Skip to main content

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.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

We Are The Ones Who Can Die

This is me hunting hogs with a semi-automatic weapon. This was a past life( about 8 years ago.)

A lot can change in 8 years.

I grew up around guns. I received my first when I was 10 years old. I went to a high school with a shooting range in the basement, for the high school competitive rifle team. My dad, a career Marine, gave thorough instruction, you better believe. And for most of my life I could take them or leave them. I wasn't into guns like a lot of my friends, but I knew how to shoulder a carbine so the shell didn't eject and hit me in the eye.

That was in Pennsylvania. New Orleans was a completely different scene and the reality of gun violence really hit home (sometimes too literally). I have friends who have been shot in street violence and in combat zones. I have been threatened with a weapon and I have loaded guns with a notion of self defense.

And I used to believe that it was my right to do so.

But today I'm sad and I want to touch that sadness. I lost my …

The Transformation of Ceremony

Ordination Day

I want to say something about the transformational aspect of a ceremony. Like wine to blood, from person to priest, practice enlightenment as transmogrification. Like cucumbers to pickles, surprise! 
I underestimated the ceremony. After pursuing ordination for nine years I had visualized it into nothing. Having junior monks pass me by, then disrobe, then put the robe back on before I even got to wear it once lent a sobering perspective. Imagination dispensed. I sat and stitched and lived practice in a way where oryoki wasn't a treat, Zazen wasn't something I could talk about, and robes started to have gravity- they were not without weight. 
And I think that's the first element of my ceremony: a period of discernment and someone to discern with. In the case of ordination, my teacher, our tanto, and other priests served as mirrors and sounding boards for these two questions: Why do I want to be a priest and what is a priest? It was about as clear as wine tran…

Boredom and Buddhism

To say I feel bored feels disrespectful. How could that be? I have a three month old daughter, I'm training for a demanding job in the temple, I'm a wilderness medic responding to incidents every 4 days or so, and I'm sewing my priest robes for ordination. And I have this sense of disinterest.

I have a few theories as to why I feel bored. One could be the natural come down from having the baby and becoming stable in our schedule. Another come down plays out in the adrenaline crash after responding to a medical emergency or the general up keep work I do at the temple when compared to fixing something crucial to operations. When I hear there's a fire in the area I'm pretty excited to be mobilized for stay and defend duty. I feel pretty guilty about that, too.

So I read Beyond Boredom and Depression by Ajahn Jagaro and I was reminded to be careful about looking outward by this passage:

So what is boredom? It is a subjective experience that occurs when the mind is not i…