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Repentance

April 26, 2012

by Stephen Damon

I’d like to add a note or two to our discussion of the new moon/full moon ceremony that our sangha held on Monday night.  I’d like to talk about the opening chant:

 All my ancient twisted karma

From beginningless greed, hate and delusion

Born through body, speech, and mind

I now fully avow.

Every tradition has some form of purification. The Catholics have the Confetior, which begins, “I confess to almighty God…” The Eastern Orthodox churches have many such prayers that are recited before communion.  For example, St. John Chrysostom said: “O Lord my God, I know that I am not worthy, nor sufficient that thou should enter under my roof into the habitation of my soul, for it is all deserted and in ruins…” Judaism has many such prayers on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Islam has the fast of Ramadan.

The first stage of many ceremonies, east and west, is the public acknowledgement of our present state.  We are presenting ourselves, as honestly as we are able, to the community, as well as to the deepest levels of ourselves. We are declaring that this is who we are and we are prepared to take the next step on the path to awakening or salvation or transformation.  This path always begins with our life as it is right now—not how it was yesterday or will be tomorrow.  The first step is an acknowledgment of  who and what we are, seen in the context of a larger view of the possibilities of human nature.

Such an acknowledgement begins the long process of deep self-examination.  Our lives, which may have felt so obvious, so matter of fact, all of a sudden become less stable and more vulnerable. When we feel, all at once, all our failings and contradictions and attachments to the most superficial part of ourselves, something in us lets go.  It’s as if we are placing our ego-centered selves as an offering before the Buddha on our altar.  A teacher once told me that in the beginning of our practice the only thing that we can give to Buddha is our anxieties, tensions, and depressions. So, our path begins with repentance.

In Returning to Silence, Katagiri Roshi said that repentance in Buddhism means perfect openness of heart. If we open ourselves completely, we are ready to listen to the voiceless voice of the universe. He explained that, “The ritual of repentance is not to ask forgiveness from someone for what one has done. Repentance is not a preliminary stage to enter Buddha’s world or to become a good person.” He said, “ If repentance is understood in this way, we fall…into the trap of dualism, a big gap is created between us and whatever object we try to make repentance to…. Real repentance cannot be found in dualism…it is the perfect openness of our hearts that allows us to hear the voice of the universe beyond the irritation of our consciousness.”

I have found that this kind of openhearted awareness is the best, or maybe I should say, “only” way to approach each moment of our lives. It is an especially effective way of starting my day with an intention to practice.  So each morning, before I sit, I recite

All my ancient twisted karma

From beginningless greed, hate and delusion

Born through body, speech, and mind

I now fully avow.

Bows,

Stephen

From → Zen Buddhism

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