what have i done

The gatha of impermanence or Evening Gatha begins:

The day has ended
What have I done…

Depending on my day, the inflection on that second line can vary from reflective to panic-stricken.  Lately, it’s been more the latter as I struggle with the right and left hand of a preceptual issue: not telling lies and mindful speech.

Last week, I noticed I left out buddha57 from the stream of 108buddhas.

I practiced writing that out as straightforwardly as I could.  No apologetics.  No explanatory cutsie precursive remarks.  No BS.  I’ve been noticing how the placement of words in a string can really prevent me from taking responsibility for what I’ve done (or not done).

Take this sentence for example: In my rush to get everything set up before I left for the Upaya Chaplaincy program, buddha57 was left out of the stream of 108buddhas.

Excuse followed by elevation followed by a neutralization of responsibility.  I may be wrong but the sentence evokes compassion for the image of a mistake made in a pressured life trying to cultivate something worthy and churning out these pieces of art and prose.  Nothing wrong with the compassion; but I feel it’s obtained through a manipulation.  It sucks you into subtly falling into my angst as I slide my oversight over to the background.

Now, even reading that first sentence, you might have felt something about buddha57 being left out.  Perhaps you would have felt indifference; who really cares if buddha57 is missing, just put it in somewhere!  Perhaps you would have felt annoyed; after all this is supposed to be a practice of Attention!  Attention!  Attention!  Perhaps you would have felt compassion for my obsessive nature; only the Catholic Church could have invented a sin called Scrupulosity!

Both sentences invite an interaction; the first by opening to and the second by closing out possibilities.  If my intention is to tell you I messed up the first is true to that intention, the other not.  If my intention is to ask for forgiveness (yes, even us zennies need forgiveness at times), the first requires trust; the second controls your feelings so that you are more likely to forgive the oversight.  If my intention is to elicit sympathy in the face of the oversight, the first might be seen as defensive and closed, the second more available for understanding.

An honest writer is sensitive to the intention of each word.  She knows the difference between stimulating reflective thought and eliciting loyalty for her perspective.  A courageous writer trusts what might emerge from the interaction of the written word and the true nature of the reader.  She knows her intention when she selects a specific word, when she brings it into the presence of its companions, when she watches them tumble together and when she leaves them alone to orchestrate the smooth flow of an idea.

The form and structure of the precepts can be taught just as the craft of writing can be taught.  But honest writing cannot be taught any more than living into the spirit of the precepts can be taught.  Which brings me to the other thing I have done which has caused me some loss of sleep.  More on that tomorrow.

Thank you for practising,


6 thoughts on “what have i done

  1. Interesting to watch this first thought, the reaction to Buddha 57 being left out. “No big deal,” I thought, doesn’t matter if I see it in order, out of order I still see it.

    I liked your commentary on the intention of each word. It is true. I lapse in and out of awareness of my words when I write. It is a tall order to be conscious of each word. Perhaps it is enough to know the feeling we evoke with the words we lay down?? Of course the writing that really moves and touches us has awareness of its intention behind it. If you write an haiku, you must be conscious of each syllable, each image you create. A longer piece is perhaps more forgiving??? Just some thoughts on this intriguing subject.

  2. And that’s why “intention” is said to be the original meaning of “karma.”

    Our relationship to intention matters a great deal (the subject of last Monday’s Ox Herding) – in fact, the realization of intention could be said to be the entire point of Buddhist practice.

    So I greatly appreciate the intention behind your exposure and discussion of intention. Genuine practice. Thank you.

  3. This is fascinating – paying attention to the meta-message in our communication. I found the second sentence just as you said – eliciting a sense of understanding. It felt more genuine to me actually, more personal; not manipulative, although as you parse it out here I see exactly what you’re saying! I think it also speaks to how we want to be seen. This post gives me pause. And makes me just a little bit self-conscious! Do I really know what my motives are! Big topic! Thank you for the awareness.

  4. “Scruples” comes from the Latin for pebbles. Roman soldiers could be punished by death if they became incapacitated sandals, thus slowing dow,n the whole column, or even army, and leaving it’s members vulnerable to attack. Hence scrupulous. There are other very good reasons to be scrupulous.
    There is also a very good reason to not be judgmental of ourselves. It distracts us from our true purpose.
    ” My heart, soul and intentions are good, Oh, Lord! Please don’t let me be misunderstood…” Eric Burdon and the Animals

  5. Scrupulous to the end. I amend. “Roman soldiers could be punished by death if they became incapacitated due to pebbles in their sandals. ” 😉

  6. Thank you, Everyone!

    There was a Tricycle feed today that mentioned the subtleties of language (http://www.tricycle.com/blog/?p=2242. Interesting. ZDS, Christine, it was interesting for me to feel that sense of “wrongness” arise when I realized the gaff. It really is not a big deal but in a flash all these sentences arose and most were ego-protective. Wow!

    Barry, a friend of mine asked me to help edit her PhD dissertation on “intention” – impossible as I just couldn’t learn Pali in 7 days! But it did educate me tremendously on how much the fundamentals of practice are tied to our intentions. Where I get lost is how karma is no longer intention but action. I understand it intellectually but it isn’t quite sitting in my gut yet.

    Helmut! How are you? Yes, any thing in its excessive form is a distraction from taking true responsibility. BTW, my mum’s roses are blooming… although the bugs have eaten all the leaves off one! 🙂

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