In many Buddhist sects there is a thing known as the Bodhisattvas Vow, a Bodhisattva being one who has achieved (or can achieve) enlightenment/awakening/nirvana/the great whooptie doo. However when we take the vow we swear to delay our own enlightenment/nirvana until all sentient beings also arrive. It goes a little something like this;
Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is unattainable; I vow to become it.
Now it should be obvious that such a vow is an amazing thing to declare if for no other reason than it is clearly impossible. The beginning of each line is a statement of how impossible it is and then the second part is us declaring that we are going to do it.
It would be easy to dismiss this as simply a set of ideals, goals that no one aims to actually achieve. Like a coach telling you to give 110%, it isnt actually something that can be done. Right? But in Buddhism we say it with total conviction in the literal sense of the words. It is sort of (though not exactly) like a Christian vowing to refuse to enter heaven until all other beings can enter too. The difference is that we dont just vow this to happen, we know in our hearts that it will! The impossible is, in the end, nothing more than just another thought and what we have learned in the 2500 years since the Buddha is that thoughts are not to be believed.
If you go back in time you find that what was considered impossible has time and again been achieved and then, eventually, surpassed even to the point of no longer being remarkable. Everything from flight to disease eradication to scientific exploration into the very core of what makes us human were once considered, without a doubt, to be impossible. Yet here they are. Somehow the unbelievable happens over and over and over. The borderline of what is impossible keeps getting pushed further and further until we realize its an arbitrary line in the sand we draw like children at the beach who then declare “the ocean cant pass this line” but then the tide comes in and washes it away. What is possible, in the end, is beyond our ability to conceive. I think we would save a lot of energy if we stopped trying to decide what couldnt be done and simply got on doing what needed to be done right now.
When we meditate, Dogen says, the entire universe is meditating with us, when the Buddha realised his true nature his first awareness was that all beings are capable of realising the exact same thing. Its a truly inspiring thing to know that all of us are capable of ending suffering and doubly so when we realise that doing so free the entire universe from suffering as well! When we sit and live in the moment we bring everything and everyone along with us, when we realise this it doesnt seem so far fetched that we could all achieve the truth at once.
So the Bodhisattva vow is ‘impossible’, and like so much else that has been declared impossible it will be achieved, by us, right now, every moment we awaken even a little.