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Volume 4  No 3


Liberation from the Sea of Misery
By Venerable Shen-Kai

In the Four Noble Truths the Buddha speaks of the many sufferings in life. So intense can they be that life is referred to as the Sea of Misery. Their origins can be traced to the impurities of the six roots through which the human being comes into contact with his environment. These are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. This article describes how suffering can be ended, and how we can cross this Sea of Misery to arrive at the shore of brightness and enlightenment.

All sentient beings encounter confusion, disappointment, failure, anger, frustration and misfortune. As a result they become helpless and experience impermanence, misery and emptiness. In desperation, they cry in agony for help. In the intensity of their suffering, they use the analogy of 'Sea of Misery' to express their experiences and feelings. But, those who are enlightened do not feel this way. For them, they are already liberated from this sorrowful and horrible Sea of Misery. They have attained the joy of Nirvana. Because all the thoughts, conduct and actions of worldly beings are causes of suffering, they have to experience all the ensuing miseries as the effects. The miseries soon multiply and become interwoven. They accumulate and revolve in a vicious cycle of cause and effect. Consequently worldly beings are entrapped in the cycle of transmigrating within the six realms* of existence. The extent of suffering can be like a burning dungeon, or being marooned in an ocean where the safe shore is beyond sight. It can also be compared with a sentence of life imprisonment where there is no way of escape. This is why 'Sea of Misery' is used to describe the intensity of the suffering. Many enlightened sages are also in the Sea of Misery. However, unlike sentient beings, they are like the merciful life boats reaching out compassionately to help those in distress. They are the navigating lighthouses. They are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who had vowed to return, life after life, to rescue those trapped in the suffering sea.

Where does the Sea of Misery stem from? It is created because the six roots of human beings, namely, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, are not pure. We can draw an analogy of the six roots with the oceans of the earth: the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are just like the ocean; all the forms, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and all the worldly ways are like the water; and their perceptions, like the wind beating on the water to create waves.

Regardless of race and colour of the skin, all human beings' six senses, six external sense fields and six-sense consciousness produce impure thoughts, impure speech and impure actions. Ignorance arises, which, in turn generates greed, anger, foolishness, arrogance, suspicion, superstition, perverted views, unwholesome thoughts, killing, stealing, adultery, lying, slandering, betrayal, conspiracy and hurting each other. The forces of all these negative karma cause the catastrophes in the world such as war, earthquake, flood, famine, pestilence, epidemic and droughts. Natural disasters cause poor harvest, inadequate energy resources and unexpected calamities. These negative karma open the doors to the three evil realms: ghosts, hell and animals. Those who are involved in these types of evil will descend to the three evil realms and suffer the consequence of their evil doings in the boundless world of suffering. This is the Sea of Misery.

The intelligence of human beings is above all living beings. We know that heaven and hell originate from within our mind. The suffering world is also created by our mind. Humanity has the instinct to survive, seek peace, security and happiness. Those who already know of the Sea of Misery will avoid it. This is 'knowing and realizing in advance'. Those who have already entered the Sea of Misery and having realized what it is like, seek a way out. This is 'knowing and realizing retrospectively'. Still, there are many others who only know of suffering and do not know how to get out of it. They even mistake suffering to be an enjoyment. This is 'not knowing and not realizing', and is indeed the most pitiful of the lot.

To rescue sentient beings from the Sea of Misery, the Buddhas and the Bodhisattvas are constantly caring for them and calling to them to follow the bright navigating light ahead. In this Sea of Misery, there are also compassionate life-saving navigators such as the Bodhisattvas who forego their own pure, blissful state of Nirvana, and return to this suffering world to tell sentient beings about the Buddha-dharma. They encourage sentient beings to quickly take refuge in the Buddha-dharma, so that they can be led from the darkness of ignorance to the shore of brightness.

But, how can sentient beings be awakened when they cannot even differentiate between what is right and wrong, and what is true or false? The teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha recorded in the sutras contain more than 84,000 *Dharma-doors which are all ways and means of ending suffering, developing wisdom and attaining liberation. They are the best medicines for curing sickness in the human mind. They are also the precious life boats that ferry sentient beings away from suffering to bliss and happiness. This is possible only if we realize the truth and practise the Buddha's teachings. We can choose a method that is most suitable for us, be it meditation, chanting the mantras or reciting the names of the Buddha, observing the precepts, performing virtuous deeds or being charitable. At every moment we need to maintain purity in our six senses, maintain purity in our actions, speech and thoughts, avoid all evils, and perform all that are good. We should rescue ourselves first and thereafter rescue others, promote the Bodhisattva spirit of benefiting self and others, and ferrying self and others to the shore of enlightenment.

It is hope that humanity will learn from the Bodhisattvas, emulate the Bodhisattvas and practise the Bodhisattva Path. In so doing, not only can we ferry ourselves across the Sea of Misery, we can also create a pure world in this Saha* world. We can create a wonderland for humanity and sooner realize a peaceful, stable, happy and blissful Buddha Land on earth.

*Dharma-door : The doctrines, or wisdom of Buddha regarded as the door to enlightenment.
*Saha world : Our world, wherein one has to endure suffering in order to live.
* Six realms : The realms of celestial being, human being, asura, ghost,
animal and hell


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre