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Vow and Commitment

A disciple of the Buddha does not steal, and I've heard it a few times. I took that vow, and this vow has been a threshold I've stepped over and back over the last couple of days.

This is a part of my Everything Changes, Everything's Connected, Pay Attention, program.

First, I sat in a benefits meeting at work. There was a rich man telling us we could all get rich, too. All we had to do was invest with his firm, and better yet, my school was going to match my contribution up to 5%. Someone raised their hand and asked if the company could direct our investments to green or ethical companies, so he wasn't funding genocide or ecocide, and the rich man said, no, that just wasn't a part of what his program offered.

Besides not wanting to destroy sentient beings, I feel very anti-capitalist, even green capitalism turns me off, and here was this threshold- but here was this "free money", too. I knew to enroll wouldn't sit well with me- we all draw lines somewhere- and here was something that felt like a no brainer, so no thank you, I won't be investing. On my eight fold path, it seemed like the right step to take.

Then two days later I came home to see that my rear bike wheel had been stolen. Gone, gone, gone, very much like my other bike which was stolen about 6 months ago. I hadn't locked that back tire up...I'm an anger type, and my first instinct was to punch my car. I didn't punch my car. I haven't punched anything (or anyone) for a very long time, however, that's what comes up. I thought, I don't have to be happy about this, I don't have to rationalize this, but I also can't avoid the emotion. I decided to read Reb Anderson's chapter on the precept of not taking that which is not given, and I wondered what I'd been stealing.

Reb gives a very detailed break down of the precept and includes example of stealing like having sex in a relationship that's not mutual and that murder is a type of stealing, too. But the one that rang true for me was making commitments you don't keep.

It's glaring in my mind- have you ever heard someone talk about something negative and just knew that it was 100% you? I have. My principal was talking about teacher absences and how detrimental they are for the classroom and my ears were burning. For the last 4 years I've missed about 25 days of work. It feels criminal. It feels like stealing.

Granted, I've had my burnout issues, I've had my investigations into depression, alcoholism, resentments of the system at large, and tried some "cures" too. Self diagnosis rooted in delusion gave cures rooted in that same delusion. Truth is, I'm afraid to fail, and that's what keeps me home. Funny though, you only fail when you do, and there's not much to cure that!

So, commitments. I made a commitment to my school this year, to a team of teachers, to the innercity kids coming my way, and I don't want to steal from them.

How do I bring this to the forefront of my practice? How do I make sure I don't forget? I feel very alone, very much facing in the direction of the Buddha.


  1. I have had a lot of bicycles disappear over the years. A few left unlocked for a moment too long, and two clipped from their flimsy chain locks. After the first few, I think I discovered a place of no preference - of course, none were very expensive bikes, so it would be interesting to know if my non-reaction would be the same in such a case.

    Stealing is frequently not too clear cut I believe. Are you stealing days from work, or is your workplace - like many others - overworking you and your co-workers? Maybe a bit of both. I almost never miss work, but have burned out of two teaching-based jobs, and I think in part from being overworked and under supported. Where's the line? How much of not wanting to miss work about capitalist driven guilt, and how much is truly devotion to your job and students? I asked myself that question a lot during my last teaching job.

  2. Hey Nathan,

    What's really funny is that I was more upset about the cheap bicycle that was stolen than the expensive wheel off the expensive bike! I loved the first bike and the new bike is just its rapid replacement. The first thing I thought was- I want a different bike anyway!

    I think in this case both are true- I am over worked, but my devotion wanes, my faith fades away, and I imagine I'll be happier somewhere else.

    Something tells me that's just not true.

    Guilt comes from feeling like I let my team down. I'm actually the "veteran" teacher, having taught a whopping 4 years in one of the worst schools in the city. Most people make it about 2 yrs in our system. I can help my young team get through, but if I start missing days, my effectiveness dies.

    This reminds me of when I lived in the Zen temple and my teacher and senior students would often be absent. It was disheartening, and of course drama was amassing as a result.

    But believe me, I love the support I feel coming from your way- teachers often become doormats (which I'm sure you know)! However, I committed. Ten months. Gotta get my head down. As my Dad would say, it's a march or die situation.

  3. It's funny - the ways we can relate to things we "own." The second of those stolen bikes was a vintage Schwinn with a really comfortable seat. It wasn't in great shape, but I loved how it rode. And so, I felt pretty bummed when it was taken.

    I was one of the veteran teachers as well at my school. It's a challenging position to be in. I also feel it at my Zen Center, being amongst the temple leadership, and nearing senior student status (which is almost hard to imagine, given that I'm only 35 years old.)

    Since we aren't a residential center, it's a little less of an issue that some of us long term students and the head teacher aren't around all the time. But if too many of us miss, you can definitely feel it. And if I'm gone too long, my practice goes to crap as well. I am pretty good at doing practice on my own, but sangha still is vital.

  4. I'd say, consider you may be sending signals to yourself, that this is just too much. And enough is enough. We are just trying to empty the sea of suffering one teaspoon of water at a time. If we quit a specific bodhissatva activity, the world goes on. . . I knew a guy who said, "Look, if you die doing overtime at your desk, they'll just kick your warm body aside so someone else will sit down there." Anyway, that's my offering tonight.

  5. It's good to see you blogging again. I was at a retreat recently (not a Zen one) in which we processed our dreams in the morning. I dreamt that someone was in my house and stealing (this a week or 2 after my car got rifled through and some nice headphones stolen, and I just wondered who it was and what their life was who did it).

    In the dream I was coming home, and saw the door open, and knew they were in there, and wanted to see their face. I thought I would tackle them when they came out, but instead I just shouted "I SEE YOU!" I think I even shouted it in my sleep, which woke me up.

    In the morning analysis, part of which includes the assumption that in our dreams every character is (an aspect of) ourselves, I got to speak for the thief, who, in the dream was a gaunt man from India (interesting detail eh?). He was full of shame, and did not want to be seen. When asked what we needed to know about him, all he said was "I'm doing the best I can."

    This revealed to me that I have been playing some kind of "gotcha" game with myself when I fall short. What the hell good does that do?

    Seems like the work you are doing is a marathon, not a sprint. Community mental health work is like that. I did 9+ years of that, and the aliveness for the work waxed and waned throughout.

    I am curious about your commitment to yourself - around that fear of failure and avoidance thing you talked about. That seems like a place that needs your kind attention just as much as your students and your team of colleagues.

    Are you still in New Orleans?


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