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shu jo mu hen sei gan do

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Say what? The syllables above are a transliteration from the Japanese of the first line in the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows. At the monastery they’re chanted each morning as a reminder and reaffirmation of our intention:

Beings are numberless;
I vow to free them.

In same translations, To free is expressed as To save. Free from what? From all forms of suffering, essentially. And who’s pledging to do the freeing? A Bodhisattva, you and I potentially, putting aside their our own well-being, our striving for liberation, for the greater good. An impossible task, not unlike the wish to End World Hunger. Yet, where to start if your desire is to be of service? To be of “a little” use to others, to be of service “some of the time”? No, so the verse goes, my intention is to wholeheartedly (and somewhat foolishly) get up each morning and vow to give myself wholeheartedly to the task of being a decent human being, to aim not to do harm, to assume the best in everyone I meet, and to endeavour to practice loving kindness.

And just when you think that such an attitude smacks of holier-than-thou, the second line brings us back to the messiness of the everyday:

Delusions are inexhaustible;
I vow to end them.

Delusions, by definition, are false beliefs and opinions, a frequent feature of schizophrenia; view of self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. So, yes, I set out to save all beings from suffering. And yes, I realize that, if taken literally, it’s an impossible undertaking. I’m cautioned to check my ego at the door, to start right here, right now, with my own suffering, my own negative views, my tendency to see myself as clever, right, and holy. Humility is the motto for this day. And awareness so that I may notice opportunity where I might be of service to others. And to be kind towards myself, regardless of how “successful” my practice of loving kindness.


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