Living in the World of the Five Defilements

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Almost every day, we hear the sad news that many lives have been lost throughout the world. It has already been over two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. The beautiful cities of Ukraine were destroyed by many types of Russian missiles and many civilians have been killed.

In addition, starting with the Hamas cross-border attack that occurred in October of last year, Israel’s military has attacked Gaza in retaliation and struck a devastating blow to Palestine. It is said that the number of the victims including women and children reached over 30,000. It is painful and sad to witness innocent blood being shed. Currently, protests against Israel’s war and the genocide in Gaza are taking place on college campuses across the United States.

Although it is not exaggeration to say that civil war and wars and disputes between countries are the history of human kind itself, how much blood must we spill in the name of peace and justice before all shameful battles come to an end? With a sigh of grief, Sakyamuni Buddha calls this world without peace of mind “the polluted world.”

At the same time, we should also become aware that we are driving Mother Earth into ruin. Although the destruction of the environment is a global problem, pollution of the Earth has continued to expand day after day. Our cities, rivers, ocean and even the sky have all been polluted. We are aware of who is responsible and severely criticized the source of this pollution. Of course, those responsible for destroying the environment must accept the consequences for doing so.

However, have we looked at ourselves with the same critical eye we use on others? Although we are very critical of others, we are much too lenient on ourselves. This is our grave weakness and foolishness. When we truly see ourselves with the same severity as we see others, we will clearly be able to see the polluted world that Sakyamuni Buddha described.

Sakyamuni Buddha called our polluted world, “the evil world with the five defilements” and detailed these five parts as follows:

  1. Defiled Age,
  2. Defiled View,
  3. Defiled Passion,
  4. Defiled Beings, and
  5. Defiled Life.

First, “defiled age” refers to the defilements of social environment caused by famine, epidemic, pandemic, natural disasters, war, and so on. In the history of humankind, civilization has continued to develop without cease. However, social evils and issues have also grown in parallel with the development of civilization in both quality and quantity. It is a sad reality that, at the forefront of science and technology in any age, they have been weapons of war that kill people and destroy the environment. It is the very state of defiled age.

Second, “defiled views” refers to the corruption of ideas and thoughts by the spread of twisted thinking and stereotypes. We always see and consider things with wrong view because we cannot see nor think about anything without the glasses of self-centered passions. We always make a value judgment that things that are convenient for us are good, and things that are inconvenient for us are bad. In other words, all we care about is ourselves. Therefore, such a way of thinking defiles society.

Third, “defiled passions” refers to the corruption of our actions caused by blind passions. Sakyamuni Buddha says things like,

Your whole body is burning. You are wrapped in flames of greed, anger, and ignorance. You must extinguish these flames.

As Buddha saw, our minds are always controlled by greed, anger and ignorance, and these terrible flames of selfishness drive us to injure and abuse each other. So, we can certainly say that we are engulfed in the flames of blind passions.

Fourth, “defilement of beings” refers to the defilements of human nature. It shows the corruption of humanity that loses sight of the unchanging truth that, as a net is made up of a series of knots, so everything in this world exists only by connecting and supporting each other. By ignoring this undeniable truth, humans easily fall into a selfish and arrogant mind, and lose the warmth and emotion of human nature.

Fifth, “defiled life” refers to the corruption of the dignity of life that makes light of the value of life. Because of this, we lose sight of the meaning of life, no longer feel the value of being alive, and our daily lives become empty and unfulfilling. Originally, “defiled life” was interpreted as a shortening of human lifespans. However, we can also take it as a loss of spiritual richness rather than a shortening of the number of years of life.

Once again, when we observe how we live each day, we are unable to deny the “World of the Five Defilements” described by Sakyamuni Buddha at all. We cannot help but respect and follow the Buddha who saw through our human nature over 2,500 years ago.

Our founder Shinran says in his writing Shoshin-Ge as follows:

People, an ocean of beings in an evil age of five defilements, should entrust yourselves to the Tathagata’s words of truth.

Under the guidance of Shinran, we should depend on the great compassion of Amida Buddha so that we can make a beauti- ful lotus flower bloom in the mud of the five defilements.

We shouldn’t neglect our daily lives by saying, “Anyhow, this is the world of five defilements.” As a positive action for our defiled selves and our defiled world, it is most important for us not to forget our innate modesty and to practice the spirit of service in consideration of others in order to live a life full of gratitude as a Nembutsu follower.

Being guided by the Nembutsu teaching, I sincerely hope that all of us will keep the spirit of loving kindness and consideration so that we can make our lotus bloom beautifully together in this World of Five Defilements.

In Gassho,
Rev. Yushi Mukojima