Q: Every morning I get up with everyone else here and take a vow to save all sentient beings from suffering. How can I do that?
ZMWK: Do you want to do it?
ZMWK: Then you'll find a way, through getting up every morning and taking that vow. That's an impossible vow. Each one of these is an impossible vow. "The Buddha way is inconceivable - I vow to attain it." How do you attain something that's inconceivable? "Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all." How? It brings up the image of some great social worker in the sky - (laughter) - bigger than the whole universe, going to save all beings from suffering.
One time I heard Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Sensei, a teacher in Maezumi Roshi's school (he has a group in New York), talking on the radio. He gave an example of what a bodhisattva is. He said, there's a well that's dry down on the plains, and up on the mountain tops there is snow. So the bodhisattva is like a guy who decides he'll fill the well by bringing the snow down to the plains, but the only thing he has to carry the snow in is a teaspoon. So he goes up the mountain, gets one teaspoon full of snow, comes back down to the plains and puts the snow in the well. Then he goes back up the mountain, gets another teaspoon full of snow, brings it down and puts it in the well, over and over.
That's a ridiculous endeavor. Never in a million years is he going to fill up that well, but what's important is his sincerity of effort - to just do something, whether it's possible or impossible. That effort, that spirit, is a contribution in and of itself that can't be compared to anything else, so it has absolute value. Because it can't be compared to anything else, the spirit of that fills the universe in one second. At each moment that we do that, all sentient beings are saved, because we affirm the absolute value of everything.
We have to do something, even if it's not possible. So the vow points to something like that. At least, that's my view of it.