The power of intentions is a topic that comes up regularly for me and always provides me with food for thought. In a recent service I was struck by the gravity of the Bodhisattva vows that we sing as part of our liturgy. ”Innumerable are sentient beings: We vow to save them all.”. This is no small order, in fact it sounds impossible, but the verse conveys a conviction which is inspiring and intriguing. I have heard these words many times but this time there was an extra emphasis, a deeper dimension of meaning which seemed to be imbued in them. I thought of a Dharma talk from the past that stuck in my mind as a useful resource for times of doubt and fear. An analogy of a great conflagration consuming the world and a compassionate being armed with only a bucket of water and a kind heart, determined to make a difference by easing the suffering of others. The fire goes out. The good intention, followed by affirmative action, is enough to have a profound effect on the problem.
This, I believe, is the nature of the spirit behind these sacred words, which at first might seem naively optimistic! And this is the nature of the Buddha Amida’s holy vows, which declare a similar sentiment towards the issue of suffering and a profound desire to save all beings. The Buddha speaks his vows with a confidence that leads us to believe that they are already fulfilled. The strength of his love for us determines the effectiveness of his intention to rescue us from the sea of affliction that is Samsara. It is done, we are saved. The love is enough, in the same way as a tiny pale of water is enough to extinguish a raging inferno, when compassion is the motivation for the action.
This principle is very helpful for me at the moment, as I am in the training stages of a new job which puts me in a position of responsibility over some very vulnerable people. There is often a sense of being overwhelmed by an impossible predicament, but there is also a genuine desire and intention to contribute something useful to it. And a feeling that my efforts are not just futile gestures in the face of inevitable disaster, but in some inexplicable way, counterbalance the weight of the problem, making solution more possible.
Namo Amida Bu.
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