A Boat, a Raft, a Bridge

Posted: August 28, 2015 in Music, Politics

I’m in the habit of referring to the pop singer Judith Holofernes as a Heldin (heroine). I don’t mean it literally–most of the time–but it’s actually a pretty accurate description. As the lead singer and songwriter of the chart-topping group Wir sind Helden (We are Heroes), she served in exactly that capacity for tens of thousands of Germans for well over a decade. Even after the group went on hiatus, in 2012, Judith continued to share her frank opinions about music, politics, “culture jamming,” and much more on her Facebook page and her blog. (And more recently on Twitter: follow @jholofernes.)

Judith is a Buddhist. She would never proselytize, but she does believe that a tenet of Buddhism applies directly to the current refugee crisis. She wrote about it in a brief post on her blog the other day. Although I’ve translated some of her material as a paid contractor, I wanted to share this strictly as a volunteer. (I guess you can call me an honorary #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge–once you’ve figured out how to pronounce that!)

(REFUGEES WELCOME, the Buddha says)

The Vow of the Bodhisattva is a text of Buddhist protection–a text that is meant to provide a shelter and foothold in difficult times. Its poetry has deep meaning for me–it has put me and my writing in touch, time and time again, with what is really important to me. I believe that it can be a source of strength completely outside the practice of Buddhism–so I’ve wanted to share it with you for a long time, even though I would otherwise try to be very restrained with “Buddhist propaganda.”

Always, when something happening somewhere in the world shocks me, this text comes to mind, and helps me not to lose hope in the world. So, too, as I saw the pictures of the refugee boats, the despair, the weariness–and the fear and denial of those in safe harbors who tried, in panic, to pull up the rope ladders and blow up the piers.

How lucky you feel, when you can be a harbor, a boat, a raft, a bridge, a protector for all who need protection! A blessing that the petty, the envious, the angry–and the fearful–deny themselves. And how precisely this text puts into words what can be our challenge and our gift to ourselves. And now, to the extent that I’m permitted to be a #bloggerfuerfluechtlinge (blogger for refugees), I think there’s nothing better and more heartfelt that I could say on the matter.

The Vow of the Boddhisattva

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road;
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for landfall,
And a lamp for those who long for light;
For those who need a resting place, a bed,
For all who need a servant, may I be a slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of plenty,
A word of power, and the supreme remedy.
May I be the trees of miracles,
And for every being, the abundant cow.

Like the great earth and the other elements,
Enduring as the sky itself endures,
For the boundless multitude of living beings,
May I be the ground and vessel of their life.

Thus, for every single thing that lives,
In number like the boundless reaches of the sky,
May I be their sustenance and nourishment
Until they pass beyond the bounds of suffering


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