Archive for August, 2008

Zen Buddhist Gathas

Posted in Zen with tags , , , , , , on August 16, 2008 by Al

If I were to ask non-Buddhists to read one Buddhist book, it probably wouldn’t big one of the big sweeping volumes about the history of the religion, and it definitely wouldn’t be the new agey self help from the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh. It wouldn’t even be the punk-to-monk semi-autobiographies by Brad Warner or Noah Levine, even though those are some of my favorites. It would probably be The Dragon Who Never Sleeps by Robert Aitken. It’s a slim, rarely-mentioned and highly underrated collection of Zen Buddhist gathas. Gathas are little poems (in Aitken’s format, the second line is always “I vow with all beings”) that illustrate some of the best moments for practice in our lives.

Here are some of my favorites:

When someone offers a drink
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the sorrow it causes
as it warms and gladdens our hearts.

When the outcome proves disappointing
I vow with all beings
to look again at my purpose-
was it Dharma or something else?

When I panic at losing my bearings
I vow with all beings
to acknowledge the error is panic,
not losing familiar ground.

When my efforts are clearly outclassed
I vow with all beings
to face my own limitations
and bring forth my original self.

Looking up at the sky
I vow with all beings
to remember this infinite ceiling
in every room of my life.

When a car goes by late at night
I vow with all beings
to remember the lonely bakers
who secretly nourish us all.

When a train rattles by at the crossing
I vow with all beings
to remember my mother and father
and imagine their thoughts in the night.

If you practice with gathas, please share some in the comments.

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