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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 15 COMMENTARY SINCE THE KAVANAUGH hearings last fall and the flood of painful stories that emerged across the country—both of harm and of people refusing to admit wrongdoing—I find myself thinking about the power of repentance ceremonies. In the Soto Zen ceremony, we repent, take refuge, and recite the sixteen bodhisattva precepts, all reminders that every behav- ior of body, speech, and mind, can be beneficial—or not. The ceremony originates with the earliest wandering followers of the Buddha, who gathered at the new and full moons to take refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, confess their lapses, and deeply question each other on fine points of practice. They would then disperse, renewed, to continue their efforts. We have this same opportunity today. The ceremonial movements of offering, chanting, bowing to the ground, verbalizing our regret, and vowing to refrain from repeating harmful action are transformational in both body and mind. Our transgressions are brought to light in the context of ceremonial power—offered up for the buddhas, bodhisattvas, and all beings to witness and transform with compassion and wisdom. Confessing in this way for the first time can make one feel vulnerable, even dangerously exposed. It might seem that by doing so, the transgressions remain not only intact but also now public, permanently part of one’s being. It might even feel like the repentance is what is harmful rather than the behavior itself. But the ceremonies actually work; their power is easily felt. Healing, clarity, openness—they all just happen. Forgiveness might happen as well, but forgiveness is compli- cated. If I’m asked to forgive a misdeed, that’s an invitation to let go, something I need to practice with and allow to develop in its own time. Perhaps forgiveness leads to a deepening in friend- ship, but perhaps not. The clarity in one’s own mind needs to be nurtured, the situation discussed with friends and guides. The same is true if I am the one asking for forgiveness. Repair of relationships takes time. In making the request, I would use The Way of Repentance KONJIN GAELYN GODWIN