Samantabhadra’s Vows

Samantabhadra’s Vows

Fusatsu is an atonement ceremony we celebrate at Zen River every month on the occasion of the full moon. And it always has a strong effect on me. The ceremony is an open invitation to enter the world that the Avatamsaka sutra describes in such great detail, connecting us intimately with deeper layers of reality than we are usually aware of. And the strong physical setting, developed over the ages by great masters, especially helps us to give up fixed ideas about space and time.

Usually we divide time into past, present and future, yet these aspects of time are connected in ways we can’t always see. For example, our past and present lives shape our future life –but it works the other way round too. Our vision for the future, as expressed in our vows, can shed a very different light on our past. It can make us remember things that change our view even about our very own personal history – suddenly our usual narrative is found lacking and needs to be adjusted.

Dogen Zenji often use the phrase, “I remember…,” and then he talks about masters who lived some 300 years before him, as if they were still vividly alive. Apparently we often see only a thin slice of reality and don’t have access to the greater picture. Fusatsu is very old –it probably goes back to the time of the Buddha–and it sits somewhere hidden in our system. When we make the bows, our mind may not remember, but perhaps our body does. Something clicks, and we reconnect with disowned parts of life.

The chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra we are reading together now every Saturday afternoon is called, “Entry into the Realm of Reality.” It describes how the pilgrim Sudhana, after visiting fifty-three sages, finally enters the tower of Vairocana and comes face to face with the reality of all Buddhas and ancestors throughout space and time. But that is not the end of the sutra. In fact, it marks a new beginning, which is expressed in the next chapter –Samantabhadra’s vows.

Samantabhadra is the bodhisattva who stands as the symbol for enlightening activity. He vows to pay homage and respect to all Buddhas, to praise all the Buddhas, to make abundant offerings, to repent misdeeds and evil karmas, to rejoice in others’ merits and virtues, to request the Buddhas to continue teaching, to request the Buddhas to remain in the world, to follow the teachings of the Buddhas at all times, to accommodate and benefit all living beings, and to transfer all merits and virtues to benefit all beings.

The vow that resonates most for me right now is to request the Buddhas to remain in the world. I see that as our calling, as our job in a way. How can we really make sure that they remain here? Where are they anyway? As I see it, if you and I don’t keep them alive, they are well and truly dead. So we do a ceremony like Fusatsu to remember, to recall who we really are. By making these vows we envision a different future, and by so doing we remember a different past. Then, starting off from there we can begin to live a different future. And this we can do over and over again, which brings us closer and closer to reality.

1 Comment

  1. Bowing and Fusatsu bring the buddhas and ancestors close for me too. So does this beautiful note. Thanks for helping me remember.

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