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All My Ancient Twisted Karma

August 23, 2012

by Stephen Damon

It is funny how sometimes a small experience can bring into question one’s entire life. Yesterday I had just such a moment when I was registering at a physician’s office for a chronic injury to my leg that was interfering with my Zazen. The nice woman at the counter asked me questions about previous illnesses and allergies and other such questions that I was able to answer immediately, but her last question stunned me. She asked, very matter-of-factly. “What is your religion?” She added, quite off handedly, that I “should feel free not to state a religion.”

Well, I had been asked that question before by people who had heard me lecture on comparative religion at San Francisco State as well as others who knew that I had an ongoing spiritual practice that I usually kept to myself.  Sometimes, when a friend would ask me I would say, “Well I grew up Jewish,” and my voice would trail off into an inaudible whisper. It was an important question, but I had no answer.    

But yesterday was different. Somehow, the receptionist’s question sunk very deep into me. I felt that the entire universe was asking me the question. It was my question. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that I was that question. I felt that I needed to come up with a response that best expressed who and what I was. Nothing else would do. I didn’t need to come up with a philosophical response to the question of whether or not Zen is a religion. I didn’t need to do anything, except try to make contact with the truth of myself. So, I became very quiet and went very deep into myself in much the same way as I do when I sit on my cushion in the morning and I waited. 

I must’ve looked odd, because the woman said, “It’s okay…” Her voice startled me and I immediately responded, “I am Buddhist!” As I said that, I saw that my entire lifetime had led me to this very question at this very moment. Actually, I had the sense that countless, unknown and unimaginable lifetimes from a beginningless beginning had led me to this moment.

When I got back to my chair, I silently recited:

All my ancient twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.

After my appointment was through I made a special effort to thank the nice, young woman at the counter. On my way out the door, I was happy that my new Dr. was confident that she could alleviate the pain that had been interfering with my zazen. But more than that, I felt myself in a new way.

It was a good day.




From → Zen Buddhism

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