There are hundreds of ways a person can begin to open to the spirit within them. In every religion there are prayers, and songs, and dances, and poems, and liturgies that have been created to help their followers find the divinity within them. We have been practicing out loud by chanting and singing, and creating music with percussion, string, and wind instruments or silently, through contemplation, meditation, zazen, introspection, lectio divina, dance, and more. Others have used sweat lodges, art, mind altering drugs, and ancient rituals. But all have been designed to help the individual find that mystical, untouchable, elusive thing within them called life.
Two extraordinary women have recently gifted me two things—one was a book, Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary by Kazuaki Tanahashi, and the other a journal article from Innovation Educativa which she is a co-author of entitled “The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education (Hall, O’Hare, Santavicca & Jones, 2015).” I have been moving between these pieces of writing with joy each presenting me with some fantastic ways to bring my practice into alignment with my life.
Thus I have decided to use these as a jumping off place for creating another workbook for the prison ministry in Florida of which I am one of their volunteers. The prison outreach ministry is sponsored by the Southern Palm Zen Group (Southern Palm Zen Group).
My first thought was what good I could get from the use of these techniques in my life, what I could discover about myself, and how I might even find my “true-self.” And then I read the paragraph below from Kaz’s book and discovered that what I really wanted to do was “understand” what he describes below and thus the workbook was born.
The “Four All-Embracing Vows” expresses the bodhisattva’s attitude. The first of the four vows—‘Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken them’—appears to be an overly idealistic and unrealistic promise. But if we look at it closely, we will notice that it doesn’t simply say, ‘I vow to awaken all sentient beings.’ It begins by acknowledging just how many living beings there are who need to be awakened. Thus, being kind to a neighbor, a stranger, or an animal can create rippling effects of kindness. A simple action may cause infinite results. If the ‘I’ who vows is separate from other people, what ‘I’ can achieve is quite limited. But if ‘I’ is not separate from all others throughout space and time, it may be possible to awaken all beings. This understanding is an essential ground for socially engaged Buddhism (Page 9).
My desire is to be a “socially engaged Buddhist.” My writing this workbook will help me discover new things about myself as I practice the techniques I am sharing, and hopefully, helping others do the same as they use the techniques in their own lives.
So let’s begin this adventure as Kaz did by reciting the four vows for a week as often as possible and wherever we can. Whether we’re sitting in meditation, contemplating the words, or writing them in our journal, whether we’re riding the train, or driving our cars, or making our beds–let’s chant. Chant aloud or silently as the environment allows. Let us not be separate from the words, the thoughts that follow, the sounds of the words, or the feelings and emotions that we feel as we chant. Let’s be one with everything. Let’s be accepting of what comes or does not come, no judgements or criticisms of ourselves, we’re simply chanting! The words are below as we chant them at the Southern Palm Zen Group. You are welcome to use them or use ones that you are familiar with.
The Four Vows
Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.
Hall, M.P., O’Hare, A., Jones L.F., Santavicca, N. (2015) The power of deep reading and mindful literacy: An innovative approach in contemporary education. Innovacion Educative, ISSN: 1665-2673 vol. 15, numero 67
Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala Publications Inc.: Boston, MA