The Great Little Bodhisattva Ships Of ‘Dunkirk’

I confess to like watching films that present challenging situations, even if they concern matters of life or death. Don’t get me wrong – am neither sadistic nor masochistic. What intriguing is seeing conflict resolution or problem-solving executed, while I would ask myself what I would do to get myself and others out of similar fixes. However, we often scoff at fictitious and far-fetched tales of solo heroes saving the day….

But ‘Dunkirk’ is different. It is based on a historical event, not of one saving many, or one person’s quest to overcome. Multiply that by 400,000 times for the number of soldiers and even more civilians involved, and what we have is an inspiring account of the struggle and triumph of the human spirit. Unfortunately, in war, there is some ‘killing to save’, but this is a case more about saving and protecting than killing and destroying.

Even with the crucial leaders, it takes the world to save the world. One person’s efforts are simply not enough. Even a Buddha cannot make an entire defiled world a Pure Land instantly, once and for all. This is why Bodhisattva ‘corps’ trained and led by Amituofo (Amitabha Buddha) in his Pure Land get ‘armoured and armed’ – with compassion and wisdom, as synergised and expressed – to be countless skilful means to deliver beings from Samsara to liberation.

The Battle of Dunkirk was about how mostly British and French soldiers were cornered at the beach of Dunkirk in France by the German forces during WWII. As the English Channel to be crossed for escape was not deep enough for big ships to sail through, what more being easily targeted by enemy fighter jets, the Allied Forces were as if sitting ducks, as tension mounted with the Germans closing in. Evacuation was as massive and urgent as it could get!
Some ethical dilemmas depicted include conflicts even among allies, on which country’s troops to be shipped to safety first, how many of the injured on stretchers to bring on board, as they take up much of limited ship space, and who should sacrifice, should it save more. There are no easy answers, with each scenario unique, requiring the most swift and skilfully appropriate responses.

Spoiler alert… on how the battle was won… Dubbed the ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’, as urged by the British government, 700 private boats were voluntarily sailed by civilians from Ramsgate of England to Dunkirk to rescue more than 338,000 soldiers! How moving it must have been, to see not one or two big military vessels coming, but so many civilian ones. Just as the soldiers sought to protect the civilians, the civilians reciprocated heroically
It was ingenious to mobilise many small boats, that are hard to target all at once. A paradoxical case of united strength via divided vessels, of the underdogs defeating the strong. Imagine seeing boat after boat looming up on the horizon, as the humble yet earnest vehicles home. How touching! This reminds us of how Bodhisattvas from Pure Land surely return to the sea of Samsara, to ferry us towards the shore of liberation. May we too reach Pure Land, to train to be qualified Bodhisattvas to rescue all!   

1 Comment

  • I like the metaphor of “ships…” bringing “Bodhisattvas from Pure Land surely return to the sea of Samsara, to ferry us towards the shore of liberation.”

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