Thursday, July 20, 2006

Intentions, Vows and Practice

An interviewer once asked Maezumi Roshi if Buddhists believed in somethinglike a soul that continued after death. Maezumi Roshi said, "No. It is thevow that continues." A vow is like a seal that imprints itself on the wetclay of another emerging life, but it is more than a passive seal. It has apropelling energy. It propels us into the search for an end to suffering andinto finding ways to help each other. Finally, when all the various schemeswe have developed to do those things fail, it propels us into practice. All Buddhist practices involve vows. At the Zen Center we chant the FourGreat Bodhisattva Vows every day:

Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.Buddha's way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

Over the years we have chanted vows like these hundreds, thousands of times.It does not matter if the vows where made when we where half-asleep or if wedidn't quite understand them. We have made these promises and now the jig isup, the promissory note is due. This explains the common feeling peoplehave. " I don't know why I practice, I just have to." "Something iscompelling me to do this practice." The ongoing vow operates below theconscious mind. It is very important to shape and say our vows. MaezumiRoshi recommended starting each day with vows. There are many possiblevows.They can be a simple. "I vow to do what I can to relieve suffering." "Ivow to do what needs to be done to awaken fully, even if I'm afraid attimes." "I vow to open my mind and hands and let go of what needs to bedropped for me and others to be free." Vows can be formal and part of aritual. They can be simple and spontaneous. What is important is to vow. Atthat point the things that are needed for the vow to be fulfilled begin toflow toward us.

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