Books Excerpts

What are the Five Corruptions? (五浊)

From, as explained by Master Ou-I

Amitabha Sutra: Just as I [Sakyamuni Buddha] am now extolling the inconceivable merits of all the Buddhas, all those Buddhas are likewise extolling my inconceivable merits, with these words: ‘Sakyamuni Buddha is able to carry out a most difficult and rare task. In the world “Endurance” [this world], in an evil world of the Five Corruptions – the corruption of the age, the corruption of views, the corruption of afflictions, the corruption of sentient beings, and the corruption of life – he is able to achieve complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and to expound the Truth which all beings in all worlds find hard to believe.’

Commentary: The corruption of the age means that this is a time when all sorts of corrupt phenomena are gathered together. If not for the Pure Land practice which enables us to transcend the mundane world ‘horizontally’, even though we take our karmic burden along with us, deliverance would surely be impossible.

The corruption of views means that misguided views proliferate: the view that our bodies are entities we possess, the view that we are annihilated after death or else live on forever, the view that there is no cause and effect, the view that what we cling to with our arbitrary opinions is best, and the view that we will find salvation by our own subjectively chosen methods. Because we are deluded by such views, and utterly submerged in them, this is called the corruption of views. Amidst the corruption of views, if we do not make use of the expedient means of the Pure Land teaching to discover our Mind we surely cannot be saved.

The corruption of afflictions means that compulsions and confusions caused by craving, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt are increasing more and more, causing trouble and chaos. Amidst the corruption of afflictions, without the Pure Land practice that affirms that our ordinary minds are one with the Buddha-mind, we surely cannot be saved.

Under the influence of the corruption of views and the corruption of afflictions, the five skandhas mix together in a coarse and debased way, giving rise to what are provisionally called sentient beings: hence the term the corruption of sentient beings. Sentient beings are debased both at the level of form and at the level of mind so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of sentient beings, without the practice of shunning the mundane world and joyfully seeking the Pure Land, salvation is impossible.

The corruption of life means that our causal basis and hence the results we realize are both degenerate, and our life spans are shortened, and do not reach a hundred years, so they are called corrupt. Given the corruption of life, we cannot be saved without the Pure Land practice.

Moreover, faith and vows and the adornment of the name of Amitabha transform the corruption of the age into an assembly of purity, transform the corruption of views into infinite light, transform the corruption of afflictions into the eternal still light, transform the corruption of sentient beings into beings born by transformation from lotuses in the Pure Land, and transform the corruption of life into infinite life.

Thus each recitation of the Buddha-name is a method of achieving Supreme, Unexcelled Enlightenment practiced by our fundamental teacher, Sakyamuni Buddha, in the midst of this evil world of the Five Corruptions. In this sutra Sakyamuni Buddha is taking the whole essence of this enlightenment and bestowing it on sentient beings of this evil and corrupt world. This is the realm which all the Buddhas experience, and which only the Buddhas can experience fully. It is not something which those in the planes of the hell-beings, the hungry ghosts, the animals, the asuras, the human beings, the devas, the shravakas, the pratyekas, or even the Bodhisattvas can fully comprehend by their own power.

When the other Buddhas extol Sakyamuni for teaching the Pure Land method to ‘sentient beings’, this means the people in our evil world of the Five Corruptions. When the sutra mentions ‘all worlds’, it means all the worlds sentient beings inhabit.

The previous admonition to believe in the Pure Land teaching was the command of all the Buddhas. Below is the command of our teacher Sakyarnuni Buddha. Here Sakyamuni addresses all the sentient beings in all worlds, as the Buddhas before addressed themselves to ‘all you sentient beings’. We must realize that the Bodhisattvas like Manjushri and the Arhats like Mahakashyapa are also included among those to whom this command is given.

Amitabha Sutra: Know then that in the midst of this evil world of the Five Corruptions, I am able to carry out this difficult task, attain complete, unexcelled enlightenment, and expound the Truth which is so hard to believe for beings in all worlds. This is indeed most difficult!

Commentary: Faith, vows, and the practice of reciting the Buddha-name can be called a single practice. This is not a matter of contrived action. Only through faith can we enter into this complete transformation of the world of the Five Corruptions into the Pure Land. This is not a realm that mere thinking can get us to.

If it were not for our fundamental teacher Sakyamuni Buddha entering into our evil world, showing the attainment of enlightenment, and using his great wisdom and great compassion to reveal this, practice this, and teach this, how would sentient beings have received this message?

We live amidst the corruption of the age, and we are certainly imprisoned by our time, and harried by suffering. We live amidst the corruption of views, and we are certainly enmeshed in misguided knowledge, and deluded by false teachers. We live amidst the corruption of afflictions, and we are certainly ensnared by craving and desire, and burdened by bad karma. We live amidst the corruption of sentient beings, and we certainly rest complacently in stinking filth, without being aware of it, and are willing to stay degraded and weak, without exerting ourselves to rise any higher. We live amidst the corruption of life, and we are certainly swallowed up by impermanence, with our lives flashing by to quickly for us to cope.

If we do not deeply understand the severe difficulties we are facing, if we think that there is some other method besides Pure Land practice that can extricate us from the Five Corruptions, we are lost in a welter of empty arguments inside a burning house.

Only if we deeply realize the seriousness of the difficulties we are facing, will we be willing to exterminate our dishonest attitudes, and value Pure Land practice for the treasure it is. This is why our teacher Sakyamuni Buddha went to such lengths to explain to us what a dire situation we are in, and make us realize the implications.

Extra Remarks (by Shi’an):
Not only are we in an evil world with Five Corruptions, we are in the Dharma-Ending Age. This makes Pure Land practice doubly relevant, important and urgent.

Share This:

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!