In the Higashi tradition we call it the Sansei-ge, The Nishi members call it Jusei-ge. The word ju means to repeat, and so Jusei-ge means the gatha of the repeated vow.
The three vows the Buddha makes are:
- I vow to establish the most incomparable vow in the world.
- I vow to become a great provider and give support to the poor and suffering.
- I vow not to become a buddha unless my name is heard throughout ten quarters.
Usually we think, Oh, this is a story about a great person who became a Buddha. But I don’t think of it that way. Instead, I want you to think of it as my story or Our Story. That is, it is the secret story of our life that is being described by the Gatha of the three vows.
What do we really want to do with our lives? Ask yourself: What is the deepest innermost wish in my heart? In our hearts? And now let’s try to think of these three vows as the expression of our innermost aspiration, our deepest wish.
Normally no one thinks, “Oh, I know. I want to vow to become a great provider and give support to the poor and suffering”. That is because we know our limitations. We know it is impossible for us to do. Even if we had the greatest compassion for others, we automatically think “Well, even though I really wish to free everyone from suffering, it is impossible for me to help them all. And so I will start with what I am able to do and go about the task in a responsible way.” That is a more normal response.
If you watch any TV documentaries, there are refugees trying to enter Greece, there are people living in refugee camps in Somalia, there are street children in the Philippines. And you might think that “people are not supposed to live in such terrible environments, I wish they could live without suffering. I want to help them but I can’t. My hands are tied. ” If you did not have to think about your limitations, you would think “I wish all sentient beings were free from suffering. I want to help all of them”. This is the same wish as the Buddha’s wish for our world.
If you just listen to your heart, instead of thinking about how to do things responsibly or how you are limited by your conditions, just simply listen to your heart, then you might think “I want to become a great provider and give support to the poor and suffering”.
As a human, we know we have limitation. We have to live responsibly and within the limits of our human condition. And we also know we tend to follow our selfish minds.
So we give up trying to help everyone. And we try not to think or see the tragedies that others are suffering all around us.
I believe each person would wish that “I wish no one would be harmed and everyone would live fully and freely in this world”.
This is the Buddha’s wish for this world and it is also our innermost aspiration.
But how often we tend to forget this wish or run away from listening to our heart’s innermost aspiration. we are living within the narrow space between our limitations and our selfishness mind. And that is as far away from compassion as the other side of the moon.
I think that Sansei-ge, this poem of the Buddha’s wish, makes us reflect on ourselves and lets us recall our innermost aspiration, the deepest wish in our heart.
So now, I want you to forget about your limitations. Forget about your limiting conditions that tie your hands, forget about your selfishness only for a moment. And just simply think, “Oh this is what I wish, this is what we wish for others in this world.”
In the 三誓偈 (Sansei-ge, gatha of the three vows), we chant 普済諸貧苦 (fusai-shobingu).
This means “ I vow to become a great provider and give support to the poor and suffering.”