Without joy there can be no salvation
and without love there can be no joy.
I have therefore arranged with the authorities
(who were powerless, after all, to refuse me)
that whoever greets my love
with a rush of unbounded gratitude
shall be reborn in the realm of joy.
After that, the journey is a single step,
but you will be in no hurry to take it,
for to perceive love is to become able to love,
and to love is to learn to wait
with infinite kindness.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2017. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2017 was Roddy Woomble.
This is an unusual poem for me to write. It began life as an attempt simply to put into words what I understand the Buddha Amitābha to have meant by his 18th Vow. In his previous incarnation, as the monk Dharmākara, he made 48 Vows, saying: if these cannot become true, let me not achieve Buddhahood!
The 18th became immensely famous. It said:
If upon my attaining Buddhahood all beings everywhere aspiring in all sincerity and faith to be born in my country [the realm of joy], and pronouncing my name ten times, were not to be born there – then may I not attain Supreme Enlightenment!
The emotion expressed in this pledge fascinated me for years. One day I decided to write down what I thought Dharmākara meant. The result was this little poem. I think it expresses the quintessence of what sound religions say.