised, on living as hermits (隐士) on Mount Zhōngnán (终南山) for more focused spiritual cultivation, Dharma Master Zōngjìng commented to the effect of the following. ‘In the past, we had to find ways to get everything by ourselves. We used to go down the mountain to buy food, and carry them up. But now, we don’t have to worry about food. Also, we sometimes have food that cannot be finished.’ (This refers to the initial challenges of getting all necessities, for clothing, food and shelter, in contrast to now being able to have food easily, perhaps as offered by regular donors, and with it being easier to farm.)

‘Although conditions are better now, our motivation for the (spiritual) path (道心) seems to have regressed. Because sometimes, when conditions are too good, people will have greed for enjoying blessings (享福). The Buddha said that hunger and cold are able to give rise to motivation for the path. Sometimes, people must have some appropriate suffering (苦).’ (This refers to life’s supportive conditions [助缘] when ample easily leading to spiritual complacence and forgetfulness that this life is impermanent [无常], that we are still trapped in the cycle [轮回] of birth, ageing, sickness and death [生老病死]. Suffering is thus a reminder that we should strive on towards liberation [解脱] diligently, to transcend suffering once and for all.)

‘Therefore, suffering is also a kind of supportive condition for the path. But when there is too much suffering, it can deter people, although people with strong determination will not be deterred, with suffering becoming a condition for increasing determination. Now, I feel that on the mountain, it is all about enjoying blessings, without so-called suffering.’ (This refers to the dilemma of aspiring to reduce suffering that applies everywhere in this defiled land [秽土], in busy cities and even secluded mountains. When suffering is too little, it is hard to be motivated to start spiritual practice. When suffering is too much, it is hard to not be distracted by it, to focus on spiritual practice. It is thus difficult to have just the right amount of suffering in this world, as we tend to experience too little or too much of it.)

‘In the past, the conditions were so terrible for those great virtuous ones (大德). Look at Old Venerable Xūyún (虚云老和尚), who was living at Lion Hut. At that time, what did he eat? For a year’s 365 days, just 365 potatoes planted. When available, he ate. When not, he would go hungry. Now, we are at least without worries about clothing and food, and our dwelling places are quite good. Now, our living is guaranteed, but our motivation for the path is not like that of our predecessors.(This refers to past conditions offering more suffering, yet with Great Masters, being great, not being distracted at all; only further motivated by it. However, practitioners these days are easily complacent when suffering lessens. Thus is there the saying that ‘for those rich and honoured, learning [and practising] the path is difficult’ [富贵学道难].)

How do we ensure we can know suffering well, but not be overwhelmed, so as to be optimally motivated in spiritual practice for the sake of one and all? It is by seeking birth in Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) Pure Land (净土) of Ultimate Bliss (极乐世界), through which we can clearly see all the suffering in the rest of the universe, while having pure supportive conditions for progressing towards the ultimate bliss of Buddhahood without retrogression. Perceiving others’ suffering aids the rise of the perfect Bodhi Mind (菩提心), the aspiration to guide everyone to Buddhahood. The pure supportive conditions ensure that greed or attachment will not arise. This is the swiftest way to ‘depart from suffering and attain bliss’ (离苦得乐), for one and all!

Related Article:

21 Reasons Why This World Is Not A Pure Land

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