Ignorance Is the Root of Birth and Death


Ignorance causes ordinary people to function at the level of their emotions and desires,
so that, in life after life, they spin around in the cycle of birth and death.


Ignorance refers to greed, anger, delusion, pride, and doubt. These five kinds of evil karma make people muddled and crazy.


  • Greed: One is greedy for pleasant states and is determined to obtain them. One will go to any lengths to achieve one’s goal.


  • Anger: One feels angry and upset in adverse situations. One loses one’s temper and is driven to berate people, beat them up, or even kill them.  Anger acting up and depriving one of rationality so that one becomes overly emotional. People in this state of mind can cause disorder in the society.


  • Delusion: One has no wisdom and cannot distinguish right from wrong or good from evil. One is muddled and confused, and as a result one creates a lot of offense karma.


  • Pride: One promotes oneself and oppresses others. One regards oneself as somebody special who is stronger and better than others in every way. This kind of arrogant attitude is really terrible.


  • Doubt: One harbors doubts regarding proper know-ledge and views, and doesn’t trust what anyone says. This psychological condition is an aberration based on an inferiority complex.


These five kinds of psychological states are all abnormal. They all stem from ignorance. Cultivators must destroy ignorance so that it will not cause trouble and bring on endless disasters.

Ignorance causes ordinary people to function at the level of their emotions and desires. It leads them to regard worldly, emotional love as something real, so that they cannot detach themselves from it, cast it off, or renounce it.


They become inextricably caught up in their family relationships. Consequently they create a mixture of good and evil karma and cannot distinguish between purity and defilement. In life after life, they spin around in the cycle of birth and death with no end in sight. Thus ignorance is said to be the root of birth and death.


Cultivators are not burdened by these tiresome matters, so it’s easy for them to attain purity and liberation, and to end birth and death.


If we fail to sever our ties with ignorance, we will always be under its control and be running off to the hell, onto the mountain of knives or into the cauldron of boiling oil. At that time we will regret that we didn’t cultivate vigorously when we had the chance, but unfortunately it will be too late.

So, I’d like to advise everyone to cultivate when you can. Don’t think that you have lots of time in the future to do so. An ancient philosopher said,

Don’t wait till you are old to cultivate the Way.
The lonely graves are full of young people.

For every day that you cultivate the Way, you are a little bit closer to the Pure Land. Little by little, you will get to the Pure Land. If you hope to reach the Pure Land without cultivating diligently, it isn’t possible. Some of the affairs in this world only waste time without providing any benefit.


Cultivation alone is something that won’t waste your time. If you cultivate for one minute, you obtain one minute of benefit. It’s like accumulating grains of sand to build a pagoda. Simply advance step by step without stopping, and you’ll naturally arrive at the other shore.



A talk given on July 5, 1984

*This article is obtained from the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association’s website*