My own experience with Buddhist liturgy stands in my mind as a good example of this shift in the level of perceiving and appreciating. As a monk I participated in hundreds of services and ceremonies. I sat through them, chanted and bowed my way through them, and I did not get it. I couldn’t hear it. It didn’t touch me. Then one day it all turned inside out. The invisible became visible. I have no idea how it happened. Not only did I start to see, hear, feel, and realize what the meaning of liturgy was, but it also assaulted my whole body and mind. It opened my eyes—not gently but by ripping my eyelids off. It pierced my heart like nothing had ever pierced it before. Why did that shift occur? I understood the chants before. I appreciated their meaning. I was clear on what was taking place. I knew the logic of the rituals. Yet, somehow, it did not touch me. Why? It is one of those mysteries. Why do people fall in love? Sometimes it happens with somebody that you have known for a long time. Suddenly there is “love.” A whole transformation takes place.

Usually, out of that transformation and opening emerges practice. And practice is doing. Practice means commitment and action. We are no longer observers standing on the sidelines. We become participants. Unfortunately, simply to participate in the ceremony does not guarantee any results. I have given the precepts to probably 150 people in the fifteen years we have been at Zen Mountain Monastery. There are a number of recipients who disappeared from training within months of going through the ceremony. Some people think that receiving the precepts is like getting a badge of some sort, their diploma assuring them a better moral life. They consider themselves graduated after jukai. I advise some people who are persistent about receiving the precepts to wait. I ask them to let their practice mature. I do that when I have a feeling that the request to receive the precepts is not happening for the right reasons. It may be more a matter of hierarchy or status within the community than a matter of the heart.

The transformation associated with the rite of passage does not take place just because you go through the ritual. There needs to be the search that brings you to the point of inquiry, and there needs to be a raising of the bodhi mind. That raising of consciousness needs to have taken place, otherwise a new way of seeing, hearing, feeling and realizing doesn’t happen.

With practice—the doing, the commitment, the action—there comes discovery and realization. As a result, the precepts begin to be actualized as our own life. We make conscious, in a very personal way, the identity of the life-stream of the buddhas and ancestors with the life-stream of all sentient beings. Not the life-stream of the buddhas and ancestors in identity with our life-stream alone, but the life-stream of the buddhas and ancestors in identity with all sentient beings, which, of course, includes oneself.

Real atonement takes place only when the bodhi mind has been raised and practice is engaged. When that has happened, we’re dealing with a very powerful spiritual magnet that attracts everything into the sphere of practice. Raising the bodhi mind, practice and enlightenment thus become one reality.


photo by Paul Qaysi


All evil karma ever committed by me since of old. Every cause has an effect, and every effect is the next cause. But we should always appreciate the fact that cause and effect are one; they are not two distinct events. Cause does not precede effect, and effect does not follow cause. This is why karma does not move in only one direction. Remarkably it moves backward in time and space as well as forward in time and space. It permeates the ten directions.

Because of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance. Greed, anger, and ignorance are the three poisons. They are the basis of evil karma. Transformed, they become the three virtues—compassion, wisdom, and enlightenment, and these qualities are the basis of good karma. They describe a way of being in harmony with the nature of all things.

Born of my body, mouth, and thought. Body, mouth, and thought are the spheres of action where karma is created, both good and evil. What we do with our bodies, what we do with our words, and what we do with our thoughts, all lead to consequences, all establish specific karma. We should appreciate this fact thoroughly.