Saturday, August 22, 2009

Taking Responsibility

During the time I was sitting zazen at the local zen center, I learned several chants. This one is very short:

All the karma ever created by me from beginningless greed, anger, and delusion born through body, speech, and thought I now fully avow .

The first few times, I had real trouble saying it out loud. I think it was first referred to as a "vow," and I don't do well with vows - had, in fact, decided I wasn't going to take any more vows at all, ever, no thank you. I really struggled with that; if I was going to chant, I wanted to know what I was committing myself to.

Eventually, as I learned more, I began to chant it every day, and I need to start doing that again.

The meaning is fairly simple. "Karma" means "action." So the chant is saying that all of my actions, and the results of my actions, if they arose from anger, greed, confusion, or general wrongness of purpose -- whether I said them, did them, or merely thought them - these things are my responsibility. (Please understand that this is what the chant means to me now; I don't speak for the zen center, and I don't expect that my interpretation would match theirs.)

The chant speaks of actions that arose out of anger and delusion; it does not say anything about actions arising from good will. But I needed to learn to take responsibility and ownership for my actions, no matter their origin.

When I was sick I never knew whether the outcomes of my actions were good or bad; I felt at the mercy of judgments I didn't understand and couldn't predict. I lived a very defensive life, a life lived in reaction to illness and the world around me.

To chant the repentance vow with honesty means that I trust myself to understand the origin of my actions - to understand the difference between anger and illness and good will. It means I know which of my actions needed more thought. It means I know myself well enough to understand my own intentions.

The Repentance Vow taught me a great deal about myself. I didn't realize until I wrote this post that it is still teaching me.

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