Buddha’s Vow
“Boundless is the vast ocean of birth-suffering-death. Here we have been struggling to swim since time immemorial. Know that the ship of Buddha’s Vow is ready to carry us across this ocean to the other shore of peace.” -Shinran's Wasan

The teachings of the Buddha usually start with the statement that to live is to suffer. Is this being too negative? After all, we live in a good country where people generally have enough to eat. We are not torn apart by racial or religious warfare. We have family and friends with a good dash of hockey, football and beer. Things don’t seem too bad now, do they? But let’s take a closer look.

The original word in the Buddha’s teaching was dukkha. It is a cognate with our word tough. One side of this ancient word is that things are not always in our control. Added to this is the fact that the universe does not exist to serve us. The earth is not our personal salon where we can pay a fee and leave a tip so that everything will be wonderful. Many things are beyond our control. Suffering leads us into insight. Suffering is universal; therefore awakening is also universally available.

In fact the teachings of the Buddha are designed just to help us cope with the un-varnished facts of life. Our Dharma is not a fantasy to help us through life in a belief contrary to facts of life itself. The truth of going beyond our selves is always there waiting for us within the life as we are living it. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path with its Five Precepts are a coping strategy. This is especially true in a world where too many of us are addicted to the drugs of ignorance, hatred and greed. The teachings are especially designed for this very situation.

But there is still the nagging feeling that there are so many things beyond our control. This is true for political life, social life and the life of nature. They seem to run without us. They were here long before our birth and will continue long after we have passed. This realization gives us a taste of other power.

The story of Amida Buddha is a taste of other power too. But it is an Other Power that helps us strength and courage to face those things we cannot change by using our own self-power. We thus have a firm rudder guiding us to the other shore of nirvana. We can entrust ourselves with confidence to this Other Power. It is the enduring force of insight and empathy. We experience this for ourselves as a source of hope and courage.

Hope and courage in the face of life are thus made possible. Since suffering is found everywhere, so too is the Vow found everywhere. No matter how strong the winds of life blow, they always take us in the right direction—Buddha’s Vow has made it so.

Sensei Ulrich
June 23, 2013