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Vow As Inquiry

"Sometimes, we are such dark emptiness we can't even hide in the sleeve of our own robe.

And yet, when we tear petals off cherry blossoms we don't make cherry blossoms; only spring does that."


You would think we could do anything. I've seen little dry newts climb up the mountain. The wrong way of course, since the creek and pond are in the valley. Picking them up and turning them around in an attempt to save all beings doesn't quite do it. They turn around just as fast, climbing towards the sun. What's in store for them? I don't really know, but I've got a gut feeling it's not good. 

So a student from the past called. He's 18 now, in New Orleans. I'm in that valley with the newts. Hawks circle here and baby foxes play in the shadows. He has a 6 month old baby girl and he was just released from prison. He has a misdemeanor and felony charge to answer to; he's looking at 1-30 years in Angola; and while he's guilty of something, he's not guilty enough to spend even one year in a place like Angola. 

He said if I hadn't left the city, he might not be in this trouble. We were very close. But when I was in the city, a bullet found him on a late Sunday night, or an early Monday morning. A year before I met him he witnessed national guard shootings at the super dome during Katrina. He was about 10 or 11, packed in there with about 15,000 people. Then packed into my classroom the next fall, about one of 40 students. Now he's charged with a violent crime.

Who is not guilty? Without saying too much, his "victim" has dropped the charge. The state has not. The case sounds like a Saturday night in the hood that got out of control. People were intoxicated. He's young. He doesn't have his G.E.D yet. He did well the three years I taught him. He might need some more middle school. He doesn't need to be one of 5,000 at Angola, where he'd be picking cotton upon entry, like a great many slaves before him. 

I've called him every day. Our phone is in the basement of our temple. In class, we study the wheel of deluded existence. In the basement, I talk about it on the phone. The best I could offer was to take the plea bargain. Maybe a year in the parish prison for misdemeanor charges and parole. But not the possible sexual slavery of Angola, the possibility of disappearing in the 18,000 acres of plantation land. The murders that ensue in that hell realm are over seconds in the chow line and about protecting your bodily integrity.

He refused. He said he would fight the felony charge and risk the time. Then, just yesterday, changed his mind, told me not to worry, that he was going to cop out. He regretted having paid a lawyer 2,000 dollars for this advice. I told him it was wise of him to seek council; what could I know, I was just his 6-8th grade English teacher.

Meiya, my practice leader, saw that I hadn't really slept much. She said when you offer help, you offer it like incense. You offer it, and then hands off. Watch what happens.

Our vow to save all beings is inconceivable. However, it's followed by three other inconceivable vows- to end delusions, enter Dharma gates, and the become the Buddha way. The inquiry is enough to keep the vow alive. The vow must be pure inquiry. 


  1. And I am seriously starting to see that all you can do is love. We can and will make ourselves crazy trying any number of other things to solve the ills of the world, to show people "a better way" to be, to live but in the end I think we will only be saved by love. By living a vow of love and inquiry about how to love better, more honestly. I know it's cheesy and activists hate this buddhist shit but seriously what good have our demonstrations really done? Did the tides of the world change because of demonstrations or because a politician finally saw that the law he was upholding was costing him more than if he legalized it?

  2. Don't let.him guilt-trip you again. He has to take responsibility for his actions in all that deep karma.


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